After Miguel Cabrera, Predicting the Next MLB Players to Join the 3,000-Hit Club
On Saturday afternoon, Detroit Tigers star Miguel Cabrera became the 33rd member of the 3,000-hit club, adding another impressive bullet point to what will almost certainly be a first-ballot Hall of Fame resume when he retires.
After a three-hit game Wednesday night put him at 2,999 career hits, he went 0-for-3 on Thursday before the Tigers game was postponed on Friday, but he made history with a first inning single off Antonio Senzatela in Game 1 of a double-header on Saturday against the Colorado Rockies.
The obvious question now is who will be the next to join him in the exclusive club?
Robinson Cano (2,629), Yadier Molina (2,115) and Joey Votto (2,033) are the only other active players with at least 2,000 hits, aside from Albert Pujols (3,308) who has already reached the milestone, and the odds are stacked against each of them based on their age and current level of production.
However, if we dig a bit deeper and do some optimistic projecting, a handful of players have a chance to make a run at the hallowed number if a few things break their way and they manage to avoid missing significant time.
Something to consider: The 33 members of the 3,000-hit club had on average 302 hits through the end of their age-22 season, so getting an early start in the big leagues is an important factor in reaching the 3,000-hit mark.
Jose Altuve, Houston Astros
Jose Altuve won his first batting title as a 24-year-old in 2014, and that season kicked off a four-year stretch when he won three batting titles and racked up 845 total hits.
Despite developing into more of a power hitter in the years since, he has still averaged 186 hits per 162 games since the start of the 2018 season. Similar production going forward would put 3,000 hits within reach sometime just before his 40th birthday, assuming sporadic rest but no significant time spent on the injured list.
It's not out of the question to think he could return to a more contact-oriented approach later in his career, and with seven seasons of at least 146 games played, he has done a good job staying healthy throughout his time in the big leagues.
The Houston Astros have him signed through the 2024 season, and it will be interesting to see if they keep him around to play out his entire career with the organization.
Freddie Freeman, Los Angeles Dodgers
Freddie Freeman entered the 2022 season with 1,704 career hits through his age-31 season, putting him quite a ways behind the 2,186 hits that Miguel Cabrera had already compiled at the same point in his legendary career.
However, Cabrera has had more than 120 hits in a season just twice since his age-33 campaign, and Freeman is showing no signs of slowing down.
The 32-year-old has a more athletic frame, which should better position him to avoid a steep drop-off in production, and outside a pair of freak wrist injuries, he has an extremely strong track record of staying healthy and producing at an elite level.
If he matches last year's 180 hits in each season of his six-year, $162 million contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers, he would reach free agency following the 2027 season needing 216 hits to reach the milestone heading into his age-38 campaign. If he plays until he's 40, it's doable.
Manny Machado, San Diego Padres
With a contract that will pay him $32 million annually through the 2028 season and perhaps one more multiyear deal after that when he is a free agent again following his age-35 season, Manny Machado is in a great position to keep racking up hits.
The 29-year-old makes more contact than the average power hitter, having sported a terrific 15.9 percent strikeout rate in 2021, and that should help him remain more productive later into his career than others who rely more heavily on their over-the-fence production.
Machado tallied 157 hits last season, and he would need to average that total for roughly 10 more years to reach the 3,000 mark. That's a tall order, but not out of the question, especially for an extremely durable player who leads baseball in games played since the start of the 2015 season.
Could he follow a similar career trajectory to that of Adrian Beltre?
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
Here's the point in this exercise where we make a major leap from projecting players who already have an impressive body of work to predicting which young players will continue to do what they've done during a comparatively small sample size.
Ozzie Albies entered the 2022 season with 613 hits through his age-24 campaign, which puts him on roughly the same pace as Altuve, who had 630 hits at the same point in his career. That's important context when we're talking about a player who still hasn't reached the 1,000-hit mark.
His aggressive approach saw him put the ball in play in nearly 75 percent of his plate appearances last season, and while that works against him from an on-base percentage standpoint, it does increase his chances of continuing to rack up an impressive hit total.
As a switch-hitter with good contact skills from both sides of the plate and plus speed, there is no reason Albies can't be a perennial threat to lead the league in hits for the next decade, and he already has a nice head start on a run at 3,000 knocks.
Juan Soto, Washington Nationals
Juan Soto had 274 career hits before he was even old enough to buy a beer from the concession stand at Nationals Park.
There is little doubt the young outfielder is already one of the game's best offensive players, coming off a season when he hit .313 with a 175 OPS+ in 151 games to finish as the runner-up to Bryce Harper in NL MVP voting.
The biggest question might be whether his elite batting eye will rob him of too many plate appearances to make significant progress toward the 3,000-hit mark. He led the majors with 145 walks last season, nearly matching his 157 hits, and he has already walked 16 times in 16 games to begin the 2022 season.
That said, it would be unwise to bet against Soto when it comes to offensive accomplishments, especially if the Washington Nationals can quickly rebuild and assemble a competitive roster that makes it tough for opposing pitchers to work around him.
Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Toronto Blue Jays
It would be easy to simply classify Vladimir Guerrero Jr. as a power hitter.
He launched an AL-leading 48 home runs during a breakout season last year, and from exit velocity to home run distance, he stacks up to any slugger in the game when it comes to depositing baseballs into the outfield seats.
However, he was also given a top-of-the-scale, 80-grade hit tool during his time as a prospect, and along with his gaudy home run total last year, he also ranked among the AL leaders in batting average (.311, third) and hits (188, second).
All signs point to a prime that closely resembles that of Cabrera, right down to his ability to contend for multiple MVP awards and even a Triple Crown.
Staying in shape and playing long enough to get there will be the key, because there is no question he has the offensive tools and the head start to make a run at 3,000 hits.
Wander Franco, Tampa Bay Rays
Just 2,897 to go!
It's obviously comically early to predict Wander Franco will get to 3,000 hits, but he has looked every bit the part of the player who was baseball's No. 1 overall prospect before he made his MLB debut last year.
The 21-year-old is a .306/.355/.504 hitter through his first 366 plate appearances in the majors, and while he may never develop into an elite power threat, he should be a perennial batting title contender and .300 hitter anchoring the Tampa Bay offense.
He is already one of the best pure hitters in baseball, and with an 11-year, $182 million extension, he can just focus on baseball for the next decade as he looks to overtake Evan Longoria as the greatest homegrown player in franchise history.