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 500-home run club?
Check out the 2020, 2021, and 2022 versions of this list.
There are 28 members of the 500-home run club. I took their home run totals through every year of their careers and averaged the numbers. For example, through their age-22 season, the average member of the 500-home run club had 47 home runs.
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 500-home run club.
Those below the yellow curve but above the blue curve are in the “Extenuating Circumstances.” The book is not closed for them, but they would have to hit home runs like David Ortiz or Ted Williams to recover the time missed. Any players below the blue line would need a historic stretch to make it close in their quest for 500 home runs.
What This List Is Not:
This group of players is not a projection for the 500 home run club in 20 years. It is just a collection of players who are on pace for 500-home runs. Baseball is changing drastically, and the importance of a home run has increased in recent seasons. There could be a spike in members of the 500-home run club as more and more players hit 30 and 40 home runs at young ages. Odds are, the 500 home run club will overtake the 3,000-hit club in terms of members by the end of this generation.
As with other kinds of projections, being on pace is irrelevant if a player suddenly drops off the pace. The 500-home run club is full of young hotshots and late bloomers alike. Every member of the 500-home run 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 home runs to be included in the next age level.
Also, Miguel Cabrera will not be included because he is already in the 500-home run club. He is “on pace” and already past the milestone.
All home run totals are from the end of the 2022 season.
Age-21: Home Runs Needed: 28
Julio Rodriguez – Seattle Mariners
Rodriguez needed to hit 28 home runs in his rookie season, and he did just that. Rodriguez profiles as much more than a home-run hitter, but he has enough power to stay above the threshold moving into the future. His ballpark in Seattle will do him no favors, but – health permitting – Rodriguez should be a fixture at the top of Seattle’s order for the next decade.
Rodriguez is just 19 home runs away from the next age milestone. He should hit those 19 home runs in about 100 games, giving him ample time to approach further milestones.
Age-23: Home Runs Needed: 77
Vladimir Guerrero Jr. – Toronto Blue Jays
After leading the Majors with 48 home runs in 2021, Guerrero took a step back with just 32 home runs last season. His slugging percentage dropped by 120 points, and his groundball rate increased to over 52% again. Guerrero has had inconsistent launching ability in his career. While he has hit line drives (great for accumulating hits) at a consistent rate, his flyball rate was around 17% in 2020 and 2022 while being over 25% in 2021. If Guerrero matches the 25% flyball rate in future seasons, he will rack up home runs.
Guerrero is only four home runs away from the next milestone. The much more interesting conversation is the age-25 milestone: 141 home runs. Guerrero needs 37 home runs in 2023 to jump a year ahead. If Guerrero can solve his flyball issues, he should cruise to 37 home runs given his excellent bill of health and slighter shallower fences in Toronto.
Juan Soto – San Diego Padres
Soto is much more than a home-run hitter, but his age-19 start and 33-homers-per-162 pace will keep him on this list for the foreseeable future. Soto only his 27 home runs in 2022, including just six in 228 plate appearances with the Padres. He will have plenty of plate appearances in the coming seasons, but one can wonder if he will walk too many times to post big single-season home run totals. Soto’s career-high for home runs is just 34.
Soto has already passed the next age milestone.
Fernando Tatis Jr. – San Diego Padres
Tatis is a strange inclusion. In his last season, he led the NL with 42 home runs. However, that was in 2021 as he missed all of last season with injuries and a suspension. Tatis averages 48 home runs per 162 games played, but his issue has been playing games. He only played 84 of 162 in his debut season. He played 59 of 60 games in the COVID season, but he likely missed out on about 20 more home runs. In 2021, he missed 32 games, and in 2022 he missed all 162 games.
Tatis needs 27 home runs to reach the next milestone. If, and this “if” grows by the day, Tatis plays a healthy season, he will get it – even with missing the first month of the season as he finishes his suspension. He has a career 6.9% home-run rate, and he could challenge for the league’s home-run title despite missing a few weeks.
Age-24: Home Runs Needed: 108
Ronald Acuna Jr. – Atlanta Braves
Unfortunately for Acuna, he has only hit 15 home runs since the 2021 All-Star Game. On the bright side, he had already launched 105 home runs before his ACL injury. Like Guerrero, Acuna faced some launching issues in 2022, posting his career-high 47.7% groundball rate. Even with a compromised launch angle, Acuna had a healthy 24.7% flyball rate. If Acuna can trade some grounders for line drives and flyballs, he will be back in the conversation for 30 home runs.
Acuna needs 21 home runs to reach the next age milestone. He appears to be healthy – he will suit up for Venezuela in the World Baseball Classic – which is excellent news for his home run quest. Before his ACL injury, Acuna had launched 24 home runs in 82 games in 2021.
It is rare for “accumulators” to get to 500 home runs, but Soto could be the best bet for a career like Eddie Murray. Murray never hit more than 33 home runs in any season, but he played for 21 years – starting at 21. Soto has a career homer rate of 4.7%, but he has been under 4.5% in each of the last two seasons. Only Cabrera (4.4%), and Murray (3.9%) have lower home-run rates among those to hit 500 home runs.
Soto needs only 16 home runs to stay a year ahead of pace. He should reach it quite easily.
Age-30: Home Runs Needed: 323
Mike Trout – Los Angeles Angels
Trout’s permanence here is a middle finger to the array of injuries that have sapped 25 or more games from Trout in 2017, 2019, 2021, and 2022. For his career, Trout has averaged 40 home runs per 162 games, hitting home runs on 5.7% of his plate appearances. While he has dealt with injuries (and a COVID season) since 2017, he has dramatically increased his home-run rate from 4.7% in his first six seasons to 7.0% in his last six seasons. Last season, he posted a ludicrous 8.0% home-run rate, and he has his lowest walk rate since 2012, giving him enough at-bats to launch 40 home runs for the third time.
Trout is nine home runs from the next age milestone. He hit eight in just 36 games in 2021, so as long as Trout is healthy for two months, he should cruise past. Health permitting, Trout is 43 home runs from the age-32 milestone and 50 home runs from 400 total home runs. Since 2019, Trout is averaging 52 home runs per 162 games.
The 500-home run club will likely be open for the foreseeable future. 2023 will mark the 110th consecutive season that featured a future member of the 500-home run club. With MLB emphasizing launch angle, bat speed, and barrel percentage in the 21st century, there will be many players that could get to 500 home runs with enough at-bats.
However, with baseball’s adherence to power efficiency, getting to the necessary number of at-bats may be difficult to get to. Even if a player matches Mark McGwire’s home run pace, they would still need over 6,000 at-bats.
The precedent has been set by generations of hitters, but today’s power hitters will have superstars breathing down their necks, serving as pressure and a potential replacement. Hitting home runs may be easier now, but the depth of talent in baseball could bottleneck potential 500-home run hitters.
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images