Fantasy baseball: Young guns starting to emerge at season's halfway mark

Tuesday's All-Star Game featured 25 players making their first-ever appearance

Posted: Thursday, July 13, 2006

We're just halfway through the 2006 season, but you can already sense there is a changing of the guard.

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From 26-year-old Phillies slugger Ryan Howard and Mets phenom David Wright, 23, dueling in Monday's home run derby, to an impressive trio of rookie pitchers gunning for the AL Cy Young award, the young guys are asserting themselves as forces.

The familiar faces of Ichiro, Vladimir Guerrero and Ivan Rodriguez still made Tuesday's All-Star Game, but the new faces were the story.

A total of 25 players made their first appearance at this year's All-Star Game. That's almost double the number from last year.

Some players, like Minnesota's Francisco Liriano, 22, and Joe Mauer, 23, have burst on the scene by surprise. Other guys, like Florida's 23-year-old Miguel Cabrera, literally grew up in the spotlight when, at age 19, he played a big role in the 2003 World Series.

With all the player movement in today's game, it's hard enough keeping track of established players, let alone learning a new set of names. As a primer, we'll look at six young players from each league whose names you need to know.

National League

David Wright, Mets (3B) - Wright's high school team featured three first round draft picks, all infielders. Although his talent is undeniable everyone raves about his maturity and composure. Age: 23

Jose Reyes, Mets (SS) - This lightning bolt debuted a day before his 20th birthday in 2003. The Mets brought him along slowly until last year, when he played 161 games and stole 60 bases. He's on pace for almost 80 stolen bases this year. In just his second full season, he started in the All-Star Game. Age: 23.

Matt Holliday, Rockies (LF) - Holliday's great numbers aren't just a product of Denver's thin air. He's hitting a superb .315 with a .361 on base percentage and a .586 slugging percentage away from Coors Field. On pace for over 110 RBIs, he's certainly earned his first All-Star appearance. Age: 26.

Ryan Zimmerman, Nationals (3B) - It's simply unheard to be playing in the major leagues after being drafted that same year, yet that's just what happened to the then 20-year-old in 2005. This year, he's got 59 RBIs and is already considered one of the game's best fielding third basemen. He was a high school teammate of David Wright. Age: 21.

Josh Johnson, Marlins (SP) - The 6-foot-7 Johnson has pitched his way into the rotation and nearly has enough innings to qualify for the lead in the NL ERA race. He's a big reason why the Marlins have been 21-14 since the beginning of June. Age: 22.

Brian McCann, Braves (C) - The young hometown hero etched his name into the Braves' record book by becoming the first player to homer in his first playoff at-bat. That shot came off Roger Clemens. Right now, McCann and his .343 average have bragging rights over his roommate, and fellow Georgian, Jeff Franceour. Age: 22.

American League

Francisco Liriano, Twins (SP) - The buzz surrounding this kid and his 90-plus mph slider has reached a fever pitch. So much so, that AL manager Ozzie Guillen found a way to add him to the All-Star roster at the last minute. The quiet kid is the first rookie pitcher to carry 10 wins, and a sub-2.00 ERA into the All-Star game since 1968. Age: 22

Jonathon Papelbon, Red Sox (RP) - Leave it to the Red Sox to solve a problem with some outside-the-box thinking. Past injuries and a poor spring from Keith Foulke left the Red Sox without a closer. They tabbed Papelbon, who was slated to be the swingman, to take a shot at closing. All he's done is save 26 games, tops in the majors, while giving up only three runs. Age: 25.

Joe Mauer, Twins (C) - The low-key Mauer could end up being baseball's hottest story in the second half. He leads baseball with a .378 average and is the latest contestant to take aim at the hallowed .400 mark. Regardless of whether he tangles with the magical .400 barrier, he could still become the first catcher to win a batting title since 1942. Age: 23.

Scott Kazmir, Devil Rays (SP) - Scouts privately snickered when then-Mets GM Jim Duquette decided to trade the young lefty with a blazing fastball for a middling starter from Tampa Bay in 2004. Now the Devil Rays are howling with delight. Kazmir has emerged out of the meat-grinder that is the AL East to become one of the American League's premiere pitchers. Age: 22.

Justin Verlander, Tigers (SP) - The most impressive number surrounding Verlander isn't his 10 wins or 3.01 ERA - it's 100, as in his 100 mph fastball. Verlander isn't the only Tiger who can dial it up to triple digits as reliever Joel Zumaya often hits 100 mph as well. Maybe All-Star catcher Ivan Rodriguez should just take the three days off to rest his catching hand. Age: 23.

Jered Weaver, Angels (SP) - Last week, he supplanted his older brother in the Angels rotation as Jeff was dealt to St. Louis to make room for Jered. With a 1.12 ERA and six wins in his first six starts, it's not hard to see why L.A. would part the Red Sea if it meant keeping him in the rotation. Tall, lanky and deceptive, the native Californian would be all over the national press if he only had a few more starts. Age: 23.

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