FEATURE
TNBL Hall of Fame Prognostication Vol. 1.0
What current stars are a lock for immortality?
by GETER PAMMONS

The seventh season of the True Neutral Baseball League brings a set of questions that were tough to truly consider before now. As the TNBL’s history runs a bit deeper with each passing year, we get a better picture of what our Hall of Fame will look like when the gates first open up sometime in the next few seasons. And while we are still a few years away from the first batch of ballots, we know enough to start speculating who will become immortal in this league.

Without the benefit of knowing what our benchmarks will be, this is a tough list to put together. It’s unlikely any player will reach 500 home runs until at least another 7-10 years from now, and 300 pitcher wins will probably never happen.

So instead of looking at milestones and accolades, this list was compiled with one word at the forefront: Impact. What kind of impact has the player had on this generation of the TNBL? A pitcher who was 29-years-old in 2028 at the league’s genesis is unlikely to have the necessary counting stats to make it to Cooperstown if we go by traditional metrics.

But should that keep Carlos Mateo out of the Hall? Of course not — His four Cy Young awards are why that honor will be named after him some day, and it’s why he’s among the ‘locks’ in this story. Mateo’s impact through seven years is as heavy as any player could hope to have in league history. The fact that he crossed the 100-win threshold just this season at 35-years-young won’t matter for our inaugural election.

So what does that mean for our initial group of immortals?

It means 7-year peak WAR will matter. It means all-time records will matter. It means World Series wins will matter.

Without further adieu, here’s the first edition of the TNBL Hall of Fame prognosticator:


Locks

These players would be in the Hall of Fame even if they retired tomorrow — they’ve already done enough to get in.

David Veloz, 3B, St. Louis Cardinals

Simply put, David Veloz is what peak performance looks like in the TNBL. From 2028-2031, Veloz posted an incredible 35.4 WAR. For perspective, those four seasons of value would put him sixth all-time among batters — and that doesn’t take into account what he’s done from 2032 onward.

That four-year run may never be replicated in this file, and he was rewarded with four straight MVP awards. He was then rewarded with a 5-year, $187 million contract that will likely keep him as a Cardinal for life. His production has fallen off somewhat since that four-year peak, but his solid defense and ability to get on-base has kept him productive. His lack of power is a small drawback, but it won’t keep him out of Cooperstown.

Carlos Mateo, SP, Myrtle Beach Mermen

Mateo received quite a bit of love in the intro, but this Myrtle Beach legend deserves that much and more. There will likely never be another player of his caliber, at least not into their mid-30s.

At 35-years-old, Mateo is on pace to produce a 7-WAR season, which would be the fifth such campaign in his career. He’s only once had an ERA above 3.00, and has routinely kept his FIP below 2.5. That’s all despite starting his TNBL career at a spry 29-years-old.

He’s also amassed an incredible 3.4 WAR over six years of postseason action, compiling a 14-2 record along the way. He led his franchise (then the Colorado Rockies) to the first-ever TNBL World Series title in 2028 with a 4-0 record and 38 Ks over 31.2 innings.

Ruben Duarte, CF, Cloud City Sky Pirates

As much as any other player, Duarte was the leader of the first dynasty of the TNBL. His knack for getting on base and driving in runs have led the Sky Pirates to three titles this decade, with more likely still to come.

Duarte is second all-time in WAR among position players, which is incredibly impressive when considering he’s played out of position in CF for the vast majority of his career. He’s been slightly below league average in that spot over nearly 9,000 innings, but his defensive contributions have been enough to hold it down for Cloud City.

Offensively, he’s been as good as anyone. As it stands today, he has two MVP honors, three world titles, four all-star nods and five silver sluggers. He’s just 29-years-old, and it doesn’t look like he’s slowing down any time soon.

Han-Su Pak, SS, Cloud City Sky Pirates

One of the all-time bad teammates of the TNBL, Han-Su Pak, seems destined for enshrinement. Whether or not that’s fair isn’t really up for debate — his 40 WAR ranks third among batters all-time, and he didn’t even begin his big league career until 2029.

Pak is arguably the perfect player between the lines. He hits for power, average, draws walks, never strikes out and is one of the best defenders in the league at a premium position. He was the 2029 Rookie of the Year, and has a pair of Gold Gloves and a trio of Silver Sluggers in his trophy case, along with three World Series rings.

The only drawback for Pak is his off-the-field antics. He’s a horrible locker room presence, which likely contributed to his trade from Cloud City to Atlanta this past offseason. He’s on pace for a would-be record 13 WAR for the Braves, so his attitude doesn’t seem to be affecting things too much down south. His disposition is far from ideal, but at this pace, it won’t matter at all.

Ivan Torres, SP, Seoul Phoenix

Ivan Torres has had one of the more unique careers in league history, and is the only player in this section of this list to be traded more than once. In fact, he’s been traded far more than once — five times to be exact, including once this season to the St. Louis Cardinals.

Torres pitched the majority of his innings for the Everett Hawks, tossing 486 innings for that club. But he’s eclipsed 195 innings for four franchises, and seems likely to do the same in St. Louis over the next couple seasons.

As for his actual HOF credentials: He’s the only SP to win the MVP award, doing so in 2033. He’s cleared 7.7 WAR on three occasions and is on pace to do so again in 2034. He’s second all-time in innings pitched, and fifth in strikeouts. His lack of postseason experience (just 41 career innings) is a flaw, but not enough to keep him out of the Hall.

Angel Garcia, SP, Myrtle Beach Mermen

The Tom Glavine to Mateo’s Greg Maddux, Angel Garcia was an ace without the pressure. He’s past his prime now, but is still a pillar of Myrtle Beach’s sustained success.

Garcia is first all-time in both innings pitched and complete games, and trails only Mateo and Torres in WAR. He’s also second in shutouts, fourth in strikeouts, and third in wins. Like Mateo, Garcia also excels in postseason play. He’s posted a 3.31 ERA over 125 playoff innings, and has at least one win in every postseason.

He’ll likely retire as the greatest No. 2 starting pitcher in league history, and he would have been an ace for a decade on nearly any other team.


Probables

These are players who will have a good case for induction, but aren’t quite there yet.

Mick Kell, 1B, Philadelphia Phillies

While milestones aren’t necessarily important, all-time records are — and Kell holds one of the most important ones. He’s likely to retire as the TNBL’s all-time home run king at some point in the future, and he seems destined to be the first to cross the 300-and 400-home run benchmarks. He sits at 297 on July 3, 2034, a full 60 homers clear of any player not named Rodolfo Montalvo.

Working against Kell is his lack of leadership and work ethic. His ratings have fallen off in recent years at the back end of his 20s, and with an OPS+ under 100 near the all-star break, it’s fair to wonder how much longer he has in the league.

Tom Colbert, SP, Philadelphia Phillies

Colbert is third all-time in JAWS rating, but I have him here because the longevity — even in limited league history — isn’t there. He’s only a three-time all-star and boasts a mediocre 4-5 postseason record.

Still, it’s probable he gets into Cooperstown eventually because of his consistency. Colbert has never posted a an ERA+ below 117, and only twice has that number fallen below 140. He’s never had a year below 4 WAR, and he’s always been on a winning club — making the postseason in each of his first six campaigns. At 31-years-old, he’s only 3-4 more solid years away from ensured enshrinement.

Alex Martinez, LF, Birmingham Barons

Alex Martinez’s case is aided by his consistency over a seven-year career, and his 32.5 WAR speaks for itself. Winning a world title with Buffalo certainly helps his cause, which is aided largely by his ability to drive in runs - never under 100 - and play defense. He’s the league’s all-time leader in RBI with nearly 800, and is third all time in slugging percentage.

Martinez has no glaring weaknesses, but the 30-year-old needs a few more standout seasons to guarantee enshrinement.

Cruz Macia, RF, Vinson Emperors

Cruz Macia’s candidacy will be based on one thing: How long can he continue to get hits and steal bases at an elite level? The former Emperor is currently the league’s all-time hits leader with some room to spare, and trails only Ruben Duarte in stolen bases.

Macia is also a decent corner outfielder and has loads of positive playoff experience. He’s a career .355 hitter over 54 career postseason games. As for the regular season, he’s eclipsed 220 hits four times and has never fallen below 193 hits.

His problems will stem from his inability to draw walks or hit homers, limiting his upside when the singles aren’t dropping in. At 31 years old, he could still have plenty left in the tank — it’s just about how much longer he can keep going at this pace.

Jonathan Torres, C, Vinson Emperors

Jonathan Torres wouldn’t be on this list if not for the difficulty of the position he plays. Catchers have been notoriously scarce through the seven year history of the TNBL, with Torres being among the best over the long haul.

He’s just 12th all-time in WAR among batters, but first among backstops with 29.5. He’s been a remarkably consistent iron man through seven seasons, never amassing less than 3.9 WAR or posting worse than a 108 OPS+. He’s done all that work at the plate while maintaining solid defensive stats into his mid-30s as a cacher.

The icing on the cake is his postseason metrics, which feature a 137 OPS+ through 47 games. Still, a couple more seasons at a high level would go a long way toward making him the Hall’s first enshrined catcher.

Miguel Pena, C, Cincinnati Reds

Similar to Torres, Pena’s Hall of Fame case relies heavily on his status as a catcher. And while he’s not the defender behind the dish that Torres was and is, he makes up for it with power. Pena is currently sixth all-time in home runs and is just behind Torres in total WAR.

The defensive numbers aren’t pretty, but Pena should remain a league average catcher defensively through his early 30s. He might eventually have to transition to a designated hitter role, but for now, his offense at the TNBL’s most coveted position could be enough to eventually get him elected.

Jose Magallanes, OF, Cloud City Sky Pirates

Before Ruben Duarte, there was Jose Magallanes. Magallanes was once the leader of Cloud City’s impending dynasty before he was shipped out to Pittsburgh where he’s now leading the ground Pirates.

His 31.2 WAR is enough for consideration on its own, but his playoff numbers are among the best in league history. He owns over 3 playoff WAR and a .331 career postseason average. On top of that, he’s earned series MVP honors three separate times. He also has a trio of World Series titles and a set of Silver Slugger awards.

On the down side: He doesn’t hit for much power, and his numbers vs south paws leave a lot to be desired. Magallanes has also struggled mightily defensively, and is well below league average in right field.

Enrique Osorio, SS, Atlanta Braves

Osorio does two things better than almost any infielder in league history: get singles and play defense. That has resulted in 35 career WAR to this point, including three straight seasons in Atlanta of at least 7 WAR.

He doesn’t hit for power or draw walks, but he also doesn’t strike out. His three Silver Sluggers at SS are impressive, but winning a World Series or two in Cloud City would go a long way toward helping his candidacy.


Close, but no cigar — yet

These are players who haven’t quite shown enough to earn enshrinement.

Rodolfo Montalvo, 1B, Salinas Paisanos

Montalvo has had a relatively anonymous TNBL career, but his raw numbers are impressive. He’s the only player within the same galaxy as Mick Kell on the all-time home run list, and he also ranks third in RBI, second in total bases, and third in total games.

However, there are some serious drawbacks to Montalvo’s case. For one, he’s never made an all-star team. For another, his 14.5 WAR through 6.5 seasons is just 77th all-time, and nowhere near some of the other names on this list (his poor defense and relatively low OBP are to blame for that).

This is a case of a player that would benefit from 17-20 years in the majors — then he’d be able to stack his counting stats so high he could see over the pearly gates of Cooperstown. But he started his career at 25-years-old, which will make a quest toward 500 homers likely too much to ask for.

Jose Acevedo, 3B, Vinson Emperors

Jose Acevedo is a two-time MVP but has struggled mightily since being traded from Vinson to Cleveland. It was always going to be an uphill climb to the Hall since he started his career at 27-years-old, but his start was encouraging — an average of 6.8 WAR over his first four seasons.

But a trade to Cleveland brought hard times for Acevedo. His production dipped from 2032 onward, amassing just 8.8 WAR since the deal three seasons ago. Now at age 33, Acevedo still has a chance to make it in — his 2034 season is among the best he’s had, and he remains a plus defender at the hot corner. But it’s still an uphill battle.

Tom Tucker, DH, Detroit Tigers

Tom Tucker is an interesting case, because he’s one of the best ever at arguably the most important specialized skill you can have — mashing right-handed pitching. Tucker is a career .313 hitter and has 200 career homers vs righties, among other accolades.

The problem: Everything else. He has just 1 career WAR in seven seasons against lefties, can’t run to save his life and has been a largely awful defender for the majority of his career. Tucker does have two World Series titles and a trio of silver sluggers at DH, but will it be enough?

That question will likely depend on how he finishes his career, but also how the voting board decides to handle designated hitters as it relates to the Hall of Fame.

Gan Bi, SP, Cloud City Sky Pirates

Gan Bi is the undisputed best pitcher in baseball right now this side of Carlos Mateo, but he’s not quite a lock for Cooperstown just yet.

That doesn’t mean he hasn’t been incredibly impressive so far. He’s fourth all-time in pitcher WAR despite not hitting 200 innings in a season until 2031. He already has one Cy Young award at just 28 years old — younger than Mateo was as a rookie — and is the frontrunner to take home the honor again in 2034.

If anyone can eventually surpass Mateo as the best pitcher in league history, it’s Gan Bi.


Leaders of the next generation

These are players who were drafted in 2028 or later, and appear headed for future consideration.

Ban-Ki Jun, 1B, Cloud City Sky Pirates

Jun is leading the current iteration of the Sky Pirates, and has more WAR than any player drafted after 2028 so far. He’s the gold standard for success in the draft era.

Kelby Fowlow, SP, Birmingham Barons

Fowlow leads all 2030 draftees in WAR, and at 25 years old is among the leaders at his age overall. He already has over 6 WAR to his name, and was a rotation piece in the 2032 World Series run by Buffalo.

Rafael Ortiz, RF, Disney Magic

The No. 1 overall pick in 2030, Ortiz still looks destined for superstardom. His offense is still coming along, but he already has over 4 WAR at just 23 years old. He’s an elite right fielder defensively and has every tool you could want at the plate. It’s just about putting it all together.

Mario Mendoza, SS, Vinson Emperors

Mendoza doesn’t flash many elite skills, but he’s accomplished more than almost any other young player in league history. He’s close to eclipsing 10 WAR at just 24 years old, and has remained remarkably consistent for Vinson over a three-year career. He’s a candidate to hit for average and win the Gold Glove at shortstop for the next decade.