In putting together our list of the 100 greatest players of all time, there was a lot of discussion about how peak performance and career longevity intersect. For young players in particular, injuries can completely change the trajectory of a career and alter legacies, as Pete Reiser, JR Richard and others have learned. Nolan Ryan, Derek Jeter, and Cal Ripken are all-time greats because they were great, but also because they were lucky enough to stay in the field for so many years.
What does that mean for today’s young stars? Which John Soto he has accomplished so far is extraordinary, almost unprecedented, and has set him on the career path of an all-time great. We can hope this continues for him, for Vladimir Guerrero Jr.. and the best of other young baseball players, as they follow the flight paths of some of their legendary ancestors.
I asked Sarah Langs to help me find the best historical comparisons for the younger generation of stars (for the purposes of this exercise, ages 27 and under) who could one day be part of the Top 100 conversation.
Juan Soto, Nationals
Historical Comparison: ted williams
It is as if the mold that was used to create Williams, the ballplayer, was put away until Soto was born in 1998, and then reapplied: Soto is a complete replica of Williams as a hitter, with the (great) competitive arrogance, the patience, the energy on the left side of the plate. One difference so far: Soto learned earlier in life to take defense more seriously than Williams, who later regretted not working on this part of his game.
Soto made his debut four years ago at age 19, and considering his incredible start to his career, he has a chance to be a Hall of Fame-caliber player.
Ronald Acuna Jr..,Braves
Historical Comparison: Willie Mays
As Langs pointed out, a Mays comparison feels a bit scary to attach to anyone. But Mays was one of only five players to hit more than 400 home runs and steal more than 300 bases (the others: Barry Bonds, Alex Rodriguez, Andre Dawson and Carlos Beltran), and Acuña, who just turned 24 two months ago, he already has 105 home runs and 78 steals. Even if Atlanta’s coaching staff begins to advise the young outfielder against a reckless pursuit of stolen base numbers, to give him a better chance of staying injury-free and staying in the lineup, Acuña also appears to be getting better as a hitter from month to month with his absurd power towards all the bands of the field.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr.., Blue Jays
Historical Comparison: No his father, a member of the Hall of Fame. Rather: Manny Ramirez
Vladimir Jr. has more patience than his dad, no doubt; Junior’s 86 walks last year, in just his third season in the majors, were more than Vlad Sr. had in any of his 16 major league seasons. And Vladimir Jr. seems to have a knack for recognizing and hitting breaking pitches, which is something that sets Manny apart.
Two years ago, we might still have wondered about the longevity of Vlad Jr.’s career, given his physical condition. But he’s spent another seemingly diligent offseason training, cutting his weight even further, increasing his strength.
Fernando Tatis, Jr.., Fathers
Historical Comparison: Alex Rodriguez
With more speed and flexibility, FTJ is probably a better athlete than young Alex Rodriguez. But Rodriguez was more focused on his approach at the plate and in early career health. Whether Tatis Jr. can stay at shortstop remains to be seen. But whether he’s an infielder or an outfielder, he’s a transformative offensive player. Another competition could be Robin Yount, a Hall of Famer who went from shortstop to the outfield, earning two MVPs along the way and finishing his career with 3,142 hits.
Corbin Burnes, Brewers
Historical Comparison: Roy Halladay
Pitching for four major league seasons from 1998 to 2001, Roy Halladay posted a 4.95 ERA and was dropped from the Blue Jays’ rotation. Halladay was sent to the minors with orders to alter his shooting mechanics to try to create more movement on the delivery. In 2002, he made the All-Star team for the first time.
In 2019, Burnes, then 24, posted an 8.82 ERA for the Brewers and, like Halladay, was sent down to the minors in an effort to find solutions. And now, like Halladay, he’s developed a wacky move and found a way to harness that material.
Historical Comparison: nolan ryan
No, it doesn’t matter, we remove it. No one should compare to Ryan, who might have been the most unique player in the game before the arrival of shōhei ohtani. Ryan finished his career with 5,386 innings, 2,795 walks and 5,714 strikeouts, and Buehler won’t come close to those numbers. Nobody will, ever.
But like a young Ryan, Buehler’s ability to swing into the air separates him from his peers: He has 632 strikeouts in his first 573⅓ innings, and given the Dodgers’ preeminence, it seems likely Buehler has a chance to climb the ladder. postseason leaderboards.
Historical Comparison: Carlton Fisk
In its size and steady demeanor, Smith has long reminded testers of Buster Posey. But if the electronic strike zone is implemented early in Smith’s career, and that seems highly likely, then the wide receiver position will become more dedicated to offense, something that is already a strength for Smith. In his first three seasons, he has an adjusted OPS+ of 136. For context’s sake, here’s how other catchers fared in their first three seasons (of more than a handful of plate appearances):
Johnny Bench: 130
Yogi Berra: 116
Yordan Alvarez, stars
Historical Comparison: willie mccovey
Of all Langs’ compositions, this one might fit the best: Like McCovey, Alvarez is a big, tall, intimidating left-handed hitter, someone pitchers should fear. Now that Alvarez’s knee problems have been surgically fixed, he should be scaring pitchers for many years to come. His career adjusted OPS+ is a staggering 150 through his first 233 games.
Corey Seager, rangers
Historical Comparison: Cal Ripken Jr.
A confession is in order here: the pairing of Seager and Ripken is all about height, because Seager is about the same size as Ripken. Seager is probably a better pure hitter than Ripken, but Ripken was a much better defender and didn’t move to third base until late in his career, while Seager might have to make the switch in the next few years. Most importantly, Ripken stayed in the field, day after day, year after year. Seager has dealt with many injuries, but the Rangers signed him to a $325 million contract believing that will change.
Carlos Correa, free agent
Historical Comparison: Ernie Banks
When he’s on the field, he’s one of the best, particularly in the postseason. Correa appears to be a natural for the big stage. The same question that hangs over Seager also hangs over Correa: Will his early career injuries be an aberration or the first signs of a bigger concern?
Bo Bichette, Blue Jays
Historical Comparison: Derek Jeter
Well, the selection of this particular historical twin belongs to me, and not to Sarah, because I see a lot of similarities between Bichette and the young Jeter I covered. The seemingly relentless focus in baseball, a trait that can propel a player through exhaustion and slumps. “He’s fiercely competitive, every day, from the moment he wakes up to the moment he goes to sleep,” said longtime Jays and ESPN broadcaster Dan Shulman. “That’s Bo. … He’s a gym rat.” Jeter was like that too.
The aggressive approach at the plate is the same; Bichette loves to attack pitches the way Jeter did. Jeter was never an elite defender, nor was Bichette, but increasingly, Bichette is a dependable fielder, as was Derek. Bichette wasn’t even the biggest star on his own team last year, but he put up some serious numbers in his first full season in the big leagues: 191 hits, 121 runs scored, 102 RBIs, 60 extra-base hits, 25 steals in 26 attempts. Jeter never won an MVP, was never the best player in his league over a period of three or four years, but he finished his career sixth in hits and 11th in runs scored. Bichette has the initial look of a player who will be that type of player.
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