Odd Man Rush: Harper, Bryant meeting highlights NL youth

Philadelphia, PA ( - Bryce Harper is nine months younger than Kris Bryant, but the young Washington Nationals superstar is quite the major league veteran compared to his Chicago Cubs counterpart.

The two also grew up near each other in Las Vegas, so this week's series between the Nationals and Cubs in Chicago had extra special meaning for the duo - a chance to reconnect now Bryant that is an everyday player in the majors.

It also put two of the National League's brightest young stars on display.

The Nationals visited the Cubs for three games to begin this week, winning twice, and neither Harper nor Bryant disappointed.

Through the first two games of the series, which wrapped on Wednesday afternoon, neither disappointed. Harper homered in each of the final two games of the set and leads the NL with 18 homers and 43 RBI. Bryant went deep once in both of the first two games, including a game-tying bomb on Tuesday that traveled an estimated 477 feet.

It's the first of likely many meetings between Harper and Bryant for years to come as the duo are just two of many up-and-coming talents in the league.

With that in mind, here are 11 (because 10 is boring and these guys are anything but) of the top players 25 years or younger in the NL. Two players you may expect to see on this list but won't be there are the New York Mets' Matt Harvey and Jose Fernandez of the Miami Marlins.

Harvey actually turned 26 years old on Wednesday, while former Rookie of the Year Fernandez figures to be a dominating pitcher once he returns from Tommy John surgery but hasn't pitched since last May.

11. 3B Kris Bryant, Chicago Cubs

While slightly older than Harper, Bryant didn't debut in the majors until April 17. That's because he spent three seasons playing college ball at the University of San Diego before the Cubs took him second overall in 2013.

Bryant then put together a dominating performance in spring training, but still opened up the campaign in the minors as to delay the start of his service time in the majors.

The 23-year-old third baseman struck out three times in four at-bats in his major league debut and went 20 games before hitting his first career homer, but has begun rounding into form while driving in runs at a solid pace.

10. SP Shelby Miller, Atlanta Braves

The Atlanta Braves have always seemed to lack offensive punch since the days of Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones have come and gone, but that didn't stop the club from upgrading its pitching this past offseason with the acquisition of 24-year-old starter Shelby Miller in a deal that sent young outfielder Jason Heyward (who does not appear on this list) to the St. Louis Cardinals.

A 2009 first-round pick, Miller had a solid two-plus-season run with the Cardinals before the trade, but he has emerged as a potential ace for the Braves this season. He has posted a 5-2 record through 10 starts and his 1.48 ERA is among the league leaders.

The right-hander seemed to establish 2015 as his true breakout season on May 17, when he nearly threw a no-hitter against the Miami Marlins.

9. SP Michael Wacha, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals were OK with moving a talent like Miller because of other young arms such as 23-year-old Michael Wacha, the 19th overall pick of the 2012 draft.

Wacha has been a minor contributor to the Cardinals over the past two seasons and has put last season's shoulder injury behind him to go unbeaten over his first nine starts of 2015. The righty is tied for the NL lead with seven victories, supported by his 1.87 ERA.

Wacha has not allowed more than two earned runs in eight of his nine outings and has helped the Cardinals to the best record in baseball despite the loss of ace Adam Wainwright for the rest of the season.

8. 1B Anthony Rizzo, Chicago Cubs

A former highly touted prospect with the Boston Red Sox, Rizzo was traded to the San Diego Padres for slugger Adrian Gonzalez and struggled in his first taste of major league action, first in a short stint with the Padres in 2011 before he was dealt to the Cubs.

Possibly on a track to obscurity, the former sixth-round pick instead put it all together in 2014 with a 32-homer season in which he hit a solid .286 and brightened the outlook of the Cubs franchise.

As part of a youthful core that is expected to make Chicago contenders for, they hope, a long stretch, Rizzo has first base locked down for the Cubs and is hitting at a .315 clip this season with nine homers and 29 RBI.

7. RP Trevor Rosenthal, St. Louis Cardinals

The Cardinals are pretty good at scouting pitchers, huh?

Rosenthal hasn't relinquished the closer's job with the Cardinals since the opportunity presented itself in 2013 thanks to a season-ending injury to Jason Motte. He saw frequent save chances that year and became the "official" closer in 2014, when he posted 45 saves and a 2.99 ERA.

What is most impressive about the 25-year-old is dominating postseason numbers. In 21 games, he is 1-0 with seven saves and a 0.75 ERA. He picked up a victory and one of those saves in the 2013 World Series, lost by the Cardinals to the Boston Red Sox.

6. OF Yasiel Puig, Los Angeles Dodgers

If this list was just based on pure excitement, Puig would probably be at the top. Puig plays the game with a flair and style that helps keep things interesting over a long, long season.

However, there also is the perceived immaturity and recklessness that follows Puig, especially on the road, but there is no doubt he has tremendous offensive skills and a cannon arm in the outfield.

Puig, currently sidelined with a hamstring injury, may rub some the wrong way, but, he has the skill set and desire to be one of the top players in the league.

5. 1B Freddie Freeman, Atlanta Braves

It's been over a year since Freeman signed his eight-year, $135 million deal that made him the cornerstone of the franchise, one that is going through a bit of a rebuild. But with Freeman locked up, the Braves don't have to worry about finding a reliable leader for their next core.

In Freeman, the Braves have a solid first baseman with 25-homer potential. But Freeman doesn't just put the ball over the fence, either, evidenced by his .319 average in 2013 and .289 average through 47 games this season.

Atlanta would love to see a 30-homer season from Freeman and the 25-year-old has the potential to deliver.

4. SP Gerrit Cole, Pittsburgh Pirates

The Pittsburgh Pirates weren't the first team to recognize Cole's talents, one that recently landed him NL Pitcher of the Month in April.

The New York Yankees took Cole in the first round, 28th overall, in 2008, but the 24-year-old opted to attend UCLA instead. Three years later, the Pirates selected the 24-year-old with the top selection of the 2011 draft and he has already won 28 games over 51 career starts.

The right-hander went 4-0 with a 1.76 ERA in April, proving he is ready to anchor Pittsburgh's rotation sooner rather than later.

3. OF Giancarlo Stanton, Miami Marlins

Marlins fans have seen their share of young talent come and go, but they can breath a sigh of relief knowing that, on paper, Stanton will be calling Miami home for possibly the next 13 years.

The 25-year-old is already the franchise's all-time home run leader and only a severe late-season facial injury stemming from getting hit by a pitch prevented him from reaching 40 homers in a season for the first time last year.

Stanton has launched 167 homers for the Marlins and there was always speculation about when he would be powering the ball for another team, but the Marlins locked him up last November with a 13-year, $325 million extension.

2. OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals

It's incredible to think that at the age of 22, Harper is already in his fourth major league season. He put himself on the fast track to the pros by getting his GED in 2009 as a high school sophomore and attending the College of Southern Nevada, a wood-bat-using junior college.

Armed with confidence and swagger, Harper was taken first overall by the Nationals in 2010 and hit 22 homers during his Rookie of the Year campaign in 2012.

Still, Harper had some growing to do and 2015 seems like it has all come together. In addition to his great power numbers, Harper is hitting .331 and is currently leading the NL All-Star balloting with more than 1.116 million votes.

1) SP Madison Bumgarner, San Francisco Giants

If careers are measured by championships, than Giants left-hander Madison Bumgarner already has a leg up on the competition.

Not only did the 25-year-old win a title last season with San Francisco, but he was named the World Series MVP. He first won both of his starts in the recent Fall Classic, then took the mound on two days' rest to pitch five scoreless innings in Game 7, earning the save to cap an incredible playoff run.

In 52 2/3 postseason innings last season, he went 4-1 with a save and a 1.03 ERA.

How good is Bumgarner? In three head-to-head matchups against reigning NL MVP Clayton Kershaw of the Dodgers this season, he is 2-0 with a 1.31 ERA. San Francisco has won all three games.