From left: Braves outfielder Ronald Acuna Jr., Nationals outfielder Juan Soto and Dodgers first baseman Cody Bellinger. USA TODAY Sports: Rick Scuteri | Brad Mills | Dale Zanine

Stargazing: 25-and-under players with Hall of Fame potential

Hall of Famers, they are among us. 

When Derek Jeter and Larry Walker are enshrined in Cooperstown on July 26, hopeful Hall of Famers still waiting on the ballot — Manny Ramirez, Barry Bonds and Omar Vizquel — won’t be the only legends longing for their days in a gold jacket.  

Across Florida and Arizona, there are active (future) Hall of Famers preparing for another season of career resume-bulking. We can say with certainty that Mike Trout, Clayton Kershaw, Max Scherzer, Miguel Cabrera and Justin Verlander are future Hall of Famers. Even 27-year old Mookie Betts, who is entering just his sixth full MLB season, looks destined to coast into Cooperstown.  

But what about baseball’s next generation? All across the league, exciting young players are emerging as franchise cornerstones and likely will be All-Stars many times over. Yet only the select few among them will achieve baseball immortality. 

In projecting the Hall of Fame chances for baseball’s best young players, I considered who has the goods to sustain elite production over the long haul. (To be considered, a player must be 25 or under. Position players must have accumulated at least 100 games of MLB experience, and pitchers must have pitched at least 140 innings in the big leagues.)  

A lot of baseball must be played, of course, before any of these players become locks. Am I missing anyone? Let the fun begin ... 

FIRST BALLOT!

Cody Bellinger | Dodgers | 1B | AGE: 24

The Dodgers' slugger is the easiest call on the list. Bellinger already ranks 90th on the list of active wins above replacement (WAR). He hits for average (career .278; .305 last season) and tremendous power. With 111 home runs in just three seasons, Bellinger looks destined to crush at least 500 long balls. The only real question is how long he’ll play and how many records he’ll break. 

Juan Soto | National | LF | 21

Through one-and-a-half seasons, Soto has proved, simply, that he is one of the best players in baseball. Of any age. A full season of Soto in Washington more than made up for anything that was lost when Bryce Harper signed with Philadelphia. An All-MLB Second Team selection in his first full season, Soto slugged five home runs and 14 RBI in the postseason and had a .333/.438/.741 slash line with three homers and seven RBI in the World Series.  


Mets first baseman Pete Alonso hit 53 homers as a rookie last season.  Andy Marlin-USA TODAY Sports

EXCELLENT POTENTIAL

Ronald Acuna Jr. | Braves | OF | 22

The National League Rookie of the Year at age 20 in 2018, Acuna, is the face of baseball’s future. He followed up his rookie year with a 40-30 season (41 home runs, 37 stolen bases) in 2019. Through two seasons, his numbers are better than those of Andruw Jones, Mickey Mantle and Frank Robinson. He and Soto will have epic NL East battles for years to come.  

Pete Alonso | Mets | 1B | 25

He launched a league-leading 53 home runs as a rookie last season for the Mets. He hit for a decent average (.260) and ranked third in baseball in total bases (348). Alonso won’t maintain that exceptional production every season, but his career seems built to last.  

Walker Buehler | Dodgers | Pitcher | 25

“Buehler. Buehler.” Hall of Fame voters eventually will be call Walker’s name with much more enthusiasm than Ben Stein did in this 1986 Hollywood classic. He was 14-4 with a 3.26 ERA last season. Baseball’s best young arm will soon be MLB’s best. Period. Stop.

Rafael Devers | Red Sox | 3B | 23

Devers has superstar potential. Last season he dropped a league-leading 54 doubles with 359 total bases. Devers batted .311 with 32 homers, 115 RBI and a .916 OPS. He looks like the second coming of Adrian Beltre and the face of baseball in Boston.  

Jack Flaherty | Cardinals | Pitcher | 23

The Cardinals ace (2.75 ERA, 231 SO in 196.1 IP) is already one of the nastiest pitchers in baseball, and he’s only getting better. He has multiple Cy Young potential.  

Eloy Jimenez | White Sox | OF | 23

One of the handful of young stars on the White Sox, along with Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and Luis Robert, Jimenez is the early leader in the clubhouse when it comes to Cooperstown dreams. With 31 bombs through just 122 games, Jimenez has otherworldly power. He’ll need to clean up the strikeouts (though that’s less important in the modern game). In a deep lineup for at least the next few seasons, Jimenez’s run production will continue to rise.  

Mike Soroka | Braves | Pitcher | 22

The 2015 first-round pick was exceptional (13-4, 2.68 ERA) as a rookie last season. He’s already overtaken Max Fried and Mike Foltynewicz as Atlanta’s ace — a designation that could last into the 2030s.  

Gleyber Torres | Yankees | 2B | 23

Torres officially arrived last season, blasting 38 homers (while batting .278) for the Bronx Bombers. Already a two-time All Star, Torres is the type of five-tool player who will be a franchise cornerstone, alongside Aaron Judge, for as long as he’s healthy. And, yes, he’s a better infielder than Jeter.  


Could Blue Jays third baseman Vladimir Guerrero Jr. join his dad in the Hall of Fame someday?  Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

TALENTED, BUT MUST SEE MUCH MORE

Ozzie Albies | Braves | 2B | 23

The Curacao native is one of the core players who will bring a World Series back to Atlanta. He’ll be a premier second basemen of the next decade but could be overshadowed by teammate Ronald Acuna Jr. 

Shane Bieber | Indians | Pitcher | 24

The Indians new ace (15-8, 3.28 ERA) will prove better than Trevor Bauer and close to Corey Kluber. Has 377 strikeouts in 329 career innings. 

Vlad Guerrero Jr. | Blue Jays | 3B | 20

The only question for Guerrero (15 HR and 69 RBI in 123 games in 2019) is whether he can keep his weight and health in check for a decade-plus. If he can, the Guerreros could become the first father-son Hall of Fame duo in MLB history.  

Yoan Moncada | White Sox | 2B | 24

Moncada’s ceiling is about as high as that of Jimenez, but he has more flaws in his game. He’s a terrific talent (25 HR and 79 RBI in 2019) who will thrive on the South Side for years.  

Franmil Reyes | Indians | RF |24

Reyes has game-changing power. Hitting 37 bombs last season was no minor feat. But chances are that Reyes is more Jorge Soler or David Ortiz. He’ll struggle to maintain elite production for more than a few seasons.  

Alex Verdugo | Red Sox | OF | 23

The center fielder has serious upside (.294 with 12 HR in 106 games for the Dodgers last season), but he’ll need to put up huge numbers to fill the Mookie Betts-sized hold in Boston.

Who missed our cut (for now):  SS Bo Bichette, Blue Jays, 22 (only 46 games played); SS Fernando Tatis, Jr., Padres, 21 (84 games played); 1B-OF Yordan Alvarez, Astros, 22 (87 games played); DH-P Shohei Ohtani, Angels, 25; SS Carlos Correa, Astros 25; 3B-SS Alex Bregman, Astros, 25; SS Corey Seager, Dodgers, 25; P Dakota Hudson, Cardinals, 25. 

Matt Foley is a writer and editor based in South Norwalk, Connecticut. Growing up on Chicago’s South Side, Foley was, thankfully, raised a Cubs fan. His work has been featured in B/R Mag, SLAM, OZY and The New York Times. Think you can hit his changeup? Let him know on Twitter: @mattyfoles.


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