Read these numbers. Strip them of context. Absorb them as they lie. Is this a future Hall of Famer? Is this player someone who's even a part of the Cooperstown conversation? Or are they Brady Anderson, lost to history except for an outlier season midway through their careers?
Is this one of the game's great icons, or a tale of lost potential? A story of balky knees sapping defensive greatness, and a relentless, violent swing checking itself and falling short of achieving longevity?
Any Dodgers fan who watched Adrian Beltre's time in Los Angeles would've defined it by that 2004 season, that lone masterwork where the bat snap reached its fierce, intended conclusion, where the sinew and musculature lined up, where the power developed.
Otherwise, though, they'd probably mark his tenure with a sense of disappointment, which only further materialized when he went to Seattle, and paired his excellent defense with 25 homers (in an era of inflated offense), and then crumbled at the age of 30, felled by injuries and 17 points below the league average offensively in limited duty.
Beltre is poised to sail into the Hall of Fame on Tuesday night, sporting 3,000+ hits, 477 homers, and countless defensive accolades, thanks to both the eye test and the metrics. It's true that, even when his offense lagged in LA and Seattle, he always had the glove, which would've defined him as an "underrated gem" if he'd retired at 30, but certainly not a Hall of Famer.
From this point on, Beltre played nine more seasons, hit 227 additional homers, led the league in doubles and hits once each, and finished top-10 in MVP voting five times, far exceeding the singular time he'd done it before the age of 30 (2004, of course, when he finished second). Beltre's career, holistically, is a marvel. Beltre's career in Los Angeles and Seattle? Tripping on the doorstep of entering the Hall of Very Good.
It's a nearly impossible question to ask, but which current MLB players are in the same boat? Well-liked, well-known, but not on a Cooperstown trajectory? Who has a mid-career leap still in them, under the exact right circumstances? These three current All-Stars, who've been somewhat obscured in the grand scheme of things, have begun their careers in oddly similar fashion to Beltre's pre-leap self.
3 current MLB players who could follow Adrian Beltre's one-of-a-kid Hall of Fame path
Ozzie Albies, Atlanta Braves
The underappreciated Braves All-Star has the advantage of a Beltre-like early start to his career, debuting at the age of 20 in 2017 and posting standout numbers in limited duty from the very beginning (a 110 OPS+ in 57 games). While he doesn't possess a similarly ballyhooed glove (vacillating between positive and negative OAA), and while 2020 could crush him from a counting numbers perspective, there's a good chance Albies could compile an extremely impressive resume -- if he's able to find another, miraculous gear mid-career, as well as post a more impressive peak than Beltre's.
Crucially, Albies had the best season of his young career in 2023 at the age of 26, posting a career-best 124 OPS+ and socking 33 homers. At the moment, it feels as if he's been lost in Ronald Acuña Jr.'s shadow, and most appraisers would put him in the "wait and see" category for Cooperstown considerations.
That's precisely where Beltre was at this stage, too. If Albies can sustain production through his late 30s, and can post a powerful peak for the next five years, he could defy the odds.