MLB Predictions: What Three Outfielders Will Be Our Mays, Mantle, Snider?
With the recent passing of Duke Snider, I started to wonder if our generation has an equivalent to the triumvirate of May, Mantle and Snider in the 1950s.
Granted, no city has three teams any more, but are there three outfielders playing today that are/will be considered all-time greats that are great on defense, at the plate and/or have great speed like Willie, Mickey and The Duke?
This got to me to thinking and I realized that the deepest position in baseball isn't in the outfield any more, it's first base; and the list of active potentially all-time great outfielders isn't that deep, but I still wanted to see who I would pick to be our version of "Willie, Mickey and the Duke."
This was tough. Mays and Mantle are top five all-time center fielders with Snider a top seven and Mays is a top five all-time player, regardless of position with Mickey being top-15 and Snyder being top-40.
The players playing today are not anywhere close to those guys all-time, and probably never will be.
So, keeping that in mind, I decided to break this down into three areas: Who were the three outfielders that would have made this list 10 years ago, who are the ones currently playing and who are the three going forward if you were to pretend it's 2021 instead of 2011.
I'll also list honorable mentions for each time period.
Let's start by going back to 2001 and see who the choices would be.
2001: Bonds, Ramirez and Ichiro
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Going back 10 years, there was a great crop of outfielders. Barry Bonds and Manny Ramirez in left field, Ken Griffey Jr. in center field and Ichiro, Vladimir Guerrero and Gary Sheffield in right field among others.
My choice for 2001's version of Willie, Mickey and The Duke are Bonds, Ramirez and Ichiro. Yes, you have to ignore PED use by Bonds and Ramirez after 2001, but they are our generation's greatest left- and right-handed hitters so they have to be the choice.
The 2001 season was Ichiro's rookie year and all he did was win the MVP and Rookie of the Year.
Defensively, Bonds and Ramirez aren't on the same level as Willie, Mickey and The Duke (though Bonds was much better defensively when he was younger than he was in 2001). Ichiro has the strongest and most accurate arm since Roberto Clemente and covers ground like Willie Mays.
Why didn't I choose Ken Griffey Jr. and instead gave him an honorable mention? Well, his best years were in the 1990s while my choices continued to produce well into the 2000s and beyond.
Sheffield and Guerrero also get honorable mentions because they were both forces at the plate and had cannons for arms, but in comparison to Manny, Barry and Ichiro fell just short.
2011: Braun, Hamilton and Ichiro
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In 2011, the crop of great, proven outfielders isn't very deep. The best center fielders for example are all young or haven't lived up to their potential.
My choice of 2011's version of Willie, Mickey and The Duke are Ryan Braun, Josh Hamilton and Ichiro.
Ten years later and Ichiro makes this list again. He is still the best singles hitter in the game (though if you ever watch him hit batting practice, he has power, too). His arm is still a cannon and he keeps winning Gold Gloves (yes, that award doesn't mean as much as it did during Mays' time).
Josh Hamilton is one of the best overall outfielders in the game today. Good defense and a good arm and just a terror at the plate. Provided he can remain healthy, he will continue to be a force.
Ryan Braun was a tough choice to make over my honorable mention. I believe he is one of the most underrated players in the game. Yes, his defense needs work, but at the plate is where he truly shines.
In just four years, he's amassed a career .304 batting average, .364 OBP, .554 slugging percentage, .918 OPS and an OPS+ of 140. This along with 128 home runs in four years and averaging almost 200 hits a season is why he's my choice.
My honorable mention is Carl Crawford and he could have easily made this list. At the plate, Braun is much better, but Crawford's speed and defense are his strengths. If you want to swap Crawford and Braun, you won't get much argument from me.
2021: Jackson, Heyward and Upton
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Predicting the future is always tough. I believe that Austin Jackson, Jason Heyward and Justin Upton all will be the best outfielders in the game in 10 years.
Jackson and Heyward's rookie years were in 2010, and so far they've lived up to the hype. I do believe Justin Upton will finally live up to his potential in the next couple of seasons and prove he belongs on this list.
The honorable mentions? There's a lot to choose from—Braun may still be going strong, Hamilton may be at the end of his career, players like Brett Gardner or Colby Rasmus might surprise us by improving even more, and there's always the chance there's a player in the minors or in college right now that may be better than all of them (especially if Bryce Harper is made an outfielder).
Our generation doesn't have any players in the outfield on par with Willie, Mickey and The Duke. If you truly think about it, no generation does.
We came close with Bonds and Ramirez, but they chose to use PEDs and forever removed themselves from the discussion. Griffey Jr.'s career was ended by injury. Ichiro just doesn't have the power numbers to compete, but his glove, arm and speed are equal to Mays, Mantle and Snider.
The position our generation can look to find our version of Mays, Mantle and Snider is first base. Albert Pujols may end up being the best player ever. Joey Votto is quickly showing that Cooperstown might be in his future.
Throw in players like Mark Teixeira, Adrian Gonzalez, Prince Fielder and Ryan Howard among others, and you see that if our generation will ever replace Willie, Mickey and The Duke, it will come from first base.
So, do you agree? Who do you think I should have included? Should I simply have excluded Bonds and Ramirez due to PEDs? Which youngsters will still be producing at HOF-levels in 10 years? Please let me know in the comments and tell me why.