|These guys are getting nice jumps on what could be Hall of Fame careers. (Getty Images)|
On Wednesday afternoon, the 2013 Hall of Fame announcement will be delivered from on high, which in turn means that the Internet will become angry and seek out firstborn males as a blood sacrifice. Until then, though, let's think about the far-off future when active youngsters will have made their career statements.
Specifically, let's turn our appraising eyes toward current players who are, at this moment, age 26 or younger and whose careers to date project to be Cooperstown-worthy.
Based on our subjective estimations, 10 players are worth noting under this category, and you'll see them listed below in alphabetical order (in other words, not ranked).
For some of the names below, we'll be calling upon Bill James' "favorite toy" formula. The favorite toy is a decidedly quick and thoroughly dirty way to project a player's career total in whatever counting measure you can dream up. It's a blunt instrument and it skews a bit conservative sometimes, but it does give you a rough idea of, say, how many home runs Giancarlo Stanton might hit in his working life. The favorite toy requires three years of major-league data to work properly, and some of the ballplayers to follow don't have adequate resumes. In some cases (Stanton's, for instance), we translated a sampling of his minor-league numbers (assist: Minor League Splits) so as to make the sausage come out the other end.
Finally, please note that we're not saying the guys to follow are Hall of Fame locks or anything similarly emphatic. We're saying that the guys to follow have begun their careers in Hall of Fame fashion. "Many a slip twixt the cup and the lip," said some English sage, and that certainly applies here.
Starlin Castro, SS, Cubs
Career stats: .297/.336/.425, 529 H, 96 2B
"Favorite toy" career hits: 2,329
For whatever reason, Castro sometimes seems to have the whiff of disappointment about him. But he shouldn't. The career batting line is impressive for any shortstop, let alone one who's just 22 years of age and already has almost 2,000 major-league plate appearances to his credit. Also impressive is that Castro ranks 20th all-time in career hits before the age of 23. If the power develops as expected and he sticks at short, then he'll be a superstar.
Clayton Kershaw, SP, Dodgers
Career stats: 61-37, 2.79 ERA, 974 SO, 1.14 WHIP
"Favorite toy" career wins: 203
While projecting years down the road for any pitcher is a fool's errand, I'm tempted to take the "over" on that "favorite toy" win total. As much of a steady and dominating presence as Kershaw has been over the past few seasons, it's easy to forget he's still just 24 years old. That's four straight seasons (and counting) of a qualifying number of innings paired with a sub-3.00 ERA.
Bryce Harper, OF, Nationals
Career stats: .270/.340/.477, 57 XBH, 18 SB
Simply put, no one in baseball history achieved so much at such a young age. Harper in 2012 turned in the best age-19 season ever. Even being on a major-league roster in your teens is a sign of future greatness. Needless to say, what Harper achieved bodes very, very well for the future.
Jason Heyward, OF, Braves
Career stats: .261/.352/.447, 59 HR, 200 BB, 41 SB
Given the successes of Harper, Mike Trout and Giancarlo Stanton, young Heyward tends to get overlooked. Don't make that mistake. He notched 1,730 plate appearances before age 23, and he owns a career OPS+ of 116 and a Gold Glove. A hitter who authors an OBP of .393 during his age-20 season is not to be forgotten in any discussion of future greatness.
Andrew McCutchen, OF, Pirates
Career stats: .290/.374/.484, 82 HR, 124 2B, 98 SB
"Favorite toy" career runs scored: 1,159
Here are McCutchen's OPS+ numbers by season: 121, 121, 130, 164. As you can see, that's a steady upward trend, and his work in 2012 put him in "MVP" territory. He should be entering his peak seasons very soon, and if McCutchen can maintain that level of performance for a handful of years, then he's going to wind up with a compelling body of work.
Buster Posey, C, Giants
Career stats: .314/.380/.503, 46 HR, 350 H
Posey already has two World Series rings and an MVP trophy to his name. And it goes without saying that his career slash line of .314/.380/.503 is outstanding for any player, let alone one who mans the most demanding position on the field. As with any catcher, though, much depends on how well Posey ages and how long he's able to remain at the position. Thus far, he's on a clear Hall of Fame track.
Giancarlo Stanton, OF, Marlins
Career stats: .270/.350/.553, 93 HR
"Favorite toy" career home runs: 474
Stanton's 93 homers before the age of 23 rank sixth all-time. The names ahead of him on that exclusive list? Mel Ott, Eddie Mathews, Alex Rodriguez, Tony Conigliaro and Frank Robinson. That's rarified air. Stanton's history of knee problems raises some concerns going forward, but he's off to a historic start when it comes to hitting the ball over the fence.
Stephen Strasburg, SP, Nationals
Career stats: 21-10, 2.94 ERA, 313 SO, 1.09 WHIP
The video-game stuff and the sub-3.00 ERA are impressive enough, but what's most arresting about Strasburg is his penchant for missing bats. If he's able to maintain his current K rate until he reaches 1,000 innings, then he'll easily jump Randy Johnson for the highest K/9 figure of all-time. As well, Strasburg has struck out an astounding 30.8 percentof the batters he's faced throughout his career. In baseball history, just Billy Wagner, Rob Dibble and Brad Lidge have registered higher figures. And they, you'll note, were relievers. Yes, we're in a high-K era, but Strasburg's numbers are deeply impressive in any context. If he stays healthy, he's going to be an all-time great. That, to be fair, is a sizable "if."
Mike Trout, OF, Angels
Career stats: .306/.379/.532, 35 HR, 209 H, 53 SB
"Favorite toy" career steals: 596
Trout was the best player in baseball last season, and he was 20 years old. I hereby declare him to be squarely in the clutches of the Tractor Beam of Greatness. Trout's abundant tools have long earned him praise, and last season we saw that he's capable of dominating against the best pitchers on the planet. And he was 20. Power, on-base skills, speed of a lesser god, defense at a critical position -- Trout has it all. Please enjoy the next 15 years.
Justin Upton, OF, Diamondbacks
Career stats: .278/.357/.475, 108 HR, 147 2B, 80 SB
"Favorite toy" career hits: 2,092
Are we entering a golden age of outfielders? It's shaping up that way. Don't get too down on Upton for his 2012 slump. It still wound up as a solid campaign, and he's still a 25-year-old with a career line of .278/.357/.475. The tools are there, and he hasn't yet entered what should be his prime seasons. The Upton of the future will be more like the one we saw in 2011, when he won a Silver Slugger and finished in the top five in the NL MVP balloting.
Pre-emptive note: The case of 26-year-old Felix Hernandez can be found here.
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