It is rare to find a teenager playing at the major league level, but that could change next year when former Las Vegas (Nev.) High School phenom Bryce Harper makes himself eligible for the MLB First Year Player Draft.
Still just 16 years of age, Harper made headlines earlier this summer when he announced that he would forgo his final two years of high school to enroll in Southern Nevada Community College with the intent of applying for the 2010 draft. Harper would be approximately 17 years and eight months when the draft will be held. How long it would take him to reach the Major Leagues is anyone’s guess, but Harper reportedly has the skills necessary to rise quickly through the minor leagues.
Teenagers playing at the major league level certainly aren’t unheard of, but they are becoming a rarity. Rick Porcello of the Detroit Tigers is the youngest current player in the Major Leagues, debuting earlier this season at the age of 20 years, three months and 13 days. Clayton Kershaw was the youngest player in the Major Leagues before Porcello arrived. Kershaw was 20 years, two months and six days old when he made his debut.
Harper, Porcello and Kershaw all have one thing in common – they were all named as the national high school player of the year by at least one organization. Porcello and Kershaw were chosen by USA Today as the national player of the year while Baseball America selected Harper.
Numerous players have gone straight from high school to the major leagues, with David Clyde, perhaps, being the most famous example. The high school pitching wunderkind set a multitude of national records as a pitcher at Westchester High School in Houston and was then drafted by the Texas Rangers with the first pick in the 1973 draft. He made his major league debut on June 27, 1973 when he was 18 years, two months and five days old.
Clyde won his first start for the Rangers, beating the Cleveland Indians, but his career did not go well. He ended up leaving the game in 1979 due to injuries that nagged him throughout his career.
During the 1950s, many high school players jumped straight to the major leagues as “bonus babies.” Since the Major Leagues had a set salary for rookies at the time, a new player could only get a bonus if he went straight to the major leagues for two years (this rule was abolished in 1965 when the MLB draft was established). Among the more famous bonus babies were Harmon Killebrew, Sandy Koufax and Al Kaline.
Killebrew was six days shy of his 18th birthday when he joined the Washington Senators on June 23, 1954. Killebrew actually was an All-American quarterback at Payette High School in Idaho and had a football scholarship waiting for him at the University of Oregon. However Killebrew received a tryout from the Senators and he shuttled back and forth between the major and minor leagues for five seasons before becoming a regular in 1959.
Koufax didn’t play baseball at Lafayette High school in Brooklyn and instead went to the University of Cincinnati on a basketball scholarship. He later played for the Bearcat baseball team and was signed by the Dodgers after the college season ended. Koufax made his debut on June 24, 1955 at the age of 19 years, five months and 25 days.
Kaline was an immediate sensation in the major leagues. Signing with the Detroit Tigers directly out of Southern High School in Baltimore, Kaline joined the team on June 25, 1953 at the age of 18 years, six months and six days old.
Kaline became the youngest batting champion ever, winning the American League title in 1955 when he was just 20 years old. He reportedly beat out former Tiger Ty Cobb for that honor by just one day. He also became the youngest player to ever start a Major League All-Star game, which he did that season.
World War II also resulted in a number of clubs dipping into the local high schools to sign players to fill out their rosters while the regular players were serving in the armed forces.
Joe Nuxhall is the most famous of the war-time teenagers as he is the youngest person to play at the major league level since the beginning of the 20th century.
Nuxhall was just a freshman in high school in Hamilton, Ohio, when the Reds took notice. Cincinnati eventually signed Nuxhall midway through his sophomore season and he made his major league debut on June 10, 1944 at the age of 15 years, 10 months and 10 days old.
Nuxhall only played one game that year, pitching two thirds of an inning and giving up five runs on two hits with five walks and no strikeouts. He did not play again at the major league level until he was 23, but he went on to a 16-year career with the Reds and won 135 games.
Other 16-year-olds to play in the Major Leagues during the war included Rogers McKee and Carl Scheib.
With the full name of Rogers Hornsby McKee, the native of Shelby, N.C., didn’t exactly play like his namesake, the Hall of Fame hitter from the 1920s. McKee joined the Philadelphia Phillies on August 18, 1943, just a month shy of his 17th birthday. He lasted just two seasons in the major leagues and played in only five games.
Scheib played on the other side of town with the Philadelphia Athletics and made his debut a month after McKee, joining the team on Sept. 6, 1943. Scheib replaced McKee as the youngest player in the major leagues as he was just 16 years, eight months and five days old when he played his first game.
Scheib had a little bit better luck than McKee, playing 11 seasons, mostly with the Athletics.
Alex Rodriguez is the most recent 18-year old to make his debut in the major leagues. He played his first game for the Seattle Mariners on July 8, 1994, just 19 days before his 19th birthday.
Harper could become the first 18-year-old in the majors in over 15 years; however he is not alone in that quest and in fact two other players may beat him to it. Earlier this month the St. Louis Cardinals signed Wagner Mateo, a 16-year-old outfielder from the Dominican Republic while the New York Yankees signed Gary Sanchez, a 16-year-old Dominican prospect as well. Both are considered among the top talents in Latin America.