Felix Hernandez: Comparing Him and Each Team's Young Star To Former MLB Greats
In 20 years, will we look back and ask "Who will be the next King Felix?"
We may. Or, we may think about how some injury stopped him from turning a promising youth into a hall of fame career that put him alongside the game's greats.
It's a fun exercise, comparing players of today and yesterday. Was Bonds better than Ruth? Was Pudge as good as Fisk?
We'll be looking at extreme upsides in most cases. Remember, these guys are young. They could blossom or stall just as fast. Don't take these too seriously. Just join me in dreaming about the stories we might be telling our grandkids about them.
In no particular order, other than alphabetical by city and grouped in divisions, here's a look at players currently 25 years old or younger, and who they might compare with someday if all goes well.
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Matt Wieters has the tools you want from an all around catcher.
He doesn't run well, but what catcher does?
His limitations stop there.
As a switch hitter who projects to hit well for both average and power from both sides of the plate, Wieters also shows great plate discipline. This is rare especially for a young player, especially from the position that takes the longest to develop.
Don't worry about the defense, though. He wasn't a guy who was rushed up because his bat couldn't wait for the defense to come around. He has solid foot work, athleticism and a strong arm from behind the plate.
Unfortunately he only has two years in the bigs for us to project his long term success. His 2010 saw dramatic drops in both his average and on base percentage. However with a BABIP that dipped to depths below anything he'd seen in the minors or majors, he stands to have a nice bounce back season in 2011.
Comparing him to Mike Pizza might be unfair to both parties. I don't know that Wieters will ever see Piazza's offense, but his defense should be far superior.
I don't think running a career slash line of .300/.335/.470 averaging around 20 homers a year with a peak in his prime, while providing solid defense, is overly optimistic at all.
If he does that, and I think his ceiling could see him do better, he'll be a close comparison to Ivan "Pudge" Rodriguez.
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This one was a little difficult as the Sox may go into 2011 with no player under 26 on their roster.
So we'll break the rules a bit and go with a guy who hasn't been 26 for long, Clay Buchholz.
He was an all-star and finished sixth in the Cy Young balloting in 2010 after a breakout 17-7 campaign that saw him run a 2.33 ERA, which was only beat by Felix Hernandez.
He fell a little short of the 200 innings you'd like to see from your starters, but while he was healthy he was effective. His xFIP and BABIP show that he could be due for some regression in 2011, but he has the ability to hold it all together for a fine career.
With only 64 games logged in his big league career still, the sample isn't where I'd like it to be to make a projection.
If he pitches to his potential though, I'd peg him for ~2000 strikeouts and an ERA around 3.50 and 160 wins which would be in Fernando Valenzuela territory.
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Jesus Montero won't be as good as Matt Wieters.
At least not behind the plate or with his on-base skills.
When it comes to being an absolute monster at the plate though, Montero projects to be just that.
His bat is probably major league ready already, but with a bit of a log jam at the C/1B/DH rotation in New York, and his catching skills still needing some polishing, Montero may begin the season at AAA.
He doesn't project as a guy who will stick behind the dish, but the Yankees may not be ready to admit that if for nothing else than trade leverage.
He just became drinking age, so at 21 there's still a lot of time. That also means it could be a bit early to go projecting who he may end up resembling.
Bad catching defense but a monster bat? Pretty hard not to think Mike Piazza, right?
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David Price has been what the Rays had hoped for so far.
He'll turn 26 during this season, but he's got two-plus years in the books at the big league level already.
He was a serious Cy Young contender in 2010 after winning 19 games, posting a 2.72 ERA and striking out 188 batters.
The projection systems show some regression for him in 2011, and not having as good of an offense or defense behind him could hurt also.
Price has great stuff, control and poise though. So I'd expect him to truck through 2011 and the rest of his career with solid numbers.
He could end up being a 220 win guy with around 2400 strikeouts thanks to an early start to his career. Doing so would have him looking something like Kevin Brown when all is said and done.
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Having only spent two years in the minors after being drafted out of high school, Snider got some early playing time in the big leagues.
He has gone up and down a couple times since, but in 2010 he cemented his spot as a big leaguer with 14 homers. His BABIP shows that his low average and OBP should make its way back up to levels seen before.
He shows pretty even splits against lefties and righties and distributes the ball evenly to all fields which is always nice to have in a player's corner. He is always providing solid defense in the corner outfield spots.
I think a .285/.345/.490 line is reasonable to expect. Since he's still only 23 he could fill into his frame even more, though he shouldn't have the body or skill-set that ages too poorly. Getting this kind of a jump into the big leagues, he could also end up being knocking on the door step of 300 home runs, though I'd peg him for more like 275.
Considering all that, he could rack up totals resembling Bobby Abreu.
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Danks turns 26 on tax day, so he sneaks onto this list.
With four seasons in the books, Danks has shown himself as being a capable 200 inning horse worth around four WAR.
He's not a guy who will blow a lot of batters away and he is susceptible to the long ball, especially in the bandbox the White Sox call home. He does have decent all around stuff, so he should have a fine career.
I could see him being right around a 13 win and 150 strikeout per season pitcher that hangs around an ERA of 3.70. If he ever gets out of Chicago and pitches at a place like Safeco Field or Petco Park, his numbers could be even a tick better.
If he continues this course he should be a 200 game winner, which in addition to the other expected stats would have him be roughly comparable to Orel Hershiser.
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So, we've got the obvious jokes regarding his name out of the way, right?
Carlos Santana arrived onto the scene in 2010 and in only 46 games put up a two WAR partial season. If he kept up that pace over a full season, he'd have put up an eye popping seven WAR rookie season.
While his batting average was only .260, his OBP was a stellar .401 thanks to 37 walks in those 47 games. This was no small sample fluke as Santana showed elite on-base skills all throughout his time in the minors, walking more than striking out in a couple seasons.
As a guy who could be a 25+ homer threat, getting on base a ton and hitting well from both sides of the plate, Santana has a chance to be something special. If he were an outfielder, teams would do back flips for him. As a catcher, they may leap over the moon.
It's so early, and of course he had that nasty injury. If he has an exceptionally long career thanks to his early start, without any lingering injuries, we could be talking Carlton Fisk here with not quite as many home runs.
Indians fans should be very excited.
Dodgers fans may want to just not watch.
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Jackson had a solid first season in the majors in 2010.
Who wouldn't take a .293 average and 181 hits from a rookie?
Well, the problem may be that Jackson ran a super high BABIP of .396 on the season. Having usually been more in the .350 range in the minors, it's hard to believe he won't regress some.
He probably won't ever be much more than a 10 HR per season guy, and rely on his speed to get on base, steal and advance first to third. He does provide solid defense though, so the whole package gives you a fairly valuable player.
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If this list were done next year, we'd be talking Mike Moustakas or one of the Royals other top prospects about to hit the league.
With so many prospects though, which are harder to project, we'll go with a guy already on the roster for a couple years.
Billy Butler has had a couple decent ~three WAR seasons to kick off his career. His defense really hurts his overall value, but the bat does not lack.
Two seasons batting over .300 and above average on-base skills to go along with 15-20 homer power is a nice mix. His peripheral numbers show that this should be sustainable, too. So the Royals should know what they have with Butler moving forward.
He very well could have a 240+ homer career, especially if being a DH preserves his legs.
Maybe Royals fans need not look any further than Mike Sweeney for a comp.
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Delmon Young is the best 25 and under player the Twins currently have that's been around a while.
It feels like the kid has been around forever thanks to his troubled days in the Rays minor league system. Alas, he is still a young player.
His defense has been outright bad which really hurts his value. While his offense doesn't provide anything eye popping, he could have a nice peak to his career averaging around 20 homers while batting .300 and getting on base at a .350 clip.
His defense being this bad in his mid 20's could really limit things for him. If his body ages poorly, it'll only hurt that much more. So he may end up as a DH somewhere to try and maximize his offensive production and value (or lack thereof from playing the field).
When his career enters the history books, he may be somewhere around Gary Matthews.
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Torii Hunter is one of the best and most respected centerfielders of our era.
You have to be pretty special to force him to another position. That's what happened when Bourjos came up and Hunter practically moved himself.
Things didn't go exactly as the Angels had hoped in his rookie campaign, but struggling isn't something you should worry about with a rookie. Bourjos posted an average and OBP a hundred points lower than his minor league stats show.
Without surprise, his peripherals indicate rookie struggles and bad luck. Add to that, he'll turn just 24 on the eve of the new season and you can see Angels fans shouldn't worry.
Bourjos has the tools to be one of the elite defensive center fielders in the game. His bat may only be good for a .285/.330/.420 slash line in his prime with 15 homer power. He could chip in a handful of doubles and a ton of steals. So, overall, he provides a nice package.
If all goes well, he could end up being close to a Kenny Lofton.
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This spot may ultimately need to go to Grant Green as being a shortstop takes his overall value higher.
Right now though, Chris Carter is in the bigs and has a bright future.
After getting his first taste in 2010, Carter should be more poised to take a step forward. He's got a nice mix of raw power and on-base skills. He'll strike out some, but he'll offset that some with his walks.
His first base defense will be average at best.
We could be looking at a guy with 300 homer or more potential. If he hits that potential, he could be a 30-35 homer player during his peak.
It wouldn't shock me if he turned out to be the next Bobby Bonds type.
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Sometimes, a player so special comes around you're forced o dream big about his potential.
Cue the calls of being a homer. I'm fine with that, though. Why? Because Felix is ours, and you can't have him.
Here's some food for thought. Felix will still be paying a surcharge to rent a car until his third start this season.
Before the age of 25, he has one runner up and one AL Cy Young Award to his name.
Though the game has changed, meaning he won't have the wins, innings, games, complete games and shutouts that some other guys did before him, Felix is well on his way to a hall of fame career.
300 wins is something out of reach for this generation of pitchers, and the Mariners offense hasn't helped Felix. Though, he's still on the doorstep of 100 before the age of 25, so it's still a very real possibility if he gets a real offense before much longer.
40 saves in your first season at the ripe age of 22 isn't too shabby.
Feliz has the stuff to be a knockout closer for a long time if he stays healthy.
Will the Rangers make him a starter again though, as he was in the minors? He wasn't exceptional as a starter, but he has been exceptional as a closer.
Small sample? Sure. He did it on a World Series participant team though, so the high leverage situations were plentiful.
If he sticks in the pen, thanks to his age, the sky is the limit. I don't want to go crazy here, but Dennis Eckersley (closer edition) may not be out of the question.
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Well, then. Why waste any time, Jason?
If not for some buster, Heyward would have been the 2010 NL Rookie of the Year.
With 18 bombs and an OBP near .400, Heyward threw up a five WAR in his rookie campaign.
You know what's even crazier? His BABIP lends the idea that he was a bit unlucky last season, and if he hits more like he did in the minors he'll be even better.
Above average defense, power and on-base skills. Toss in a few steals. Heyward could end up similar to Jermaine Dye.
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Stanton erupted onto the scene with 22 home runs in his rookie season.
That was in only 100 games, by the way.
Not only does he project as a big time power bat, he will provide above average defense also. Stanton has a chance to be a really special all around player. At only 21 years old, he has a chance to put up big time numbers over the course of his career.
While we only have a small sample and minor league numbers to work with, Stanton's real power could end up seeing him launch 40-45 homers or more a year during his peak.
He has real 400+ home run talent, and could end up being compared to Andre Dawson territory.
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Davis had a real nice rookie season tagging 19 homers, driving in 71 and providing solid defense at first base.
He may not ever be your ideal lumbering first baseman that hits 40 and begs for a move to DH. That's fine, though.
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The Phillies are an older team, in the middle of a stretch of competing. So they haven't had a ton of room for rookies.
That has to end soon though, Domonic Brown should arrive on the scene full time soon.
He could be as good as a 15 homer guy out of the gate. His average and on-base skills won't blow you you away, but he has the all around tools to be a productive big leaguer.
This one is extremely early to call, so we're taking an extreme stab in the dark and saying that he could end up as a Dusty Baker type.
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It's sad that we'll go without one of the most anticipated players in recent memory this season.
He'll be 23 when he next toes a major league mound and it's almost fitting that he's making us wait and anticipate his return much like we did his debut.
While he won't have the head start with age that a guy like Felix Hernandez did, Strasburg has the arsenal to rack up stats at a crazy fast rate.
92 strikeouts in his first 12 games in the bigs. Stretch that out over a full season and you're in the 250 range, leading the league. Again, he'll only be 23.
With how inconsistent and risky pitchers are, especially ones who have had major surgery, who knows? But since this is a list looking at where full potential could take a player, it's hard to not think Roger Clemens.
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Castro turns 21 a few days before the season starts.
He's not a big bopper or a player who will do any one thing exceptional, but he should be above average at almost everything.
Shortstops aren't expected to be muscle clad hitters, though. So as long as Castro maintains a solid glove he could turn into a Tony Fernandez.
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Bruce turns 24 at the start of the season and already has two 20+ homer seasons to his name.
His sophomore season saw the return of his average and on-base numbers to good levels, and he continued to provide plus defense.
Bruce has a chance to have a really good career with the start he's off to at a young age.
He even stands to see a jump in production this season as he moves towards his prime. When all is said and done, he could easily be a 300+ homer guy that provides solid defense.
I wouldn't be at all surprised to see him reach the level of Luis Gonzalez.
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I'm not going to say the Astros are ran by monkeys, but I'm not going to say they aren't either.
They had no interesting players under 25 on their roster last season and their best prospect probably needs another year in AAA.
Maybe the Astros rush him, which wouldn't be a shocker, but I'm not feeling good, and thinking about how this team is run isn't helping.
Sorry Astros fans (pindrop...).
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The Brewers have made a habit out of pumping out talented youngsters over the last several years.
Gallardo is one of the current crop of guys under 26 and already has a nice amount of experience with success.
He ran a really high BABIP in 2010, so his ERA should drop this season. He strikes out a bunch of batters and doesn't walk too many.
I think he could be on the path for a career similar to David Cone.
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For McCutchen, he has the task of not only being the best young player on his team but the best player overall.
For being as bad as they have been, you'd figure the Pirates would have built a nice farm system. Alas, they haven't and so McCutchen is the best thing going right now under 26 with a track record we can try to project.
He can hit for average and power, get on base at a good clip and steal some bags for you. His defense leaves a lot to be desired, so he isn't as valuable as he could be, but he's a nice player nonetheless.
At around 15 homers and 35 swipes a season, I'd peg him to end up being similar to Johnny Damon, with a little less defensive ability (well, he won't have a sissy arm like Damon).
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Rasmus has had a good start to his career. He belted 23 homers with well above average on-base skills last season.
The sample on his defense shows one good season, and one poor season. So, we'll call him average until we can get a bigger sample to make a case.
If he continues hanging out in the 20-25 homer range he could end up as a 300 homer guy. All things considered, I look at him to end up being similar to an Ellis Burks.
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Upton provides the type of tools you love in a guy.
Hitting for average and power, some speed on the base paths and plus defense.
His 2010 dipped from 2009 and stands to take a step forward this season. He should find himself.
I could write a bunch of words, but check this out. If Upton ends up as the next Sheff, Arizona will be mighty glad they didn't trade him.
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As one of the big stand out swing and misses by Oakland GM Billy Beane, Gonzalez shined in his first full season with the Rockies.
Hitting 34 homers at age 24 is impressive indeed.
He's going to strike out. A lot. He won't walk much at all. But he'll hit some moon shots and play passable defense while even tossing in a nice helping of steals.
We may need another full season to figure this guy out, but right now he's looking like the second coming of Reggie Jackson (minus the attitude).
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Kershaw has three seasons in the majors and will only be 23 when the season starts.
In 2011 he should have another fine season of 200+ strikeouts. He doesn't walk a ton and has shown the ability to keep the ball in the park.
Being so young to start a career has advantages. It allows those counting stats to keep on piling up.
In 15 years or so, when Kershaw hangs them up, he very well could be in the territory of a David Cone.
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Latos had a nice 2010, striking out a bunch, not walking many, running an ERA under 3.00 and pitching a bunch of innings.
He just turned 23 and his peripherals show that he should be pretty close to the same pitcher in 2011.
You'd probably rather hear that he's going to take a nice jump forward if you're a Padres fan, but you have to be thrilled with what Latos already is.
I still need to see more before coming to a complete conclusion of what to expect but remember, we're looking at best case upsides here.
Latos has a chance to mock Kershaw and end up like David Cone.
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Buster Posey wasted little time emerging in his rookie season.
Sending 18 balls over fences while hitting over .300 and getting on-base at an above average clip would be enough for most. Add in the fact that he's doing it at the toughest position to develop and you have the makings of a star.
I think Buster will have a similar 2011 which is just fine. He should see marginal gains as he progresses.
If he's a 25 homer catcher, while providing solid defense behind the dish in his prime, we could be looking at him ending up with a career that makes us think Brian Downing.