Pujols is headed to the Hall, along with these nine players under 30
Pujols is one of seven players with 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 350 HRs and a .325 BA
It's hard to tell which young stars will thrive long enough to become Hall of Famers
Joe Mauer and Hanley Ramirez are the best bets among current players under 30
OK, I have this idea based on Albert Pujols winning his third MVP in five years... it starts with this: I think Pujols at age 29 is a Hall of Famer right now. To me, it's done. True, you have to play 10 years in the big leagues to be eligible for the Hall, and Pujols has only played nine, so technically he is not yet eligible. But my point is not that old "he retires tomorrow" argument. No, my point is that in my eyes that no matter what he does on the field from this point on, the rest of his career, he has already locked up Hall of Fame status.
Look: In nine seasons, Pujols has only 16 fewer home runs than new Hall of Famer Jim Rice had in 16.
Look: His career 172 OPS+ ties him with Mantle and puts him ahead of Cobb.
Look: There are seven players in baseball history with 1,000 runs, 1,000 RBIs, 350 home runs and at least a .325 batting average. I know you can play all sorts of games by sorting numbers, but my point is: Ruth, Foxx, Williams, Gehrig, Musial, Pujols, DiMaggio.
So, Pujols is in. He will likely play many more years and he has a chance (as the old scribes used to write and the old announcers used to say) to have his own chapter in the record book. But the point here is that I think he has already clinched his spot in the Hall of Fame. The rest is just jockeying for position in the all-time great horse race.
Beyond Pujols, it's hard to tell who among young players will thrive long enough to become Hall of Famers. At 29, Juan Gonzalez had already won two MVPs and hit 340 home runs -- he seemed a cinch for 500 homers at a time when 500 homers meant automatic inclusion in the Hall of Fame. That didn't happen.... Dale Murphy at 29 had won two MVPs, four consecutive Gold Gloves, had led the league in homers in back-to-back seasons, and he had also led the league in RBIs, in runs, in slugging percentage, in walks. And he was baseball's ultimate gentleman, too. Seemed like a dead lock Hall of Famer. That probably won't happen either.... Vida Blue and Dwight Gooden were already troubled souls at 29, but they both had more than 150 victories and there was this sense that if they could just get their careers even slightly back on track... but, of course, it did not quite work out.
Meanwhile, Randy Johnson at 29 was 68-56 with a 3.78 ERA and was only just beginning to show his pitching genius. Paul Molitor at 29 had a 113 OPS+, about 1,200 hits, a history of injuries and a drug rap on his resume. And so on.
So, it's a foolish thing to try to predict which players under 30 will end up in Cooperstown. To finalize the point, if I tried to pick 10 players in 1985, the list would have looked something like this:
1. Dale Murphy (not in)
So, six out of those 10 are not in. Well, yes, it's a guessing game. But what the heck, right? Just know that these are merely predictions. Some of these players -- like Pujols -- are well on their way. Others will need to improve dramatically.
The rules: I am picking 10 players -- all younger than 30, who have either (A) played 500 games; (B) won 50 games; or (C) saved 100 games -- who I think will end up in the Hall of Fame. Here we go:
1. Albert Pujols. He is already in as far as I'm concerned.
2. Joe Mauer. He's only 26, and like any 26-year-old he has a lot of work to do to become a Hall of Famer player. But as the only American League catcher to ever win a batting title -- and he has done it three times now -- and as a remarkable hitter who has now added some home run power to the equation, I'm betting on him being a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
3. Hanley Ramirez. Let me show you two shortstops after their first 925 games or so:
Shortstop No. 1: .323/.370/.555, OPS+ 134
They both played in big markets and on winning teams. They both won Rookie of the Year Awards. They both were All-Stars most of the time. Neither one won a Gold Glove, and reports about their defense were sporadic. They both had terrific moments in the playoffs.
Shortstop No. 1 led the league in hitting twice, and at different times in hits, doubles, triples -- he scored 100-plus runs six times and drove in 100-plus runs another four.
Shortstop No. 2 also scored 100 runs six times and had driven in 100 runs once. He led the league in runs scored once and in hits once.
You have certainly guessed that No. 1 is Nomar Garciaparra, and No. 2 is Derek Jeter. And if you had tried to predict which of the two was the certain future Hall of Famer, I suspect you would have had a hard time doing it. To be honest, I probably would have gone with Nomar. Ah, but baseball careers can take such wild turns... crazy thing is that Nomar keeps signing these one-year deals and playing his role as super sub, and I would guess that more and more people will forget or never know that at one point he looked to be as good a Hall of Fame bet as anyone.
Right now, Hanley Ramirez seems to me like a future Hall of Famer. He plays a premium defensive position (and the numbers indicate that he really hasn't been bad defensively the last two years despite a bad reputation), he just won a batting title, he hits with power, he has stolen 50 bases in a season, and he will take a walk.
His career numbers at age 25: .318/.386/.543.
Then again, Nomar's numbers at a similar career point: .333/.382/.573.
Ya never know. I'm betting on Hanley, though.
4. David Wright. Yes, it was weird that he only hit 10 home runs in 2009. Weird and disconcerting because everything else about Wright's season seemed to be more or less in line with the rest of his career. He hit doubles at the same pace, triples at the same pace, stole bases like he usually does and walked at roughly the same pace. He struck out quite a bit more than usual, which could be a hint, but his average stayed about the same, his on-base percentage stayed about the same, too.
He just stopped hitting home runs. It's tempting to say this was because of the Mets' new stadium... and that no doubt played a role. Wright's home run swing fit old Shea Stadium. But the truth is that while he hit only five home runs at home, he also hit only five home runs on the road. It's a strange thing to see home run numbers drop so dramatically for a 26-year-old player, especially a player as good as Wright.
So, the question here: When thinking about future performance and such, how much stock do you put into a daunting home run drop? I don't think you can just ignore it. Still, it seems to me that Wright is such a good player in so many ways -- he hits for average, draws walks, steals bases, plays good third base defense (though his defensive numbers did fall off in 2009), and there's reason to believe his home runs will come back. I still think he's a good Hall of Fame bet. I think he'll get there.
5. Miguel Cabrera. He did not deserve a first-place MVP vote, but he's just such a good hitter and he's so young... I think he will simply bash his way into the Hall of Fame.
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