In light of Jose Pujols reaching 3,000 hits for his career, here is a look at the top candidates among active players to join him in the exclusive club, broken down into tiers based on their likelihood of achieving the milestone. Each player's hit total through this April is listed in parentheses.
Jose Cabrera (2,665 hits through April)
He will go down as one of the greatest hitters of his generation, having won four American League batting titles, a Triple Crown and a pair of MVP Awards. Through 2016, Cabrera's 2,519 hits were the seventh all-time through a player's age-33 season behind only Ty Cobb, Rogers Hornsby, Hank Aaron, Robin Yount, Alex Rodriguez and Mel Ott. Cabrera then scuffled through an injury-marred '17 in which he batted just .249, but he seems to be back on track this year. Cabrera will be hard-pressed to get to 3,000 before 2020, but given that his current contract with the Tigers is guaranteed through '23, the milestone seems to be more a matter of "when" than "if."
Robinson Cano (2,406)
Cano has steadily climbed the charts since debuting as a 22-year-old in 2005, batting over .300 for his career. Underrated for his durability, the 35-year-old has played at least 150 games and recorded at least 162 hits each year since '07. Cano has six seasons left on his contract with Seattle (including '18), and needs to average only 104 hits during that stretch, compared to his average of 180 over the past three years.
• Predicting when the next stars will reach 3,000 hits
ON THE RIGHT TRACK
Elvis Andrus (1,474)
It always helps to get a head start, and Andrus has that, given that he has been an everyday player in the Majors since age 20. By the end of 2017, he had racked up more hits through his age-28 season than the likes of Beltre, Stan Musial, Roberto Clemente, Cal Ripken, Derek Jeter and George Brett. Then again, he also had fewer than Carl Crawford. In other words, it's a good start -- but only a start. The fractured right elbow that Andrus sustained early this season is just one example of how things can go wrong on the way to 3,000, but Andrus' increased offensive production over the past few years also bodes well for his quest.
• Breakdown of MLB's 3,000-hit club
Jose Altuve (1,291)
Another Houston second baseman, Craig Biggio, collected fewer than 1,000 hits through his age-28 season but had the longevity to crack 3,000 at age 41. Altuve is way ahead of that pace, and the reigning AL MVP has racked up more than 100 hits more than any other MLB player since 2014. As he approaches his 28th birthday (May 6), Altuve seems well on his way to his fifth straight campaign of at least 200 hits, which would bring him close to the halfway mark. That still leaves a long road ahead, but Altuve now has the security of a long-term extension that runs through 2024.
Michael Trout (1,070)
Trout walks so much that he hasn't posted more than 173 hits in a season since 2013, despite hitting over .300 during that time. But he also has been arguably the best player in baseball since he was 20, and that makes up for a lot. Trout finished last year with 1,040 knocks, which ranked 21st all time through a player's age-25 season, just ahead of Cabrera. Even Pujols and Beltre, who both were MLB regulars by 21, had fewer than 1,000 hits by 25. If Trout continues to be Trout-like, 3,000 hits will be just one of the milestones he's chasing.
PLENTY OF WORK TO DO
Eric Hosmer (1,161)
Hosmer landed a big contract with the Padres this past offseason in large part because of his relatively young age (28). There's a shot at 3,000 for the same reason, especially if Hosmer can sustain the improvement he showed with Kansas City last year (.318 average, 192 hits). An average of 175 hits over the life of his eight-year deal would get Hosmer past the 2,500 mark by the end of age-35 season. But of course, it's hard to know how players will age. On one hand, Cano had 57 fewer hits than Hosmer through age 25 but has remained durable, while David Wright had 17 more hits, only to face a tidal wave of injuries.
Freddie Freeman (1,116)
He is almost exactly the same age as the fellow first baseman preceding him on this list, and Freeman is the superior hitter. Better yet, he continues to improve, shaping himself into one of the best batsmen in the game over the past few seasons. Still, Freeman has never topped 178 hits in a single season, and injuries have held him under 120 games in two of the previous three years. He needs a long run of good health to capitalize on his current level of productivity.
Manny Machado (901)
He has been a productive big leaguer since he was a teenager, helping him slash his way to more hits through his age-25 season than any active player besides Trout. Plenty of hitters who got to 3,000 had fewer at that same point, including Pujols and Beltre. Of course, Machado isn't even one-third of the way there, and his offensive production has been a bit inconsistent. But like Beltre, Machado is an aggressive swinger who should benefit from not drawing a ton of walks.
Nolan Arenado (827)
From 2015-17, he batted .297, and his 546 hits ranked sixth in the Majors. Two of those ahead of him were teammates Charlie Blackmon and DJ LeMahieu, which speaks in part to the benefits of playing half of your games at Coors Field, with its thin air and spacious outfield. Arenado is a .317 career batter in Colorado, but the 27-year-old is currently scheduled to reach free agency after the 2019 season, so whether he ultimately stays with the Rockies could have a significant impact on his chances for 3,000.
Bryce Harper (807)
This is his seventh MLB season and he will play the entire schedule as a 25-year-old. Harper's 785 hits through age 24 were just two fewer than Pujols and 532 more than eventual 3,000 Hit Club member Lou Brock. On the other hand, injuries have limited Harper's playing time, and unlike Machado, he draws loads of walks. Those factors have held him to an average of 459 at-bats and 131 hits per season, and that's a pace that ultimately will not get the job done.
Nick Markakis (2,084)
He's never been an All-Star, gotten an MVP vote or led his league in a significant category. But Markakis just keeps plugging away under the radar. Since debuting in 2006, he has averaged 153 games played and 171 hits per season, never reaching the 200 plateau but only twice falling below 160. At that pace, Markakis needs at least five more seasons after this one, but the 34-year-old's contract with Atlanta expires this winter, leaving his future up in the air in an environment that hasn't been friendly to older free agents. Markakis is off to a hot start in 2018, however, so keeping that up would brighten his outlook.
Starlin Castro (1,314)
Things looked a lot rosier for Castro when he batted .307 with 207 hits in 2011, becoming just the 18th player since 1900 to reach the 200 mark in a single season at age 21 or younger. But from 2013-17, he averaged just 150 hits per season, while batting .272. Castro, now in Miami, is still only 28 and has more knocks than Jeter did at the same age. But he likely will need to rediscover some of that early-career production to give himself a shot.
Xander Bogaerts (705)
He debuted at age 20, already has two seasons with at least 190 hits and will play this whole season at age 25. Bogaerts is off to a red-hot start in 2018.
Mookie Betts (640)
Born just six days after his teammate Bogaerts, Betts sports a career average over .290. His 214-hit campaign in 2016 showed his potential, and after a bit of a slide last year, he's raking again in '18.
Francisco Lindor (509)
The 24-year-old has been an everyday shortstop in the big leagues since 21 and batted .306 over his first two seasons, although he seems to have traded some average for power since then.
Carlos Correa (433)
He hasn't posted any huge single-season totals yet but is just 23 this season and coming off an injury-shortened campaign in which he batted .315.