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. Josh Johnson needs a second Tommy John surgery

    Apr 23, 2014, 5:02 PM EDT

    San Diego Padres Photo Day Getty Images

    Another sad chapter in Josh Johnson’s injury wrecked career, as the right-hander will undergo season-ending Tommy John surgery without ever throwing a regular season pitch for the Padres.

  2. Cole Hamels will make his season debut tonight

    Apr 23, 2014, 4:06 PM EDT

    cole hamels phillies getty Getty Images

    Phillies left-hander Cole Hamels is off the disabled list and will make his season debut tonight against the Dodgers after sitting out the first three weeks with biceps tendinitis.

  3. HBT Daily: Is Albert Pujols’ deal still worth it to Angels?

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:50 PM EDT

    HBT Daily Logo

    Albert Pujols entered baseball’s history books after belting his 500th home run, but with seven years remaining on his deal in Los Angeles, HBT’s Craig Calcaterra wonders how high of a level Pujols must continue to play at in order to call his deal a success.

  4. Sammy Sosa wasn’t invited to Wrigley Field’s 100th birthday

    Apr 23, 2014, 3:01 PM EDT

    sammy sosa getty Getty Images

    Sammy Sosa hit 293 homers at Wrigley Field, but the Cubs are trying to make people forget that happened.

  5. Matt Harrison is rejoining the Rangers’ rotation

    Apr 23, 2014, 2:30 PM EDT

    Matt Harrison Getty Images

    Matt Harrison will come off the disabled list and start Sunday for the Rangers, seeing his first big-league game action in more than a year following multiple back surgeries and Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.

  6. Red Sox demote Daniel Nava to the minors

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:35 PM EDT

    ALCS - Detroit Tigers v Boston Red Sox - Game One Getty Images

    Daniel Nava is headed to the minors one season after hitting .303.

  7. Nick Franklin is making his first career start in the outfield

    Apr 23, 2014, 1:05 PM EDT

    Nick Franklin AP

    Nick Franklin is trying to find a way into the Mariners’ lineup.

  8. Would-be Astros closer Jesse Crain still isn’t near a return

    Apr 23, 2014, 12:16 PM EDT

    jesse crain getty Getty Images

    Jesse Crain hasn’t thrown a pitch in a game since June 29 and it doesn’t look like that will be changing any time soon.

  9. Are Kirk Gibson or Kevin Towers in trouble?

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:36 AM EDT

    Towers Gibson AP AP

    It’s been an awful start for the Snakes. Awful enough to get someone fired?

  10. Brewers prospect Johnny Hellweg likely needs Tommy John surgery

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:19 AM EDT

    Johnny Hellweg Getty Images

    Brewers pitching prospect Johnny Hellweg, who was acquired from the Angels as part of the Zack Greinke swap in July of 2012, has been diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament and is expected to undergo Tommy John elbow surgery.

  11. Hisashi Iwakuma nearing return to the Mariners

    Apr 23, 2014, 11:02 AM EDT

    Hisashi Iwakuma Reuters

    Mariners right-hander Hisashi Iwakuma was expected to begin a minor-league rehab assignment this week as he comes back from a spring training finger injury, but instead the team had him throw a 58-pitch simulated game yesterday.

  12. Wrigley Field — the most human park in baseball — turns 100-years-old

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:48 AM EDT

    Wrigley Field

    Fenway may be the site of more accomplishments, but it’s easier to see ourselves in Wrigley Field.

  13. Padres looking to trade catcher Nick Hundley

    Apr 23, 2014, 10:15 AM EDT

    Nick Hundley AP

    San Diego is looking to trade one-time starting catcher Nick Hundley.

  14. Great Moments in Instant Replay: Yunel Escobar strikes out on a 4-2 count

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:29 AM EDT

    Screen Shot 2014-04-23 at 9.28.49 AM

    Not the best call by instant replay officials in the system’s brief history.

  15. Yasiel Puig’s experience inspires Florida lawmakers to pressure MLB on its Cuban player policy

    Apr 23, 2014, 9:08 AM EDT

    Yasiel Puig Getty Getty Images

    Right now, Cuban players have an incentive to avoid coming straight to the United States. That incentive should be eliminated.

  16. New York columnist clutches his pearls over Matt Harvey giving the finger in a picture

    Apr 23, 2014, 8:40 AM EDT

    Matt Harvey AP

    The columnist’s name is Anthony Rieber. And he apparently doesn’t get out much.

  17. And That Happened: Tuesday’s scores and highlights

    Apr 23, 2014, 6:35 AM EDT

    Jose Fernandez Getty Images

    Pitching porn in Atlanta. Graphic, hard core pitching porn.

  18. Shane Victorino could be activated Wednesday

    Apr 22, 2014, 11:20 PM EDT

    shane victorino getty Getty Images

    CSNNewEngland.com’s Sean McAdam reports that outfielder Shane Victorino may be activated from the disabled list Wednesday if he makes it through his third minor league rehab game Tuesday night at Triple-A Pawtucket without experiencing any issues.

  19. Adam Wainwright leaves start with hyperextended knee

    Apr 22, 2014, 10:01 PM EDT

    adam wainwright getty Getty Images

    Cardinals ace Adam Wainwright landed awkwardly while trying to chase down a high-chopper off the bat of Chris Young in the seventh inning Tuesday at Citi Field and left the game with a hyperextended right knee.

  20. This is the fan who caught Albert Pujols’ 500th homer …

    Apr 22, 2014, 9:17 PM EDT

    pujols homer fan

    Angels fan Tim Sherrill, a resident of Ponoma, California and a member of the United States Air Force, caught Albert Pujols’ 500th career home run on Tuesday night in the nation’s capital …

Featured video

Pujols deal still worth it to Angels?
Top 10 MLB Player Searches
  1. I. Davis (3972)
  2. D. Robertson (2753)
  3. M. Machado (2742)
  4. M. Minor (2736)
  5. K. Farnsworth (2650)
  1. M. Harrison (2579)
  2. G. Springer (2551)
  3. M. Cuddyer (2540)
  4. O. Taveras (2421)
  5. C. Kershaw (2387)