Last week, Peter Bourjos of the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim strained his hamstring and was placed on the DL. In response, the Angels called up the number one ranked prospect in all of baseball, 19 year old Mike Trout. Yes, that is correct. Mike Trout is 19 years old, had never played above AA-ball and now he’s a starting center fielder in the major leagues. When I was 19, I was learning to play beirut (not beer pong) and being nicknamed “The Big Barfman.” Mike Trout is playing baseball in the Major Leagues. At first, his call-up made me feel old because he was born in 1991. Then it made me wonder just how hard it is to be a successful teenager in the major leagues. Here is our list of the best teenagers to ever play the game.
Keep in mind that this is not the list of the best players to ever play as teenagers. Many great players have come up as teenagers, but didn’t make this list because they did not perform well at such a young age (not blaming them). Alex Rodriguez, for example, played 65 major league games as a teenager, but only managed to hit .224 in that time. Mickey Mantle was a teenage major leaguer but he only hit .267. Even the great Sandy Koufax cracked the Dodgers’ bullpen and rotation as a 19 year old but only pitched 41.1 innings. This post focuses on the very best seasons by teenage players in the major leagues. So, without further adieu, here we go.
It’s tough to play shortstop in the major leagues at any age, let alone 19. Édgar got the call to be the new starting shortstop for the Florida Marlins on May 18th, 1996. He handled the pressure of the most demanding position with relative ease, only making 11 errors in 108 games. He was pretty successful at the plate too, hitting .309 with five home runs and 31 RBI, adding 16 steals to boot. He even had a 22 game hitting streak, the longest by a rookie since 1989. The next season, he famously hit a walk-off single in game seven of the World Series to give the Marlins their first world championship. He has gone on to have a very solid career, and was a World Series hero again in 2010 with the Giants.
“Tony C” burst onto the scene at Fenway Park and almost instantly became the Red Sox starting left fielder. Conigliaro’s season was cut short by a broken arm and broken toes (that’s what wiki says, i don’t know if it was all at once), but he still played in 111 games, hitting .290 with 24 home runs and 52 RBI. Those 24 home runs are still the most by any player under the age of 20, even for those players who were major leaguers for multiple teenage seasons. Unfortunately for Tony, his career was cut short by a horrific eye injury in 1967 when he was hit in the cheek by a pitch against the Angels. Conigliaro was never really the same after that, and was out of the game by age 30.
Ott had a bit of a leg up on the other players on this list because he actually spent time in the majors off and on starting when he was 17. It wasn’t until 1928, when he was 19, that he became an every-day player, and he did not waste the opportunity. Ott played in 124 games that season, hitting .322 with 18 home runs and 77 RBI as the Giants right fielder. He also played solid defense, racking up 14 outfield assists. Despite his small stature (5’9″, 170 lbs), Ott went on to become one of the more menacing sluggers in the league. He eventually joined the 500 Home Run Club and was elected to the Hall of Fame.
Bert Blyleven should be recognized for more than crying his way into the Hall of Fame. He was also, in my opinion, the third best teenage starting pitcher in major league history. Bert made his major league debut on June 5, 1970 and ended up with 25 starts that season for the Twins. In those starts, Bert pitched 164 innings, striking out 135 and only walking 2.6 men per 9 innings. Overall, Bert was 10-9 with a 3.18 ERA and a very low 1.159 WHIP. He’d go on to pitch 22 seasons in the bigs, notching 287 wins and 3,701 Ks. He then began a twenty year campaign of tooting his own horn, until finally someone got tired of it and let him in the Hall of Fame. Congratulations, Bert!
I’ll be honest, I’d never heard of Bunker before I started researching this piece. If you have, good for you, because he was awesome as a 19 year old rookie in 1964. In 29 starts, Wally went 19-5 with a 2.69 ERA and an absurd 1.042 WHIP. While he didn’t strike too many guys out (96), Wally had great control (2.6 BB/9) and was very dependable (214 innings). His 19 wins are still a record for pitchers under the age of 20. He even got the Mayor of Baltimore to rename the mound “Baltimore’s Bunker Hill” and even added dirt from the real Bunker Hill to it! Pretty Badass!
1. Dwight Gooden – Starting Pitcher, New York Mets
This was about as easy a decision as I have ever had to make on this blog. When you talk about someone bursting onto the scene, Dwight Gooden should be the first athlete you think of. “Dr. K” took New York, and the NL, by storm and dominated in a way that had never been seen by a player so young. In 31 starts, Gooden went 17-9 with a 2.60 ERA and a 1.073 WHIP, but that barely scratches the surface of what Gooden was able to do from the rubber. He struck out 276 batters, which is still a rookie record that may never be broken. He also set records for most strike outs in a three game period (43) and K/9 by a starter (11.39) that still stand today. He also became the youngest pitcher ever to pitch in the All-Star game that season. Unfortunately, drug addiction eventually derailed his career and robbed him of most of his talents.
So What Can We Expect from Trout?
It is pretty impossible to predict what Mike Trout will do during his time in the majors. For one, he might not be here that long. The Angels needed someone to man center field while Peter Bourjos went on the disabled list, so they turned to Trout. That being said, if they didn’t think Trout had the chance to be an impact player, they would have brought up a random AAA outfielder for a couple of weeks or let Reggie Willits play the position. They brought Trout all the way from AA because they know they have a special player, and they want to see what he’s all about.
Trout has already used his tremendous speed to make a little bit of an impact, beating out a bunt for his first major league hit, and making a spectacular running catch in center in his very first game. That being said, I really would not expect much from Trout. He’ll hold his own but, when Bourjos comes back, I’d expect Trout to be sent to AAA. That’s where he should be now. There’s a reason why players usually go to every level of the minor leagues. Most of them need that seasoning and experience. Skipping any level with a player is risky, let alone one so young.
Some “experts” say that the Angels are rushing Trout, which could have a very negative effect on his career. If he fails miserably in this stint with the big club, will it affect his confidence? I have a feeling the Angels have learned from the mistakes teams have made in the past with young players (The Rangers with David Clyde comes to mind) and are only calling Trout up because they know his mental and emotional makeup will prepare him for whatever happens. You don’t mess with the development player with Trout’s limitless potential. The risk is always there, but I think Trout will be OK either way.
If Trout proceeds to hit .350 over the next few weeks, do you unseat Bourjos? Peter Bourjos is not Mike Trout, and he never will be. Trout has the ability and potential to do everything that Bourjos can do, only significantly better. That being said, Bourjos earned that starting center field job in spring training. He unseated the great Torii Hunter (with a little help from father time). Is it fair to lose your job because you got hurt? Hey, it happened to Wally Pipp. I, for one, am excited to see what Trout can do. If he succeeds, it could mean the world will get to meet Bryce Harper this season too.
Trout image courtesy of: http://thegazette.com
Renteria image courtesy of: http://www.homeruncards.com
Conigliaro image courtesy of: http://www.kenmorecollectibles.com
Ott image courtesy of: http://en.wikipedia.org
Blyleven image courtesy of: http://badwax.net
Bunker image courtesy of: http://1965topps.blogspot.com
Gooden image courtesy of: http://www.homeruncards.com
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