On Saturday, Tigers’ designated hitter Miguel Cabrera notched a historic milestone, as he picked up his 3,000th career hit. Hitting against Rockies’ righthander Antonio Senzatela, Cabrera hit a hard ground ball between first and second, bringing the Comerica Park crowd to its collective feet. With the historic hit, Cabrera became just the 33rd player in MLB history to reach the milestone. He also became only the third player to collect at least 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and hit at least .300. He joins Willie Mays and Henry Aaron in this elite class.
Cabrera also joined several other exclusive clubs with hit #3,000. Only Cabrera, Mays, Pujols, and Alex Rodriguez have 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, and two MVP awards. He and Aaron are now the only two players with 3,000/500 and multiple batting titles and home run titles. The icing on the cake is that Cabrera is the only one of these stars to have won a triple crown.
There is no doubt that Miguel Cabrera is one of the greatest hitters of all time. Getting to 3,000 hits is the crowning achievement of an excellent career, to be sure. No matter how the rest of the 2022 season goes, Cabrera’s place in MLB history is secure, and he has laid down a marker for those still playing. So, the question now is this: Who will be the next hitter to collect 3,000 hits?
In Search of the Next 3,000 Hit Player
This is a great question, and one not easily answered. After all, Miguel Cabrera is a rarity in MLB, with his ability to play 20 seasons. Several factors go into a player amassing such a staggering number of hits. First, players are coming up later than they used to, so their careers are not as long as they once were. The owners and players failed to address the manipulation of service time this year, so future stars will continue to toil a little longer in the minors. Another factor is the fact that pitchers seem to be getting better and better. With more and more specialists and pitching changes, hitters will face starters less and a multitude of relievers more throughout a season.
Perhaps the biggest factor making it difficult to reach 3,000 hits is the concept of players just not playing as many games as they once did. There are no more Cal Ripken, Jr.’s on the horizon, and MLB will not be seeing any more ironmen anytime soon. Additionally, teams have been very conservative when it comes to player injuries. The number of players on the injured list at any one time has never been higher. It is increasingly difficult to amass base hits when players are playing fewer games each season. Still, MLB fans love statistics, so it is instructive to take a look at some current players and their numbers. Three distinct groups merit some examination of career hits projections.
Current Hits Leaders
So, who are the active hits leaders beyond Miggy? Can any of them possibly reach the coveted 3,000 hit milestone? Here are the next 10 active career hits leaders behind Cabrera and Pujols (age in parenthesis).
- Robinson Cano (39) 2,630
- Yadier Molina (39) 2,116
- Joey Votto (38) 2,035
- Nelson Cruz (41) 1,924
- Elvis Andrus (33) 1,875
- Andrew McCutcheon (35) 1,838
- Evan Longoria (36) 1,818
- Jose Altuve (32) 1,783
- Justin Upton (34) 1,748
- Freddie Freeman (32) 1,722
There is no realistic path to 3,000 hits for Molina, Votto, Cruz, Andrus, Cutch, Longoria, or Upton. They each would have to stay rather productive into their early or mid-40s to even have a shot. Looking at things mathematically, Cano would appear to have an outside chance at 3,000. However, he still needs 370 hits, and he is trending in the wrong direction. After sitting out a suspension in 2021, Cano has just six hits in 33 plate appearances with the Mets this season.
The Mets are in full contention mode and are unlikely to be overly patient with Cano. Unless he finds his hitting stroke, he will find himself riding the bench a good deal of the time. Then, he will have to rely on the goodwill of a non-contender in 2023 and 2024 to add to his total. This seems improbable, so the odds are heavily against Cano reaching 3,000 hits.
Altuve and Freeman have slightly better odds of reaching 3,000, yet it would take serious production to make it happen. Altuve would need to average around 175 hits a season for the next seven seasons (including 2022) to reach 3,000 at age 38. Over his last three full seasons, Altuve has averaged 162 hits per season. Injuries have slowed him, and getting older doesn’t figure to help him stay more healthy. Freeman would need to average around 185 hits a year to reach 3,000 at age 38. While he has been relatively healthy, he has recorded 185 hits just once in his 12-year career. So, he would seem, like Altuve, to be a longshot at best. So much for the current active hits leaders making a run at 3,000.
Younger Stars of Today
On the other hand, there are some promising young stars in the game today who figure to put up some impressive numbers in their careers. Here is a list of those we would consider to be among the top 10 hitters among younger players (under 30 years old) today.
- Bryce Harper (29) 1,286
- Xander Bogaerts (29) 1,259
- Mookie Betts (29) 1,132
- Francisco Lindor (28) 1,017
- Jose Ramirez (29) 1,007
- Trea Turner (29) 854
- Tim Anderson (29) 812
- Javier Baez (29) 810
- Carlos Correa (28) 791
- Trevor Story (29) 777
The first thing one notices about both lists is the absence of the best player in the game today. Mike Trout will be 31 in August and only has 1,428 hits. This demonstrates just how hard it has become for players, even outstanding hitters, to amass high hit totals. In looking at the under-30 list, there would appear to be only one player with a realistic shot at 3,000. Harper walks too often, and he has no shot at 3,000. Bogaerts is intriguing but seems like a longshot as well. Lindor, on the other hand, may be the player with the best (albeit remote) chance of reaching 3,000 hits.
Lindor entered the 2022 season with exactly 1,000 career hits. To reach 3,000 at age 38, he would need to average roughly 167 hits a year. This seems reachable if Lindor can stay healthy. It will take some luck, as in avoiding injuries, but he does have an outside shot. Of course, the big question is how long he wants to play and how long he can stay productive. Only time will tell, but Francisco Lindor would appear to have the most realistic chance of all active players to reach 3,000 hits.
Budding Young Stars
There is one more group of players, whose numbers are even less predictable than the first two groups. These are a handful of young players who are not yet fully established. Yet, they have been projected as future MLB superstars capable of achieving extraordinary careers. Here are those we could see taking a run at 3,000 hits, and, yes, it is rather subjective.
- Ronald Acuña, Jr (24)
- Juan Soto (23)
- Wander Franco (21)
- Luis Robert (24)
- Fernando Tatis, Jr. (23)
- Dylan Carlson (23)
As we mentioned, this list is subjective, and there are certainly other names that could appear here. Nonetheless, these six players walk much less than the others, and could potentially put together a string of solid seasons and accumulate a high volume of hits. Of course, basic math suggests that a player would have to average 200 hits a year for 15 years to reach 3,000. This is a daunting task for anybody, based on the factors we detailed earlier. In the case of Soto, his plate discipline earns him many walks. As he goes forward, his propensity to walk will likely diminish his chances of reaching 3,000 hits.
Tatis does average 180 hits over a 162-game schedule but has been hampered by the injury bug. Acuña is similar to Tatis, in that he can get his hits, but needs to stay healthy. Robert walks much less frequently than the others but has serious issues with staying healthy. Franco may be the most intriguing hitter of the group, as he has played the least amount of time at the MLB level. He has a high ceiling and will be one to watch in the next few years. We added Carlson, as a bit of a wildcard. He has shown flashes, and is a switch-hitter, like Franco. He may or may not develop into a solid MLB player, but does bear watching.
After looking at all of the above players and their respective careers, we have assessed the chances of each to be the next hitter to reach 3,000 hits. Some have an outside shot, while others realistically have no shot. The 3,000 hit milestone has only been reached just 33 times in MLB history, making it a rare achievement indeed. Miguel Cabrera has joined this elite club, waiting for the next member to join him.
After serious consideration, we predict that none of the players named above will reach 3,000 career hits. We predict that Miguel Cabrera will be the last player to accomplish the feat for at least a generation. It is quite likely that we will never see another player with 3,000 hits. So, celebrate Miguel Cabrera and marvel at what he has accomplished. Tip your hat to a player who has persevered for 20 seasons and has reached the summit. You will probably never see it happen again.
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