Image credit: Mike Trout (Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images)
What can’t be overlooked about the Hall of Fame is that the admission requirement of at least 10 major league seasons is demanding. There are no short-term wonders in Cooperstown whose careers last just four or five years.
Those enshrined in Cooperstown have proven themselves over the long run, with no exceptions for career-ending injuries. A baseball Hall of Famer has to be both durable and impactful.
The foundation, however, is laid in the early years, and active right now are 10 under-30 major league players who have made at least a down payment on an eventual spot in Cooperstown.
But before we celebrate Generation Next, let’s nod to the 30-something vet set on track for the Hall of Fame. Listed alphabetically, they are: Miguel Cabrera, Zack Greinke, Clayton Kershaw, Craig Kimbrel, Yadier Molina, Albert Pujols, CC Sabathia, Max Scherzer and Justin Verlander. Robinson Cano has the stats but not the writers’ esteem following his 2018 drug suspension.
Trout arrived in the big leagues a month before turning 20, and in his seven full seasons he won two American League MVPs, finished second four times and slipped to fourth once. He was the AL Rookie of the Year in 2012, and was an all-star each of his first seven seasons, voted into the starting lineup five times. The Angels made a commitment to Trout last offseason, extending his deal to cover 12 years and guarantee him $426.5 million.
Arenado is the first player in history to win a Gold Glove in each of his first six big league seasons—and that’s despite the fact he didn’t even debut until four weeks into his rookie campaign of 2013. He’s already fourth on the all-time list for Gold Gloves at third base. Playing at Coors Field has been a knock from MVP voters, but they are slowly warming. Arenado has climbed steadily in the voting for the National League honor from eighth in 2015 to third in 2018. He is a four-time all-star, starting each of the last two years, and he has led the NL in home runs three times and RBIs twice. This spring he agreed to an eight-year deal with an average annual value of $32.5 million, second only to Trout.
Stanton broke in to the big leagues in 2010 and quickly established himself as one of the game’s premiere power hitters. Along with Nelson Cruz and Edwin Encarnacion, he is one of three sluggers to hit 300 home runs in 2010s. Stanton is a four-time all-star who won the National League MVP with the Marlins in 2017 when he hit 59 home runs and drove in 132 runs with a .631 slugging percentage. The challenge for Stanton has been staying healthy.
Betts is the defending American League MVP who also finished second in the voting in 2016 and sixth in 2017. The three-time Gold Glove winner also has claimed Silver Slugger honors each of the last two seasons. Only 26, he has showcased an intriguing blend of power, speed and defense. Betts helped drive the 2018 Red Sox to World Series victory.
Altuve is the ultimate overachiever. Just 5-foot-6 and 165 pounds, he is a speedy, run-producing second baseman. He led the American League in hits four straight seasons and led in stolen bases twice. Altuve was the AL MVP in 2017 and finished third in the voting in 2016. He is a six-time all-star and World Series champion with the 2017 Astros.
Drafted and developed by the Marlins, Yelich flourished with the Brewers after joining them as a 26-year-old in 2018. He was the National League MVP for the NL Central champions last year after leading the league in batting average (.326), slugging percentage (.598) and OPS (1.000). Yelich has won a Gold Glove in center field and is a two-time Silver Slugger honoree.
Rizzo was originally drafted by the Red Sox, dealt to the Padres and then acquired by the Cubs after Theo Epstein, the general manager when Rizzo was drafted by the Red Sox, became the president of the Cubs. He is durable and powerful, averaging 29 home runs and 155 games played the last six seasons with Chicago. The three-time all-star also has been a three-time top 10 finisher for National League MVP and has won two Gold Gloves.
Harper has the challenge of living up to hype. Drafted by the Nationals at age 17 with the first pick in the 2010 draft, he drew attention to himself when he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated after graduating from high school at the age of 16 so he could attend junior college and enhance his draft potential. He was the National League MVP in 2015, when he led the league with 42 home runs, and has been a six-time all-star. The Phillies lured him away from Washington with a 13-year, $330 million deal, the second largest guarantee in major league history to Trout’s deal.
Still just 25, Diaz already has 122 big league saves to go with a 2.68 ERA. In 2018 he led the majors with 57 saves in an all-star season. Diaz was the price the Mariners paid to get the Mets to take second baseman Robinson Cano and the $120 million he still has coming through 2023.
Cole represents starting pitchers in light of the downturn the last three years of Giants lefthander Madison Bumgarner, the only under-30 starting pitcher with more wins than Cole’s 79. Just 28, Cole is a two-time all-star who has finished top five in Cy Young Award voting twice. Cole ranks 14th among active pitchers in career ERA (3.41).