Skip to content

Harper, Trout and the future

Apr 29, 2013, 11:33 AM EDT

Cincinnati Reds v Washington Nationals Getty Images

In honor of Bryce Harper playing his 162nd career game, here is the list of the top 12 home run hitters through their age 20 seasons:

1. Mel Ott, 61

2. Tony Conigliaro, 56

3. Alex Rodriguez, 41

4. Ken Griffey, 38

5. Frank Robinson, 38

6. Mickey Mantle, 36

7. Mike Trout, 35

8. Al Kaline, 32

9. Bryce Harper, 31

(tie) Ted Williams, 31

11. Orlando Cepeda, 25

(tie) Eddie Mathews, 25

Now, some of these players — Alex Rodriguez, Ted Williams and Cepeda — actually turned 21at some point DURING the season, something Bryce Harper will not do until October.

There are a couple of points worth making here. One, Harper is on pace to hit 60 home runs this year. And while he probably won’t do that, he has to hit a more manageable 40 homers this year (31 more in the last five months) to pass Mel Ott for most home runs through age 20 season. He’s a pretty decent bet to do that.

But here’s an even more significant point, I think. Look at the 12 players. Tony Conigliaro seemed on his way to an extraordinary career until he was hit in the face by a Jack Hamilton pitch. the pitch fractured his cheek, dislocated his jaw and caused serious problems to his eye. His comeback  was stirring and magnificent — he hit 36 homers in 1970 — but his vision was never the same and he was done at 26 (he did try another comeback at 30, making it back to the Majors). He goes down with Herb Score and a couple of others as the greatest “What might have beens” in baseball history.

So take away Conigliaro. And take away Trout and Harper because they are active. That leaves nine players.

All nine are either in the Hall of Fame or will be in the Hall of Fame (depending on how the voters treat A-Rod). That’s amazing to me. All nine are all-time players.

It just goes to show you that displaying this sort of brilliance as an extremely young hitter is very telling and predictive. It’s interesting. Take a look at the pitchers with the most strikeouts through age 20 (since 1901):

1. Bob Feller, 712

2. Dwight Gooden, 544

3. Bert Blyleven, 359

4. Gary Nolan, 317

5. Larry Dierker, 290

6. Mike McCormick, 287

(tie) Pete Schneider, 287

8. Chief Bender, 276

9. Felix Hernandez, 253

10. Smoky Joe Wood, 244

11. Rick Ankiel, 233

12. Walter Johnson, 231

Sort of a mixed bag, isn’t it? You have all-time greats and a few OK pitchers and some washouts. Pitcher wins through Age 20 looks more or less the same — you  add Wally Bunker and Milt Pappas and Ray Sadecki, take out Walter Johnson, Rick Ankiel and King Felix. It still gives you an inconsistent mix. Pitchers get hurt: Gary Nolan did, Smoky Joe Wood did. Dwight Gooden lost his way. Rick Ankiel, well, this happened.

That sort of thing does not seem to happen as often to young hitters. Sure, they will occasionally get hurt like Conigliaro. Vada Pinson, Claudell Washington, Cesar Cedeno and a handful of other precocious young players all ran into various problems or inconsistencies along the way. But, generally speaking, brilliant young hitters stay brilliant for an extended period of time. Bryce Harper and Mike Trout are obviously a long, long, long way away from becoming all-time players. But I’d bet on both of them.

Latest Posts
  1. Giancarlo Stanton could return to the Marlins on Friday

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:55 PM EDT

    Giancarlo Stanton Giancarlo Stanton

    Giancarlo Stanton is getting close to returning to the Marlins. He’s slated to begin a rehab stint on Tuesday.

  2. Video: Jake Arrieta strikes out Chase Utley to complete his no-hitter

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:31 PM EDT

    Jake Arrieta Jake Arrieta

    Jake Arrieta struck out Chase Utley to complete his first career no-hitter.

  3. Jake Arrieta no-hits the Dodgers with 12 strikeouts

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:14 PM EDT

    Jake Arrieta Jake Arrieta

    Jake Arrieta made history on Sunday night, tossing a no-hitter against the Dodgers.

  4. Aaron Harang passed through waivers

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:05 PM EDT

    Aaron Harang Aaron Harang

    Aaron Harang wasn’t claimed when the Phillies put him on waivers, so any team can try and negotiate a trade if they’re desperate for rotation help.

  5. Padres claim Chris Rearick off waivers from the Rangers

    Aug 30, 2015, 10:15 PM EDT

    Chris Rearick Chris Rearick

    The Padres got Chris Rearick back, claiming him off waivers from the Rangers on Sunday.

  6. Blue Jays will name Mark Shapiro as the new team president

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:51 PM EDT

    Mark Shapiro Getty Images

    The Blue Jays are expected to name Mark Shapiro as the new team president.

  7. Yankees hang 20 runs on the Braves to complete a sweep in Atlanta

    Aug 30, 2015, 9:25 PM EDT

    Jacoby Ellsbury Jacoby Ellsbury

    The Braves were demolished by the Yankees on Sunday.

  8. Tim Lincecum suffers a setback in his injury rehab

    Aug 30, 2015, 8:35 PM EDT

    Tim Lincecum Tim Lincecum

    Tim Lincecum may have thrown his last pitch as a member of the Giants after suffering another setback in his recovery from hip and back injuries.

  9. Video: David Ortiz hits 494th career homer, passing Lou Gehrig and Fred McGriff

    Aug 30, 2015, 7:45 PM EDT

    David Ortiz Getty Images

    David Ortiz has sole possession of 27th place on baseball’s all-time home run leaderboard.

  10. Phillies claim Ken Roberts off waivers from the Rockies

    Aug 30, 2015, 6:55 PM EDT

    Ken Roberts Getty Images

    The Phillies added bullpen depth on Sunday, claiming Ken Roberts off waivers from the Rockies.

  11. Curtis Granderson thinks the moon landing was faked

    Aug 30, 2015, 6:05 PM EDT

    Curtis Granderson Curtis Granderson

    Curtis Granderson was prompted to say something controversial, so he did.

  12. Stephen Strasburg pulled after four rough innings on Sunday with discomfort in upper back

    Aug 30, 2015, 5:22 PM EDT

    Stephen Strasburg AP

    The 27-year-old missed most of July with an oblique strain and most of June with a trapezius strain.

  13. Video: Jeremy Guthrie robs Rays ballboy at The Trop

    Aug 30, 2015, 4:15 PM EDT

    guthrie mlb.tv

    Royals right-hander Jeremy Guthrie is doing some fine side work in his new long relief role …

  14. Josh Hamilton still unable to run due to sore left knee

    Aug 30, 2015, 3:28 PM EDT

    Josh Hamilton AP

    Josh Hamilton is likely to be activated off the disabled list Tuesday, September 1 when major league rosters expand, but it sounds like he’s going to be limited to pinch-hitting duties for a while.

  15. Jean Machi named Red Sox closer

    Aug 30, 2015, 2:34 PM EDT

    machi getty Getty Images

    Machi owns a rough 5.21 ERA in 46 2/3 total innings this season between San Francisco and Boston, but the out-of-contention Red Sox will simply roll with what’s currently working as they play out the string.

  16. Video: Josh Donaldson puts the Blue Jays up early with his 36th home run of the season

    Aug 30, 2015, 1:47 PM EDT

    Josh Donaldson AP

    Josh Donaldson got Sunday Funday started early in Toronto with this first-inning solo blast …

  17. A.J. Burnett throws 70-pitch bullpen session, aims to return to Pirates rotation in two weeks

    Aug 30, 2015, 1:20 PM EDT

    A.J. Burnett AP

    A.J. Burnett has been out since late July with a strained flexor tendon in his right arm. There was some thought initially that the injury would be a season-ender (and thus career-ender) for the 38-year-old, but he’s beginning to make significant progress.

  18. Carlos Correa out fourth straight game with hamstring injury

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:59 AM EDT

    Carlos Correa AP

    This is probably a case of the ‘Stros playing it safe with a young star. They do have a four-game lead in the American League West standings and Correa has been pushed hard over the last three months.

  19. Lance Lynn expects to make next scheduled start despite suffering ankle injury Saturday

    Aug 30, 2015, 11:01 AM EDT

    Lance Lynn, Mike Matheny AP

    Cardinals right-hander Lance Lynn rolled his right ankle in the eighth inning of a shutout bid Saturday against the Giants and had to be pulled from the game, but it sounds like he is going to be fine.

Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. G. Stanton (2322)
  2. B. Crawford (2291)
  3. Y. Puig (2269)
  4. G. Springer (2034)
  5. D. Wright (1999)
  1. J. Hamilton (1971)
  2. J. Fernandez (1959)
  3. D. Span (1907)
  4. H. Ramirez (1863)
  5. C. Correa (1823)