As of May 28, the youngest player in baseball in 2022 was the same guy who was the youngest player in baseball in 2021: Wander Franco. That day, Michael Harris II got the call from the Braves and took Franco’s place…because he’s six days younger. On the day Michael Harris II was born, a young St. Louis contender named Albert Pujols, wearing the number 68, blinded Tony La Russa at Cardinals spring training. Harris’ Braves played Pujols’ Cardinals just last month. Here’s how long the arc of a baseball career can be: someone born just before you started can play against you before you’re done.
So today, in honor of the rigors of time itself, we’re taking a look at the best baseball players at every age in the sport. For the sake of simplicity, we’ll now assume their “baseball age,” which is the age they were on June 30 of this year, as opposed to their actual age at that precise second. This allows us to not sweat individual birthdays as much, which gives us a universal number to work with, and also, if I’m honest, makes it a lot easier to search on Baseball Reference.
Of course we take this year’s success into account in this record, but we really try to pick the best overall player. What you’ve been doing up to this point in your career, especially recently, also matters. This list allows you to trace the entire arc of a baseball career.
21: Julio Rodriguez, sailors. There are currently no 20-year-old baseball players, and it’s fair to say that with Franco’s injuries and Rodríguez’s rise to Rookie of the Year, he’s taken the lead in that age group. Alex Rodriguez led the Mariners to the playoffs at age 21; Julio Rodríguez could do the exact same thing. Second: Wander Franco, Rays.
22: Bobby Witt Jr., Royals. The phenom finally made his big league debut this year and while he hasn’t completely dominated the league like many had hoped, he has more than held his own and is a part the royals will build on in the next decade . He also benefits from slow starts from some of his peers like Spencer Torkelson and Jarred Kelenic. Second: Alek Thomas, Diamondbacks.
23: Juan Soto, Father. You may have heard that Soto’s name has been floating around a bit in the last month or so. He and the runner-up in that category will battle it out for the top spot for the next 15 years. Will they one day meet in the Hall of Fame? Second: Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Blue Jays.
24: Ronald Acuna Jr., Braves. Acuña actually hasn’t had the MVP season that many expected, although he may still be recovering from the knee injury that cost him the end of last season. He still feels like a Hall of Famer-in-waiting. Second: Adleyrutschman, Orioles.
25: Jordan Alvarez, Astros. This is where this list starts to get really, really heavy. Alvarez is just a DH so that’s a mark against him, but he could also be one of the top five batsmen in the world. It edged him out just ahead of runner-up, as well as newly renewed Austin Riley, his teammate Kyle Tucker and possible Cy Young winner Shane McClanahan. Second: Rafael Devers, Red Sox.
26: Sandy Alcantara, Marlin. Alcantara has become baseball’s most valuable pitcher, the kind of superstar who gobbles up innings and is almost impossible to find. He stands out in a disappointing age group; Honestly, most people thought Cody Bellinger would take the lead for years. Second: Dylan Cease, White Sox.
27: Shohei Ohtani, angel. At 27, he is the second best pitcher and third best hitter. You have to trade everything including the mascot to get it. Second: Corbin Burnes, Brewer.
28: Edwin Diaz, Mets. He may not have the best WAR or highest cumulative effect – after all, he’s a helper – but I’m not sure there’s anyone on this list who’s better at what they’re doing specifically than Díaz is right now. Second: Byron Buxton, twins.
29: Mookie Betts, Dodgers. Now this is the stacked age. They’ve got three MVP nominees (Betts, Manny Machado, and José Ramírez), a two-time MVP who’s just injured (Bryce Harper), two All-World shortstops (Xander Bogaerts and Trea Turner), and all sorts of terrific starting pitchers (Aaron Nola , Carlos Rodon, Luis Castillo, Joe Musgrove). Turns out 29 is a pretty awesome baseball age! Second: Harper.
30: Aaron Richter, Yankees. Judge is having the season of his life at just the right moment, taking the place of best player of his age for the first time in his career. And you know he’s amazing right now considering who he just passed. Second: Mike Trout, Angels.
31: Nolan Arenado, Cardinals. Arenado could theoretically drop out after this season, but his Hall of Famer resume has been significantly revamped since arriving in St. Louis. He still has a chance to win his first MVP this year. Second: Gerrit Cole, Yankees.
32: Freddie Freeman, Dodgers. Speaking of guys polishing up Hall of Fame credentials, can you imagine Freeman ending up winning two straight World Series? We’ve all had a hard time imagining him wearing anything other than a Braves jersey for a long time, but he looks perfect in Dodger Blue, doesn’t he? Second: Jose Altuve, Astros.
33: Merrill Kelly, Diamondbacks. Definitely the weakest age yet, this is also an age where players start to really hurt themselves. (Sorry, Chris Sale and Stephen Strasburg.) Kelly had the quietest shutdown season of any starting pitcher in a long, long time. Second: DJ LeMahieu, Yankees.
34: Paul Goldschmidt, Cardinals. Goldschmidt was second in MVP voting twice, in 2013 and 2015 (he was in the top six three other times), but this could be the year he finally breaks through and wins the grand prize: he’s already having the best year of him -exemplary career, by a fairly large margin. Second: Jacob deGrom, Mets.
35: José Abreu, White Socks. Abreu won the MVP in the truncated 2020 season but still feels a little underrated: His OPS+ this year is the third-highest of his career. Second: Yu Darvish, Padres.
36: Josh Donaldson, Yankees. One fact has always held true for Donaldson: when he’s healthy, he hits. However, he would probably be second on this list if his teammate hadn’t just broken his foot out of nowhere. Second: Matt Carpenter, Yankees.
37: Max Scherzer, Mets. He’ll be on that list when he’s 47, no doubt about that. Second: David Robertson, Phillies.
38: Joey Votto, Red. His disastrous start to the season has largely been forgotten: he looked like the old Votto again. Except with a lot more TikToks. Unfortunately, it was announced on Wednesday that Votto will undergo rotator cuff surgery and be out for the rest of the season. Second: Charlie Morton, Braves.
39: Justin Verlander, Astros. Verlander is back in the middle of the Cy Young argument because of course he is. There are six 39-year-olds in baseball, and three of them (Verlander, Yadier Molina and Miguel Cabrera) will be playing at Cooperstown. Second: Cabrera.
40: Adam Wainwright, Cardinals. Unlike his teammates Albert Pujols and Yadier Molina, he has said nothing about retiring at the end of the year. The way he’s pitching, he should definitely keep going. Second: None.
41: Nelson Cruz, nationals. He might not be able to go on forever, as it turns out: he wasn’t a hot commodity as of the deadline. Still, he has nine more home runs than any other 41-year-old. Second: None.
42: Albert Pujols, Cardinals. If Albert sticks with his current 103 OPS+, it will be his first above-average offensive season since 2016. He comes out with a bang. Second: Rich Hill, Red Sox.