Tuesday, June 15, 2021

We rank top 15 players ages 25 and younger in Miami pro sports

Look around sports and prepare to feel old.

Athletes’ careers are lasting longer. The grizzled veteran is not extinct. But Tom Brady reigning over the NFL (again) at age 43 is the anomaly.

More common, the greater phenomenon and trend, is the rise and dominance of young players 25 and under.

Patrick Mahomes. Giannis Antetokounmpo. World champion gymnast Simone Biles. Tennis star Naomi Osaka. Gold-medla swimmer Katie Ledecky. MLB lightning rods Valdimir Guerrero Jr., Fernando Tatis and Ronald Acuna Jr. American soccer hope Christian Pulisic. Newly minted NBA MVP Luka Doncic. Hockey star Connor McDavid.

I have record albums and baseball cards older than all of them. All are 25 or younger. Baby GOATs. Even athletes born in the 2000s are beginning to make their mark.

It got me to looking in my own backyard. Who are the top 25-and-under athletes from South Florida’s big five pro teams? Who among the Miami Dolphins, Heat, Marlins, Florida Panthers and Inter Miami rate?

We first did this exercise way back in 2013 (that list was topped by Giancarlo Stanton and Jose Fernandez). Did it again a little over two years ago, in spring 2019. But things change fast. Guys are traded. They get too old to qualify. So it’s time to do t again.

Our 2021 top 15 South Florida athletes ages 25 and younger from our big five pro teams:

1. Bam Adebayo, Heat center/power forward (23): He tailed off a bit in the playoffs (his whole team did), but Adebayo scored a career-best 18.7 points per game during the season and finished fourth in Defensive Player of the Year voting. A core centerpiece of Heat plans moving forward.

2. Aleksander Barkov, Panthers center (25): Sasha barely sneaks inside the age ceiling, but, from teenage first-round pick to eight-year Cats veteran, it’s hard to believe he’s still only 25. The Finnish star and team captain is all Florida could have hoped for, with six straight seasons topping 20 goals and 50 points.

3. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins starting pitcher (25): A fourth-year Marlins starter and the team’s ace, Alcantara was an all-star in 2019 and leads the club in innings pitched and quality starts this season.

4. Tyler Herro, Heat shooting guard (21): A three-point spark mostly off the bench, Herro averaged 15.1 points, third on the team, despite starting only 15 games. Was a big factor in team’s postseason run to the 2020 NBA Finals.

5. Tua Tagovailoa, Dolphins quarterback (23): We’d love to have Tua No. 1 on our list, but his rookie season left doubts that must be answered in Year 2. He is poised to be the biggest start in town — or at least up there with Jimmy Butler, or at least until Lionel Messi arrives — but first Tua must show significant improvement and make the Fins a playoff team.

6. Jazz Chisholm, Marlins second baseman (23): When you are called Jazz and dye your hair blue on opening day, you better have the game to back it up, and Chisholm has blossomed in his first full season in the bigs. He’s batting .273 with nine home runs and looks like the club’s first non-pitching prospect with a shot at stardom.

7. Trevor Rogers, Marlins starting pitcher (23): Rogers is having a season worthy of all-star if not Cy Young chatter, with a 6-3 record, 1.97 ERA (fourth in the NL) and 81 strikeouts in 68 2/3 innings.

8. Carter Verhaeghe, Panthers forward (25): Florida signed Verhaeghe in the offseason as a free agent after he’d won a Stanley Cup with Tampa Bay,and his addition was a key reason the Panthers had the best regular season in club history.

9. Jaylen Waddle, Dolphins receiver (22): Tough to justify a place on this list for a rookie yet to play his first game here, but make an exception for the promise of Miam’s 2021 No. 1 draft pick out of Alabama.

10. Sixto Sanchez, Marlins starting pitcher (22): Showed big potential in a seven-start debut last season but injuries (most recently shoulder inflammation) have kept him off the field thus far this year. Would rank higher if not for health concerns.

11. Pablo Lopez, Marlins starting pitcher (25): Quietly solid, Lopez has a 2.76 ERA in 13 starts and 76 strikeouts in 75 innings for the Fish.

12. Lewis Morgan, Inter Miami winger (24): A Scottish national team player in his second year here. Led Miami with five goals last season and has another this year.

13. Spencer Knight, Panthers goalkeeper (20): He’d be higher, but we’ve just only gotten a glimpse of Florida’s 2019 first round pick. After going 4-0 during the season hinted at his potential, Knight shone with a 2.06 goals-against average and .933 saves percentage in two playoff appearances.

14. Aaron Ekblad, Panthers defenseman (25): A three-time all-star, Ekblad had 11 goals in 35 games this year before a leg injury ended his season.season before

15. Edison Azcona, Inter Miami midfielder (17): You read that right. He’s 17. He weighs 130 pounds. He already is on the Dominican Republic national team and playing significant minutes for David Beckham’s club.

Let me end by doing the math for you:

When Inter Miami’s Edison Azcona was born, Tom Brady was 26 and heading for his second Super Bowl win.

Greg Cote is a Miami Herald sports columnist who in 2018 was named top 10 in column writing by the Associated Press Sports Editors. Greg also appears regularly on the Dan LeBatard Show With Stugotz on ESPN Radio and ESPNews.

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