Late bloomers: Top 5 MLB stars who succeeded late in their career
From the moment a prospect breaks into the MLB, the assessment clock for their maximum effectiveness in the majors begins to tick. For the majority of prospects, that potential ceiling is fulfilled, or at least understood, by the age of 25. For a select few, however, that growth process didn't fully bloom until later, throwing the entire MLB scouting bureau into a daze. The players on our list rewrote the script on what to expect from a player and when. Here are your top 5 late bloomers of all time.
#5 Jayson Werth: 15 MLB seasons
From the moment Werth was drafted 22nd overall by the Baltimore Orioles in the 1997 MLB draft, his ability to perform at the MLB level was immediately brought into question. Before he even had the opportunity to don a big league uniform, he was slated to be a bust. His string of reassignments between single-A and triple-A the following eight seasons seemed to further solidify that assessment. While Werth missed the entirety of the 2006 season due to multiple wrist surgeries, that appeared to be the final nail in his coffin. Instead, the then-28-year-old returned from injury with a vengeance. Upon joining the Phillies lineup midseason, he tore the cover off the ball, hitting .298 in the final 94 games. The rest is history. Werth only improved in each of the following three seasons, posting 24, 36, and 27 home runs in 2008, 2009, and 2010, respectively. After moving on from Philadelphia, he became the focal point of a powerhouse Washington Nationals offense en route to four division titles. He finished his career in 2017 with a lifetime average of .267 with 229 career home runs. Not bad for a player many said would never make it.
#4 Al Leiter: 18 MLB seasons
As a former second round draft pick by the New York Yankees, many wrote Al Leiter off as a bust after struggling to post an ERA below four in his first nine seasons. Then, on the brink of turning thirty, something clicked. As a 29-year-old starter, Leiter produced his most effective results up to that point with the Toronto Blue Jays, posting a 3.64 ERA and 153 strikeouts in 183 IP. But it would not be his final relevant season. The next nine seasons of his career all consisted of mid-low 3 ERA seasons and two sub-3 ERA seasons, earning him two All-Star honors and two World Series championships.
#3 Jose Bautista: 15 MLB seasons
Taken in the 20th round of the amateur draft, Jose Bautista is the epitome of a journeyman at the big-league level. Bautista's journey began in 2004 with the Baltimore Orioles at the age of 23. He was dealt three times before the end of his rookie season. Five teams and six years later, he finally ascended into stardom at the age of 29, with a breakout season in 2010, posting a statline of 54HR/.260BA/124RBIs. He laid any reservations of a fluke season to rest by following it up in 2011 with 43 HRs and a .302 average with 132 RBIs. With 344 career home runs to his credit to go along with 975 RBIs, that makes this 20th round pick one of the biggest steals of the international amateur draft.
#2 Nelson Cruz: 18 MLB seasons and counting
Everything about Nelson Cruz's MLB career screams an underdog Hollywood story. As an unwanted, undrafted free agent, he eventually garnered a contract from the Milwaukee Brewers, for whom he only played nine total games at the ripe age of 24. His following two seasons with the Texas Rangers were below average at best. Then in 2009, Nelson Cruz had a season that would dictate the remainder of his legendary career, producing 33 HRs in only 124 games to coincide with a .260 average.
Cruz seemed to age like a fine wine. The older he got, the better he got. Between the ages of 33 and 38, he never amassed fewer than 37 home runs and never produced fewer than 93 RBIs.
"Nelson Cruz is a strong man" - @ Baseball Bros
His lifetime average of .275 and 450 career home runs has us wondering if we could've seen 500 of these majestic swings had he started his career sooner.
#1 Randy Johnson: 22 MLB seasons
Number one on this list goes to a first ballot Hall of Famer. Randy Johnson was so dominant throughout his tenure, fans and experts alike forgot the 6'10", lanky southpaw struggled mightily through the first few seasons of his career, thanks in large part to his lack of command. His control issues were the focal point of an early career that struggled to gain traction, having issued over 120 base on balls in three straight seasons from 1990-1992. After his staggering 144 walks in 1992, however, he never issued more than 99 walks in a single season. From age 28 and beyond, "The Big Unit" dominated hitters with a nasty slider/ fastball combo with the utmost precision.
"27 up. 27 down. At 40 year old, Randy Johnson became the oldest player in MLB history to throw a perfect game." - @ ESPN
With a lifetime ERA of 3.29 and a monumental 4,875 strikeouts across his 22-year career, including a perfect game at the age of 40 highlighted above, Randy Johnson is the ultimate MLB late bloomer.