(RNN) – Two center fielders make the major leagues in the same season. One is 19 years old and the other is 20.
One goes to the American League, while the other takes on the National. The pair immediately put the rest of the world on notice, producing highlight-worthy plays with the bat and the glove.
Both showcase the classic "five tools" baseball scouts pine for: Running, fielding, throwing, hitting for average and hitting for power.
The season was 1951. The players? Mickey Mantle and Willie Mays.
The season was 2012. The players? Bryce Harper and Mike Trout.
Yes, comparing anyone to "The Mick" or "The Say Hey Kid" might be baseball heresy. But with all the talent the two rookies possess, it's a level they could reach.
If they can avoid injuries and mysterious women in black veils, they should have long, outstanding careers.
Harper is the phenomenon; the national pastime's version of LeBron James. He, too, made the cover of a major sports magazine at age 16.
Since then, he dropped out of high school before his junior year, got his GED, dominated a year of junior college ball and got picked No. 1 overall by the Washington Nationals in 2010.
Harper is the type of athlete baseball fans love to hate.
He's blunt, straightforward and cocky. He's not afraid to call out someone who asks "a clown question, bro" and wears his eye black like war paint.
He exudes all the confidence one would expect of a teenage millionaire who makes his living playing a game.
But Harper is also the type of player baseball fans love to love.
He has a big, violent swing and charges down the first-base line like it's the final out of the World Series – every time. He's not afraid to take a lump crashing into the outfield wall to make a catch.
Nothing exemplifies Harper better than the non-verbal exchange that happened May 6 against Philadelphia. In the first inning, Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels put a fastball into his back – on purpose.
"Welcome to the big leagues, kid."
Harper took his base. After a single moved him to third, Hamels casually threw over to check on the other base runner.
Harper stole home.
"Thanks, happy to be here … pops."
Pretty good for his first major league stolen base.
Harper's performance (.283 average, 8 home runs, 25 RBIs, 42 runs, 8 steals through Saturday) has been good enough to earn him a spot on the NL All-Star team.
Meanwhile, his lesser-known counterpart has put up MVP-caliber numbers through the midway point of the season. He'll also be on the AL squad Tuesday.
When Trout got drafted 25th overall by the Los Angeles Angels in 2009, he received some fanfare, but no more than the typical late first-rounder. In less than two years, Trout became the top minor league prospect in baseball.
Young players, especially ones straight out of high school, usually have trouble making adjustments when the talent level around them rises. But Trout's ability to hit is matched by his ability to adapt to improved pitching.
His one hiccup came in his first call-up to LA last season, when he hit .220 in limited play. In 2012, he started in AAA ball – one step away from the majors – and hit .403 through 20 games.
Since rejoining the Angels, he's hitting .347 with 11 home runs, 39 RBIs, 55 runs and 26 steals.
He makes it all look effortless, too.
Harper is a lumberjack trying to chop down a tree in one stroke, while Trout's swing is reminiscent of another former young prodigy: Ken Griffey Jr. He generates force with a fast, fluid and natural stroke.
He may be faster than Harper, but he looks more like he's running at school recess than running for his life.
Along with the gaudy numbers produced, Trout also settled the "Play of the Year" debate early. On June 27 in Baltimore, Trout ran at full speed, leapt, fully extended and snagged a would-be home run above the outfield wall in the tip of his glove.
As good as the catch was, his reaction after was better. Trout pounded his chest, shouted and smiled from ear to ear as he got high fives from his teammates.
It is the same reaction you like to see on any field, from the little leagues to the big ones. He was a kid having fun.
In 1951, Mantle and Mays helped their teams reach the World Series, with Mantle's Yankees beating Mays' Giants in six games.
Could we see Harper and Trout meet in this year's Fall Classic? It's possible; both have their teams in position to make the playoffs.
Whether they make it or not this season, these two should become regulars in the postseason for may years to come, as the centerpieces of their respective teams.
Someone better get these young guys some nicknames, and fast.
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