What’s next? Who’s next? What is the path forward from losing for the Dolphins, Heat, Marlins and Panthers — and who will find it?
We last did one of these best-25-and-younger lists in 2013 and I’m surprised to say only one player from that top 10 remains in town. Hopefully our Big Four teams will do a better job hanging onto our expanded list of young talent here.
In forming the ranking we combined current quality with potential, how essential the player is in his team’s plans, and how good we imagine they’ll be in, say, three years:
South Florida’s 2019 Top 15 Players 25 And Younger
1. Aleksander Barkov, Panthers center (23 years, 267 days): The second overall draft pick in 2013 and an NHL all-star in 2018, “Sasha” is a budding superstar who this past season played in every game and set career bests with 35 goals, 61 assists and 96 points. The Panthers believe there is a Hall of Fame ceiling for a player named team captain despite his youth.
2. Laremy Tunsil, Dolphins left tackle (24 years, 298 days): Miami recently picked up the fifth-year option on Tunsils’ rookie contract, assuring he’ll be here at least two more seasons. They should extend him well beyond that. At a key position, in Tunsil the Fins have a premier left tackle — the best they’ve had since Richmond Webb owned the 1990s.
3. Bam Adebayo, Heat center (21 years, 313 days): In only his second NBA year, the athletic Adebayo played all 82 games , his potential blossoming as he took over the starting job the last quarter of the season. He has rendered Hassan Whiteside expendable and, working with Chris Bosh this summer, will only get better. Watch for a breakout season in 2019-20.
4. Xavien Howard, Dolphins cornerback (25 years, 327 days): Fins this month expressed how much they value Howard with a five-year, $76.5 million dealing making the Pro Bowler the NFL’s highest-paid at his position after he led the league with seven interceptions in only 12 games. In a passing league, Miami has a shutdown corner and a cornerstone of their rebuild.
5. Sixto Sanchez, Marlins starting pitcher (20 years, 302 days): Team’s No. 1 overall prospect has yet to make his big-league debut but could be a force as early as next season. Sanchez was the one player Miami insisted on in the J.T. Realmuto trade. MLB.com says he has “perhap the best combination of electric stuff and command of any pitcher in the minors.”
6. Josh Rosen, Dolphins quarterback (22 years, 106 days): All kinds of upside made this draft-day trade a very smart one for Miami. But a rough rookie year in Arizona make a higher ranking tough. So does the fact Miami may try to do better in the 2020 draft if they can get Alabama’s Tua Tagovailoa.
7. Justise Winslow, Heat forward (23 years, 62 days): Winslow always has been a versatile, valuable defender but last season made strides offensively, a key unlocking of his potential. Averaged a career-best in points, rebounds, assists, shooting percentage and win shares., and beginning to look like the all-round player they’d hoped to see.
8. Jonathan Huberdeau, Panthers center (25 years, 357 days): The only player also on our 2013 list barely sneaks inside the age limit this time. He was third overall draft pick in 2011, won NHL rookie of the year and has steadily gotten better, this past season playing in all 82 games and setting career highs for goals (30), assists (62) and points (92).
9. Minkah Fitzpatrick, Dolphins defender (22 years, 204 days): Safety, cornerback, outside linebacker ... expect to see Fitzpatrick all over the field for Miami after a solid rookie season that shouted the potentional of 2018’s top draft pick.
10. Sandy Alcantara, Marlins starting pitcher (23 years, 262 days): Has a mid-to-high ‘90s fastball. Must overcome control/command issues to reach his great potential, but Marlins think he’s the guy who pitched a complete game, two-hit shutout over the Mets last weekend with eight K’s and one walk..
11. Pablo Lopez, Marlins starting pitcher (23 years, 81 days): His numbers on a bad Marlins team (3-5 record, 5.06 ERA) do no reflect his potential. But 49 strikeouts and only 13 walks in 48 innings do. Lopez’s fastball command and overall control separate him.
12. Josh Richardson, Heat small forward/shooting guard (25 years, 254 days): Heat believe in future enough that they refused to include him in a trade that might have brought Jimmy Butler last year. Despite a dip in shooting accuracy last season Richardson averaged a career high 16.6 points and also had personal bests in rebounds and assists.
13. Aaron Ekblad, Panthers defenseman (23 years, 109 days): Ekblad was the league’s No. 1 overall draft pick in 2014, won NHL rookie of the year honors and already is a two-time all-star.
14. Victor Victor Mesa, Marlins outfielder (22 years, 311 days): Signed as an international free agent out of Cuba last fall, Mesa has struggled at time in Single-A ball this season after two years out of the game. But he has enough upside to sit as Miami’s No. 2 minor-league prospect after Sixto Sanchez.
15. Christian Wilkins, Dolphins defensive tackle (23 years, 158 days): Last month’s No. 1 Dolphins draft pick has the potential to hurry up this list, but, for now, we’ll wait to see the excellence he displayed at Clemson translate to Sundays.
Five Dolphins, four Marlins, three Panthers and three Heat players make are 25-and-under list.
Can’t guarantee when any of our Big Four pro teams will be good again, but you can bet the young men above will have a lot to say about that.