There are a few numbers in baseball that are special. Players that reach 3,000 hits, 500 home runs, 300 pitching wins, or 3,000 strikeouts are immortalized in baseball history. But what about the future? What active players are on pace to join the 3,000-hit plateau?
Check out the 2020, 2021, and 2022 versions of this article!
There are 33 members of the 3,000-hit club (welcome Miguel Cabrera!). I took their hit totals through every year of their careers and averaged the numbers. For example, the average member had 302 hits through their age-22 season.
Of the four sections of the graphs, we care about the gap between the red and yellow curves. If a player is above the red curve, they might be the best hitter of all time. Players between the red and yellow curves are ahead of pace to join the 3,000-hit club.
Those below the yellow curve but above the blue curve are in the “Ichiro Zone.” The book is not closed for them, but they would have to hit like Ichiro Suzuki to recover the time missed. Any players below the blue line would need a historic stretch to make it close in their question for 3,000 hits.
What This List Is Not
This group of players is not a projection for the 3,000-hit club in 20 years. It is just a collection of players who are on pace for 3,000 hits. Baseball is changing drastically, and the importance of a hit is decreasing in favor of extra-base hits and home runs. Soon, a 3,000-hit career may cease to exist. This may be the final generation of hitters that have the opportunity to get to the historic milestone.
As with other kinds of projections, being on pace is irrelevant if a player suddenly drops off the pace. The 3,000-hit club is full of young hotshots and late bloomers alike. Every member of the 3,000-hit club has a unique trajectory.
With all of the mess out of the way, let’s get into the first player.
An asterisk (*) indicates a player is a year ahead. This means a player has enough hits to be included in the next age level.
Also, Miguel Cabrera will not be included because he has already reached the 3,000-hit plateau.
Age-23: Hits Needed: 455
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays
Guerrero had a “down” year, finishing with just 175 hits and a .274 batting average. However, he is still averaging more than 175 hits per 162 games, and he has missed just three games in three seasons. The Blue Jays have a young and loaded lineup, helping Guerrero to more than 1,400 plate appearances in the last two seasons.
Assuming his excellent health continues, Guerrero should be well on his way to racking up the 65 hits to get to the age-24 milestone. The age-25 milestone is 239 hits away, so Guerrero could reach it in May of 2024. Guerrero’s task would be significantly easier if he matched his .311 average from 2021, but he has more than enough at-bats per season to accumulate hits with a .270 or .280 average.
Juan Soto – San Diego Padres
Soto began the 2022 season ahead of this milestone, but he took a sizable dip from his previous production. Despite his prodigious walk rate, Soto had always managed to average over a hit per game, but he only had 127 hits in 153 games in 2022. He hit about 60 points lower than his career batting average, hovering around .240 for most of the season. Soto still benefits from a loaded lineup, good health, and a young start, but a .242 batting average will not help matters.
Soto is exactly one year ahead of pace. He still has a career .287 batting average, so if he has a bounce-back campaign, Soto will continue the rapid hit accumulation. He has four seasons with 120 hits and two seasons with 150 hits in his career.
Age-24: Hits Needed: 612
The decreased batting average is an issue, but the major problem for Soto is his gargantuan walk totals. He has walked 100 or more times in the last three non-COVID seasons. In 2022, he had more walks than hits. As Soto matures, these walk totals could creep even higher, costing him valuable at-bats.
Getting on base as often as Soto does is valuable, but the goal of this exercise is to get to 3,000 hits. Soto is trending toward the path of Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and Barry Bonds – players too good to rack up 3,000 hits. He will need 176 hits in 2023 to remain a year ahead of pace. Based on his 162-game average of 561 at-bats, he would need to hit .314 to maintain pace.
Age-29: Hits Needed: 1,493
Manny Machado – San Diego Padres
Staying in San Diego, Machado has been remarkably healthy and consistent in his MLB career. He has hit .278 or better in eight of 11 seasons, and he has averaged over a hit per game in nine of 11 seasons. Excluding the COVID season, he has played 150 or more games in every season since 2015. He has also posted a quartet of 180-hit seasons.
Like Soto, Machado gets the benefit of starting young with the curse of hitting in San Diego. Machado can opt out of his contract at the end of the season, but the likely suitor in Queens likely won’t help much environmentally.
Machado is over halfway to 3,000 hits, and he will have the benefit of some designated hitter days as he ages. He turns 31 in July, so he should have a few more seasons of good production. He is only 70 hits away from reaching the next age milestone.
As good as Machado is, he is a great illustration of how difficult 3,000 hits is to achieve. He started at 19, has averaged 158 hits in 144 games per season for the last eight years, and is a perennial MVP candidate. However, it may not be enough. If Machado matched his career-high in hits (189) for the next seven seasons, he would still be 80 hits shy. His best-case scenario with health and play is being a few hits shy in his age-37 season.
In MLB history, every season has had at least one future member of the 3,000-hit club. For many seasons, it has been just one player, and baseball without a future 3,000-hit member could be on the horizon. If Cabrera retires at the end of the season, there will be a multi-year gap (if not a permanent gap).
If the 3,000-hit club does close with the retirement of Cabrera, it will just be another chapter of baseball history in the books. The future of baseball seems predicated on the three true outcomes, so the 500-home run club may swell in the coming decades as strikeout tallies rise each season. 2023 will be the 163rd consecutive season with an active or future member of the 3,000-hit plateau, and it might be the last.
main image credit: Embed from Getty Images