It’s always a hoot when a precocious teenager finds his way into the majors and does something neat. “Neat” is pretty much how those guys describe it, too, since the word is usually still a big part of their vocabularies. Nineteen-year-old Jurickson Profar was hanging around the Texas Rangers’ locker room the other day, fully expecting to hang around the dugout during a game against the Cleveland Indians.
Only regular second baseman Ian Kinsler came up with a sore back and Profar received his first Major League start Sunday. Happy enough to make the jump directly from AA to the majors, it was a bonus for Profar to receive playing time. Just to prove he belonged, he smacked a home run in his first at-bat and added a double in his debut game to help the Rangers defeat the Indians, 8-3.
Once Profar laid good wood on the ball he admitted he was talking to it, trying to steer it out of Progressive Field, saying, “Go, go, go.” The appearance at his age made Profar the youngest player on a Major League team this year. Of course we cannot know if this is going to be the best moment of his career, or if he is just warming up for a long career as an all-star. It’s just a pleasant moment for now.
Plenty of teenagers have appeared in Major League games since the National League was formed in 1876, but it is not a everyday occurrence. The youngest player ever to appear in a big-league contest was Joe Nuxhall. The Cincinnati Reds pitcher was 15 years and 316 days old when he briefly threw in a game in June of 1944. Nuxhall, who was just beginning high school, had been invited to spend some time with the team and he was inserted into the game partially because of a World War II-era shortage of players. He lasted 2/3 of an inning.
Nuxhall then disappeared from Major League box scores until 1952 when he joined the Reds to stay. He finished 135-117 and then spent 40 years as a Reds broadcaster. He passed away in 2007. Nuchall has a street named after him outside the Great American Ball Park.
Bob Feller was a true teenage phenom. The flame-throwing right-hander came right off the family farm in Iowa to make his debut for the Indians in 1936 and matured into a Hall of Famer and one of the best pitchers of all time. Age was no deterrent to Feller. It didn’t work out quite as well for David Clyde, the Rangers’ coveted left-handed throwing prospect who made his first Major League start at 18 in 1973, but whose career fizzled.
Speaking of youthful breakthroughs, not often remembered as well as Feller’s early start was the similar arrival of slugger Mel Ott with the New York Giants. Ott stuck with the big club when he was 17 in 1926 because manager John McGraw liked what he saw in him.
Hall of Fame catcher Johnny Bench played in his first big-league game in August of 1967, a few months before he turned 20 in December. Ted Williams was just 20 when he played his first game for the Boston Red Sox in 1939 and he probably felt he was being held back and should have been calling Fenway Park home the year before. Alex Rodriguez also broke into the majors at 19.
Although it has been mentioned that Profar is the first big-leaguer who was born in 1993, not to be overlooked (and that would be hard to do) is Bryce Harper. Harper has played almost the entire season for the Washington Nationals and he won’t turn 20 until October. When it comes to discussions about potential, Harper is way off the charts.
This season’s real fresh star and likely American League rookie of the year is Mike Trout. Trout is an old man, though. Just last month he turned 21.