In any given major league season, there are typically around 35-40 active players who will make baseball’s Hall of Fame.
Some of these are rookies getting their first taste of the majors. Some are young superstars in their prime. Some are players who aren’t done quite yet, but have already punched their ticket to Cooperstown when they retire.
In prior articles, we’ve explored the sure-thing hitters and pitchers. Today, we’re going to look at the hitters who are well on a hall of fame path, but still have some more work to stamp their ticket to Cooperstown.
Just a note on WAR. When WAR is referenced in this article, we are using Baseball Reference WAR, not Fangraphs version.
Also, as a reminder, a player becomes eligible for the election to the Hall of Fame 5 years after they retire, and remains eligible for 10 years or until they are named on less than 5% of ballots. The Hall of Fame voting results are announced in January, and the induction ceremony is in July.
The hitters on the Baseball Hall of Fame path
The hitters below are all on the path to Cooperstown. Some are on the cusp of being sure things. Some are well on their way and are likely future inductees. Some will need a lot to go right to have a chance, but are worth discussing.
NOTE: All stats are through the 2022 Major League Baseball All-Star Game.
WAR: 64.4 Age: 38
Votto isn’t your traditional slugging hall of fame first basemen. With 337 career home runs and 1,095 RBI, a lot of people may dismiss his candidacy. That would be a mistake, however. It was the hits that stayed in the ballpark, plus a whole lot of walks, that puts Votto on this list.
He sports a .299/.414/.515 batting line, which is good enough for .929 OPS and a 146 OPS+. But does his 64.4 career WAR suggest a Hall of Fame induction in his future?
What makes a HOF 1st Basemen? The average career WAR of the 21 Hall of Fame first basemen is 66.9, although that average includes Lou Gehrig’s 113.7, so the medium is slightly lower.
Votto ranks 15th among 1st basemen in career WAR. Of the 14 1st basemen ahead of them on the list, only three are not already enshrined in Cooperstown. As we highlighted in our article about Sure-Thing Hall of Fame hitters, two of those players, Miguel Cabrera and Albert Pujols, will be elected as soon as they are eligible. The 3rd is Rafael Palmeiro, who would be in if not a bit of finger waggling and performance-enhancing drug use.
What’s does this mean for Votto? If he retired right now, there’s a good chance that Votto would make the Hall of Fame when eligible, although maybe not in his first year of eligibility. Votto’s contract with the Reds runs through 2023 with an option for 2024 (unlikely to be exercised). So he’s likely not done yet.
2022 has been a rough season for Votto to date, but if he can turn it around and compile another 2-3 career WAR, it should put his candidacy well into the “sure thing” category.
Even if the final part of his career does not see any additional WAR (or even a slight bit of negative time), his career-long run in Cincinnati and popularity across the game with players and fans bode well for his eventual induction.
Joey Votto rookie cards on ebay
Paul Goldschmidt 1B
WAR: 55.5 Age: 34
Goldschmidt has flown a little bit under the radar screen despite finishing second in the MVP voting twice already in his career. With five top 10 finishes in WAR in his 11 seasons, a .295/.391/.525 batting line, a .916 OPS, and a 144 OPS+, and gold glove defense at first base, Goldschmidt is one of the best players in baseball, but probably wouldn’t make many fans’ Top 5 list.
A monster 2022 first half may be changing that impression, while also allowing Goldschmidt to rack up some additional numbers in his mid-30s. Of all the players on the list, few have done more in 2022 to increase their Hall of Fame chances (Goldschmidt’s teammate Nolan Arenado is another).
What is the hall of fame path for Goldschmidt? With 55.5 WAR, Goldschmidt already ranks 26th all-time in career WAR among first basemen (tied with Hall of Famer Hank Greenberg). That’s not bad for what has basically been 10 full seasons, but it won’t get him in…yet.
He’s 34 during 2022 averaging and was averaging about 5 WAR per season, coming into 2022 (he accumulated 5 WAR in his monster first half to 2022).
If he can keep that 5 WAR pace up for another couple of seasons, he’ll be right around the average WAR for a Hall of Fame 1st baseman. So, Goldschmidt’s Hall of Fame case will come down to how long he can continue to perform near his current levels.
Alternately, a few 2-3 WAR seasons in his late 30’s would represent a slow decline and a chance to get over the hump. Regardless, he’s got a solid chance, although he’s still got work to do.
Paul Goldschmidt rookie cards on eBay
Mookie Betts RF
WAR: 52.9 Age: 29
Betts has put up a .294/.370/.518 line in his career, good for a .888 OPS and a 134 OPS+. Pair that with gold glove defense in right field and plus value on the base paths (152 SB), and Betts is a rare all-around great player. He’s won an MVP award and two World Championships.
What makes a HOF right fielder? There are 28 right fielders in the hall of fame. The average career WAR of those players is 71.1. That number is skewed a bit by Babe Ruth (162.7) and Hank Aaron (143.1). Realistically, every right fielder with more than 65 career WAR is in the hall, other than Dwight Evans (67.1), who may still have his day.
Go down to Vlad Guerrero at 59.5, and the only right fielders above him other than Evans not already in the hall are Ichiro (who will make it on the first ballot when eligible), underrated Bobby Abreu and Reggie Smith, Gary Sheffield (PED’s) and Joe Jackson (Black Sox scandal).
There are a number of Hall of Fame right fielders with career WAR under 60, and even 50…although most are from the early part of the 20th century (or before).
What does this mean for Betts? With 52.5 career WAR midway through his age 29 season, Betts has set himself up incredibly well for eventual enshrinement in Cooperstown. His amazing offensive production, gold glove defense, and excellent base running have helped him rack up a number of MVP-caliber seasons.
Betts is only 5’9” and 180 pounds, which has caused some to question how well he’ll age. He’s got several paths to a hall of fame WAR total, though, so there’s a reason for optimism.
Another couple of seasons of 6+ WAR and he’s within range of a Hall of Fame career, even with a fairly quick and unproductive decline phase. Or, he can put together a string of solid but not great 3 WAR seasons, with a decline phase long or short.
If Betts were to average 3 WAR per season through his age 35 season, that’d add 18 WAR and put him at 68, and make him a no-doubt Hall of Famer. Honestly, the only thing that can likely keep Betts out at this point are injuries that keep him off the field.
Mookie Betts rookie cards on eBay
Manny Machado 3B
WAR: 49.2 Age: 30
Machado is off to a strong start to his career with a .281/.340/.490, which translates to a .830 OPS and a 124 OPS+. Add in two gold gloves, and you have a two-way superstar in his prime.
What makes a HOF third basemen? There are 15 third basemen in the Hall of Fame. The average career WAR of a Hall of Famer in this group is 68.4. Of the 10 third basemen above that mark, all but two are in the hall of fame. The two who aren’t yet (Adrian Beltre and Scott Rolen), will be soon enough.
What does this mean for Machado? With over 49 WAR midway through his age 30 season, Machado is also set up well for potential enshrinement. While his WAR totals have been a bit inconsistent year to year, he’s averaged over 5 WAR per 162 games.
Still, roughly 15 more career WAR over the rest of his career will put him strongly in the conversation, and 20 more would put him into more or less the “sure thing” category.
Manny Machado rookie cards on eBay
Nolan Arenado 3B
WAR: 49.2 Age: 31
Arenado has put up a .288/.346/.534 career line. He has 287 career home runs, with a gold glove in all of his nine seasons. He’s put up a monster first half in 2022, which added 5 WAR to his career total by itself.
Is Arenado on a Hall of Fame path? While a little bit older than Machado, with a matching career WAR, Arenado still is on a strong path to Cooperstown. While his batting average had taken a dip the last couple of years prior to 2022, another 15 WAR or so across the back half of his career should put him in the conversation.
With gold glove defense and power, Arenado can put together a Hall of Fame career even if his batting average doesn’t recover. Hall of Fame third baseman Mike Schmidt, who has the highest career WAR of any third baseman, hit only .267 in his career.
Nolan Arenado rookie cards on eBay
Giancarlo Stanton RF
WAR: 45.4 Age: 32
Stanton has a .267/.356/.541 career line with a .898 OPS and 143 OPS+. He’s got 271 career home runs and 954 career RBI at the midpoint of the 2022 season.
Could Stanton be a Hall of Fame right fielder? Due to his age, position, and WAR total, Stanton is on a little less of a clear path to the Hall of Fame. Midway through his age 32 season, Stanton sits at 45.4 career WAR. That’s 20 or so from HOF consideration.
Stanton is capable of putting up some big WAR totals if healthy, although his lack of value on defense and on the base paths keep those numbers from being as high as someone like Betts could put up. And health is a concern with Stanton, as he’s had a number of significant injuries and has only played in 150 or more games in three of his twelve seasons.
That being said…a few monster seasons could position Stanton for the potential to get into the Hall of Fame conversation. I won’t say it’s particularly likely, but if anyone is capable of putting together some big seasons, Stanton is on the shortlist.
Giancarlo Stanton rookie cards on eBay
Freddie Freeman 1B
WAR: 46.8 Age: 32
Freeman, a lifetime Brave who signed a big free agent contract with the Los Angeles Dodgers this past off-season, has a career .297/.385/.510/.894 line with a 139 OPS+.
Freeman is a World Series champ…but is he on a Hall of Fame path? With a similar WAR total to Stanton at the same age, Freeman is in a similar situation. I’d put Freeman’s chances just a bit higher than Stanton’s of eventually getting into Hall of Fame territory.
Why? Freeman plays Gold Glove-caliber defense at 1st base, is a bit better all-around hitter than Stanton (although with less power), and has been healthier than Stanton.
Playing for the Dodgers will give him a chance to play for a winner, so he’ll have plenty of opportunities to rack up RBIs and potential postseason heroics. I wouldn’t put his chances of making the hall at the same level of a Votto or Betts, but he’ll be an interesting one to watch.
Freddie Freeman rookie cards on eBay
Jose Altuve 2B
WAR: 44.2 Age: 32
Altuve is a playoff regular and a 3-time batting champ with a .306/.360/.464/.824 line, which is good for a 126 OPS+.
What makes a HOF second basemen? The average WAR of the twenty second basemen in the Hall of Fame is 69.7, but in reality, 55 career WAR appears to be around where the conversation starts. The second basemen above that mark who aren’t in the Hall already are all at least considered strong candidates by many. For comparison, Jeff Kent, who is currently on the Hall of Fame ballot, has 55.5 career WAR.
What does this mean for Altuve? With 44.2 career WAR, Altuve currently ranks 37th all-time among second basemen. In his age 32 season, Altuve had a solid 4.4 WAR season in 2021 after a bit of a lost season in the pandemic-shorted 2020 season.
If Altuve can average 3 WAR per season through his age 36 season, that’d put him at 56.4 career WAR…right on the cusp of Hall of Fame range. Of course, if he has a few more big seasons in him, or he continues to play at a high level into his late 30s, he may push past that 3 WAR average and into more “sure thing” Hall of Fame category.
Alternately, while Altuve is a big-time player, he’s not a big guy…at only 5’6” and 166 lbs. How his body holds up as he ages will have a lot to do with his career performance from here on out.
Jose Altuve rookie cards on eBay
Bryce Harper RF
WAR: 42.7 Age: 29
Harper is a former Rookie of the Year and now a two-time MVP. He has 282 career home runs and a .281/.391/.528 batting line.
What are Harper’s Hall of Fame prospects? Harper, who was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as an amateur, seems like he’s been around forever, but he’s still on the happy side of 30. While his season-by-season WAR totals have been inconsistent, he did just win his second MVP award in 2021.
Harper debuted in the majors at age 19, and is signed through his age 38 season to a big dollar contract. If he plays that entire contract, he’s got 9 more seasons ahead of him. If he can average 2.5 WAR per season, he’ll be within consideration. A few more big seasons will make that a lot easier, and there’s a chance that if Harper plays really well over the remainder of his career, he could get into the top 10 all-time right fielders.
That being said, Harper is currently injured, something that has becoming a more regular thing as he ages. Health seems to be the big variable in Harper’s Hall of Fame candidacy. If he can stay fairly healthy and productive, he’s got a shot.
Bryce Harper rookie cards on eBay
Aaron Judge RF
WAR: 30.7 Age: 30
Judge has ridden a monster first half of the 2022 season into MVP consideration. That being said, at age 30, Judge has a career WAR total midway through the 2022 season of 30.7. That’s solid, but well below others on this list.
Judge sports a .277/.383/.563 line with 191 home runs and 436 RBI in his career. He’s also had some health issues, only appearing in 150 or more games in a season once to date.
So, I’m including Judge here less because I think he has a good chance to make the Hall of Fame someday, but more to show just how difficult it is to make the Hall of Fame. Judge is an exciting player who’s had an impressive career, but it’ll take a bit of a showing in his 30s to get him into the Hall of Fame discussion.
Aaron Judge rookie cards on eBay
Key rookie cards, pop reports (current as of July 2022)
Note: Because of the era these players came up and the cards were produced, you have lots of options. In some cases, you can find pre-rookie, parallels, SN, auto, or simply other brands’ rookie cards compared to the Bowman cards I’m highlighting above. Depending on your budget and taste, pick “other” cards of the players above.
When thinking about potential investments in players who appear to be on a Hall of Fame path, there are several considerations.
The biggest consideration is, of course, how you think the player will age and perform in the back half (or so) of their career. None of the players mentioned (with the possible exception of Votto) would make the Hall of Fame if they retired today or their career WAR totals stayed the same or went down.
Another consideration is the current cost of their cards. Most of the players listed above have cards that won’t break the bank even in a PSA 10 holder. Buying PSA 9 (which I usually do) makes the prices even more reasonable.
Speaking of PSA, another important consideration is the PSA population for the card in question. The lower the available pop, the better chance the card will be a good investment. Of the cards above, the Betts has the highest population, so that’s a consideration.
Some of the other cards have fairly low populations, so it may take some time to find them for sale, so make sure you give yourself time for the cards you want to be available.
So, which of these players will make the Hall of Fame, and which won’t? I don’t have a crystal ball, so I can’t tell you for sure. I have my thoughts, but they are just educated guesses.
In my opinion, the most likely of the players above to make the Hall of Fame are Votto and Betts. Votto is right on the cusp, and Betts has set himself up well for the future. Stanton and Judge strike me as the most unlikely, mostly due to health considerations (or maybe it’s just the Red Sox fan in me rooting against a Yankee).
Goldschmidt, Arenado, and Machado are the three players that strike me as “under the radar” candidates, in that many people aren’t yet thinking about them as potential future Hall of Famers.
That being said, I’m buying a few cards of most of the players on the list. Not all will make the Hall of Fame, but they’ve all already made their mark on the game and should be well remembered after their playing careers are over.
The final word on active future Hall of Fame hitters
Looking at mid-career stars and trying to determine which ones will eventually make the Hall of Fame is a very enjoyable way for a baseball fan to pass the time.
For a sports card collector, it provides a potential path to profit if you invest now, while many collectors are off chasing the hottest new prospect.