Even though we’ve been reminded of his age constantly with Bryce Harper’s call up over the weekend, it’s sometimes hard to wrap your head around the fact that the young phenom was born in October of 1992. With a few years of hype, combined with a solid introduction to the big leagues through his first few games (including a 3-4 performance last night), it’s can also be easy to lose sight of the fact that 19-year-olds don’t generally become MLB stars overnight. Tempering expectations might not be a bad idea, considering all other 19-year-old future major leaguers are either in the minors or college right now. For a frame of reference regarding Harper’s potential ceiling this season, here are the five best offensive seasons by a 19-year-old in MLB history:
5. Edgar Renteria (1996): Renteria broke into the big leagues with the
Miami Florida Marlins on May 10, 1996, after Baseball America ranked him as the Marlins’ top prospect coming into the season. During this rookie campaign, the shortstop hit .309/.358/.399 over 106 games, while also adding 16 stolen bases and getting caught twice. He did spend a short stint on the DL, but made up for lost time with a 22-game hitting streak upon his return to the starting lineup. He finished second to Todd Hollandsworth in a fairly close vote for NL Rookie of the Year, garnering 84 points to Hollandsworth’s 105. Derek Jeter won AL honors that year in a clean sweep of first place votes.
4. Ken Griffey Jr. (1989): The first overall pick of the 1987 draft by the Mariners broke spring training with the big league club in 1989, making his debut on Opening Day. The Kid spend his rookie campaign making backwards baseball caps cool, while hitting .264/.329/.420. He also added the first 16 of his eventual 630 career home runs. In addition to the numbers put up on offense, his flashy defense in center also can’t be overlooked. Griffey placed third in AL Rookie of the Year voting, losing out to Baltimore RHP Gregg Olson, who became the first reliever to win Rookie of the Year.
3. Mickey Mantle (1951): On the broadcast of Bryce Harper’s debut, Vin Scully reminisced about the debut of another 19-year-old phenom, and one that happens to be Harper’s idol: Mickey Mantle. Of course, Scully was working from memory, considering he was in his second season as the voice of the (then Brooklyn) Dodgers in 1951. Midway through the season, Mantle was sent down to the minors, where he destroyed AA pitching to the tune of .361/.445/.651 in 40 games. He ended up playing in 96 games for the Yankees that year, hitting a combined .267/.349/.443 and 13 HR.
2. Tony Conigliaro (1964): Conigliaro went 1-5 in his debut against the Yankees on April 16, 1964, and hit his first career home run the next day against the White Sox. The Red Sox outfielder certainly seemed destined for stardom after a spectacular rookie season: he hit 24 home runs while batting .290/.354/.530, all while missing over a month due to injury. It was the start of a sure Hall of Fame career, which was tragically cut short just a few years later: in a 1967 game against the Angels, Conigliaro was hit in the face by a pitch, shattering his left cheekbone and causing him to lose most of his vision in his left eye. His vision and career both made a comeback a few years later, with Conigliaro even winning AL Comeback Player of the Year in 1969. However, his vision soon took another turn for the worse, and 1970 was his last full season in baseball.
1. Mel Ott (1928): The one player on this list who made his major league debut before he was 19, Ott broke in with the Giants at the ripe old age of 17 in 1926 (he managed to hit .383 in 35 games that year). By 1928, Ott was working on his third year in the big leagues, though it would be his first full season with the Giants. And what a season it was: he hit .322/.397/.524 with 18 HR, and 52 walks against only 36 strikeouts. That’s right, in an even 500 trips to the plate, Ott struck out only 36 times. This is the season that has to be considered the gold standard for 19-year-olds in the big leagues. Good luck, Bryce.