The best seasons by a teenager since 1980

June 22nd, 2020

Last week, we wrote about the best seasons ever by players over the age of 40. If seeing great seasons by older players made you feel better, alas, today, we are going to make you feel worse.

Today we take a look at the best season on every team by a teenager. There is something uniquely distressing about realizing that a kid who isn’t even old enough to buy a beer is already better at one of the hardest things on the planet to do than you and I are at … anything. Here are baseball’s best teens (since 1980).

Note: These decisions were entirely subjective, but other than the Mariners (A-Rod vs. Griffey) there was not much of a debate.

American League East

Blue Jays: Fred Manrique, 2B/SS, 1981
Manrique only had four hits in 14 games as a 19-year-old, which goes to show how rare it is to make the Majors as a teenager! He was a utility infielder for seven teams over the span of a decade and was most famous for some fantastic, cartoonishly huge spectacles.

Orioles: Dylan Bundy, RHP, 2012
Bundy was the fourth overall pick in 2011, and the Orioles famously rushed him to get some big league innings the very next year. He was fine, tossing 1 2/3 scoreless innings in two late-September relief appearances, but then had Tommy John surgery the next year and didn’t appear in a game again until 2016. (Manny Machado debuted a month after his 20th birthday the same year.)

Rays: B.J. Upton, OF, 2004
Upton made his debut just a week before his 20th birthday, and he hit four homers and stole four bases in 45 games. He wouldn’t be back in the Majors after that until 2006.

Red Sox: None
Would you believe the Red Sox haven’t had a teenage player in 40 years? Xander Bogaerts and Rafael Devers were both close, but they were 20 when they made it. The last teenage Red Sox player? Ken Brett, George’s brother, who debuted nine days after his 19th birthday.

Yankees: Jose Rijo, RHP, 1984
Did you forget that Rijo made his debut with the Yankees? George Steinbrenner wanted a Dwight Gooden of his own, and rushed Rijo to the Majors, a setback that would take Rijo a few years to overcome. In 24 appearances (five starts) in 1984, he posted a 4.76 ERA.

AL Central

Indians: Junior Noboa, 2B/SS, 1984
Noboa came up with the Indians and had four hits in 11 at-bats for the ’84 team. He then wouldn’t return to the Majors until 1987 … where he’d have 29 hits over his next three seasons.

Royals: Bret Saberhagen, RHP, 1984
Thanks to Gooden, there were a lot of teenage debuts in 1984, and Saberhagen actually threw 157 2/3 innings that year, starting 18 games and finishing nine with a 3.48 ERA. He’d win the Cy Young Award the next season.

Tigers: Bruce Robbins, LHP, 1980
Robbins made his debut a year earlier and pitched well as a teen, starting eight games and putting up a 3.91 ERA. He was still a teen when he started 1980, and after a 6.62 ERA in six starts, he was out of the bigs, never to return again.

Twins: Rich Garces, RHP, 1990
El Guapo! Garces wasn’t exactly svelte when he made his debut as a teenager in Minnesota in 1990, but he was excellent, giving up just one run in 5 2/3 innings. He wouldn’t make it back to the Majors until '93, but he’d pitch until 2002.

White Sox: Ricky Seilheimer, C, 1980
Seilheimer, a Texan, was the White Sox first-round pick in the 1979 Draft and got 52 at-bats in 1980, hitting a homer and batting .212. He was sent back to the Minors at the beginning of '81 and never returned.

AL West

Angels: Mike Trout, CF, 2011
This is your periodic reminder that Trout hit .220 in his first 123 at-bats, in case you ever try something for the first time, struggle at it and get discouraged.

Astros: None
Carlos Correa was close, joining the Astros not long after his 20th birthday, but the last Astro to debut as a teenager was Cesar Cedeno in 1970. (And he was terrific.)

Athletics: Todd Van Poppel, RHP, 1991
The A’s did Van Poppel no favors when they rushed him to the Majors the year after he was drafted out of high school; he started one game and was roundly shelled. He never got it together with the A’s, but he ended up having a perfectly respectable journeyman career.

Mariners: Ken Griffey Jr., CF, 1989
Junior wasn’t just 19 when he debuted -- he was barely 19. He also hit 16 homers in 127 games and laid down a new paradigm of how much fun a baseball player could be. What were you doing when you were 19 again?

Rangers: Ivan Rodriguez, C, 1991
Pudge didn’t just catch deep into his 40's … he started in his teens. He was good enough to finish fourth in Rookie of the Year Award voting, too, after hitting .264 and nabbing 49 percent of runners attempting to steal.

National League East

Braves: Andruw Jones, CF, 1996
Jones was already showing off his incredible athleticism as a teenager, though he missed a chance to get a World Series ring by one mere year. He did hit two homers in the World Series that year, though, after hitting five over his first 31 regular-season games.

Marlins: Edgar Renteria, SS, 1996
The next season, he would end a World Series with a walk-off single; 14 years after that, he’d win a World Series MVP Award. But it all began in 1996, when Renteria hit .309/.358/.399 with 16 steals in 106 games.

Mets: Dwight Gooden, RHP, 1984
Gooden set the world on fire from the get-go, winning the 1984 NL Rookie of the Year Award after going 17-6 with a 2.60 ERA and MLB-best 276 strikeouts. He also struck out the side in one of his two innings in the '84 All-Star Game in San Francisco. And '85 would be even better. His success sure did make a bunch of other teams try to find teenagers of their own.

Nationals: Juan Soto, LF, 2018
Bryce Harper won the Rookie of the Year Award and got all the hype … but if you look at Soto’s rookie stats, he was a lot better, posting a .923 OPS with 22 home runs in 116 games.

Phillies: Mark Davis, LHP, 1980
He was the first overall pick in the 1979 January Draft, which inspired the Phillies to push forward with him. He appeared in two games, starting one of them, and gave up two runs on four hits over seven innings, walking five and striking out five. It would be nine years until he’d win a Cy Young Award, and he’d win it while with the Padres.

NL Central

Brewers: Gary Sheffield, 3B, 1988
Sheffield had that whipsaw swing from the very beginning, and remember, one of the biggest stories about him when he hit the Majors was that he was Gooden’s nephew. In that rookie campaign, Sheffield hit .238/.295/.400 with four home runs in 24 games.

Cardinals: None
Rick Ankiel had just turned 20 when he made his debut, and how that all turned out is maybe a reason the Cardinals haven’t pushed it since Ted Simmons debuted as a 19-year-old in 1968 (for a team that went to the World Series).

Cubs: None
Several players debuted just after their 20th birthday, including Greg Maddux, Starlin Castro, Carlos Zambrano and Mel Hall. The last teenager to play for the Cubs was Rick James in 1967. No, not that Rick James.

Pirates: Aramis Ramirez, 3B, 1998
Aramis returned to the Pirates in 2015, 18 years after he debuted and hit six homers in 72 games as a 19-year-old.

Reds: None
The Reds have been unusually conservative with teenagers since the age of Joe Nuxhall, who was famously 15 years old when he made his big league debut in 1944, and they haven’t had one since Don Gullett in 1970.

NL West

D-backs: Justin Upton, OF, 2007
Yes, there are two Upton brothers on this list, which is really quite amazing. Justin hit .221 with two homers in 43 games.

Dodgers: Adrián Beltré, 3B, 1998
The Dodgers have been one of the more aggressive teams with prospects over the years, and Beltré was raw when he came up, but clearly bubbling over with talent. He hit .215 with seven homers in 77 games that first season.

Giants: None
Madison Bumgarner just missed, debuting 38 days after his 20th birthday. The most recent? It’s actually Jack Clark, in 1975.

Padres: None
Both Fernando Tatis Jr. and Roberto Alomar began shortly after their 20th birthdays, some excellent company. But the most recent player is Brian Greer, who was 18 in 1977.

Rockies: None
And at last, we have the one team in baseball that has never had a teenage player on its roster. All but one of the Rockies’ top 20 MLB Pipeline prospects are older than 20. So it may be a while.