Marty Niland: Soto joins ranks of teen phenoms in D.C.

The newest National, Juan Soto, got a nice ovation Sunday when he came to bat in the eighth inning as the youngest player currently in the major leagues at 19.

He struck out in his debut, but with the Nationals lineup currently decimated by injuries, there will be plenty of opportunities for Soto to make an impact at the big league level after playing just 39 games in the minor leagues this season and 122 overall.

Soto joins dozens of players who broke into the majors as teenagers, including several in Washington. Here’s a look at selected teenage rookies from Washington’s three major league teams over the past 111 years:

Walter Johnson, 1907, age 19: Less than a month after a Washington scout saw him pitching in Idaho, the Big Train made his big league debut against the pennant-bound Tigers. The story goes that Ty Cobb and his teammates were so unimpressed with the lanky kid warming up that they taunted him by mooing and yelling “get the pitchfork ready!” But when Cobb stepped into the box, he recalls that Johnson unleashed a pitch that “hissed with danger.” Johnson lost a 3-2 decision that day, and was 5-9 with a 1.88 ERA that season, but went on to a 21-year Hall of Fame career that saw him win 417 games and strike out 3,509 batters. He’s widely regarded as the greatest pitcher of all time.

Cecil Travis, 1933, age 19: The Riverdale, Ga., native collected five hits in an 11-10 win over Cleveland that saw the two teams use 11 pitchers, setting a major league record. A shortstop, Travis would hit .302 in 18 games for the Wracking Crew of ‘33, the last Washington team to win a pennant. He went on to became one of the American League’s best hitters, topping out at .359 in 1941. He spent the next three seasons in military service, and developed frostbite in both feet in the Battle of the Bulge. He came back to Washington to help the team go down to the last day of the 1945 pennant race and retired after the 1947 campaign.

Buddy Lewis, 1935, age 18: A third baseman, Lewis was just 3-for-28 as a rookie, but went on to became one of the AL’s top hitters. Only Cobb had more career hits at 24 than Lewis. He also served in World War II, flying more than 500 missions as a transport pilot, and came back for the 1945 pennant race. He retired in 1949 after 11 seasons with a .297 career average.

Eddie Yost, 1944, age 17: Yost went 1-for-3 against the White Sox in the first of seven big league games that season. After serving in the Navy in 1945, Yost returned to become one of the game’s most durable third basemen, playing in 839 consecutive games between 1949 and 1955, the third-longest consecutive games streak at the time and still the ninth-longest. Yost was known as the Walking Man, drawing 1,614 free passes in an 18-year career, still 11th all time. His best years were 1950, when he hit .295, and 1951, when he led the league with 36 doubles. In 1959, he was traded to Detroit to make room for the next man on this list.

Harmon Killebrew, 1954, age 17: The Senators signed this Idaho farm boy for a $50,000 bonus 10 days before his 18th birthday. Under rules at the time, Killebrew had to spend two full seasons on the major league roster to avoid becoming a free agent. He debuted as a pinch-runner six days before turning 18. In his first start, he went 3-for-4 with a double and two RBIs against Philadelphia. After spending the requisite two seasons in the bigs, Killebrew paid his minor league dues over the next three seasons before being called up for good in 1959. He would go on to become one of the most prolific sluggers ever, with 573 career homers.

Ed Brinkman, 1961, age 19: Brinkman played 60 games in the minors before being called up to the expansion Senators as they finished their inaugural season. He went just 1-for-11, an early start on his reputation as a weak-hitting, but reliable-fielding shortstop. He would become a mainstay of the Senators for the next nine seasons before going to Detroit in the much-derided trade that brought Dennis McLain to Washington in 1971. He helped the Tigers to the 1972 AL East title and played in the 1973 All-Star Game.

Jeff Burroughs, 1970, age 19: Burroughs was the first player selected in the 1969 amateur draft, which yielded 19 eventual All-Stars, including Hall of Famers Bert Blyleven and Dave Winfield. He spent 52 games in the minors before being called up on July 20, 1970 when he went 0-for-3 in a 2-0 win over Milwaukee. He became a regular starter in 1973, after the team moved to Texas, and in 1974, he was the American League MVP, hitting .301 with 25 homers and 118 RBIs.

Bryce Harper, 2012, age 19: Harper was already famous before becoming the top pick in the 2010 draft, appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16. He played a full season in the minor leagues in 2011 and 21 games in 2012 before being called up to a talented big league team that was struggling offensively on April 28, when he doubled and drove in a run in a 3-2 loss to the Dodgers. He finished a Rookie of the Year campaign with 22 homers and 59 RBIs, helping the Nats to baseball’s best record with 98 wins and their first postseason appearance since moving to Washington. In 2015, his only injury-free season, Harper was the National League MVP with a .330 average, 42 homers and 99 RBIs.

Marty Niland blogs about the Nationals for D.C. Baseball History. Follow him on Twitter: @martyball98. His thoughts on the Nationals will appear here as part of MASNsports.com’s season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our site. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.

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