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Hall of Fame trio's road to greatness began in MiLB

Beltré, Mauer and Helton shined as stars en route to MLB debuts
January 24, 2024

The walls of Cooperstown are about to get a little more crowded. The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced Tuesday night that Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer and Todd Helton would be inducted in to the baseball Hall of Fame as the Class of 2024. Players must have their names checked

The walls of Cooperstown are about to get a little more crowded.

The Baseball Writers’ Association of America announced Tuesday night that Adrián Beltré, Joe Mauer and Todd Helton would be inducted in to the baseball Hall of Fame as the Class of 2024.

Players must have their names checked by at least 75% of ballots submitted. Beltré had 95.1% support, Helton reached 79.7%, and Mauer, at 76.1%, made it by just four votes.

And for each member of the trio, the path to baseball immortality began in the Minor Leagues.

Beltré signed with the Dodgers as an amateur free agent out of the Dominican Republic in 1994. He made his professional debut in 1996 with the Single-A Savannah Sand Gnats. In 68 South Atlantic League games the four-time All-Star slashed .307/.406/.586 with 16 home runs, three triples, 14 doubles, 59 RBIs and 48 runs scored. That effort quickly earned him a promotion to the High-A San Bernardino Stampede where he continued to pummel the ball -- finishing his rookie campaign with 26 total dingers, four triples and 27 doubles while driving in 99 runs over 131 contests.

"Since I was a little kid, all I knew was baseball," Beltré -- whose father, cousin and uncle all played the game -- told MLB Network on Tuesday. "That was all I knew growing up. I just fell in love with it. Once I hit 13, 14, I knew that was going to be my life and I got dedicated to it."

He spent his second pro season with High-A Vero Beach. The five-time Gold Glove winner was not fazed by the change of scenery -- showing his durability while also continuing to flex. He batted .317/.407/.561 with 26 homers, 104 RBIs and 95 runs scored in 123 games.

After opening the 1998 season with Double-A San Antonio, Beltré lasted just 64 more games in the Minor Leagues before making the jump to The Show on June 24 for his big league debut as a 19-year-old with the Dodgers. He went on to play 21 total seasons with L.A., Seattle, Boston and Texas and finished his career with 3,166 hits, 477 homers and the third-highest Wins Above Replacement (93.5) mark of any third baseman in history.

"Once I got signed and came to the Minor Leagues and got to the big leagues … I always loved the game but I wasn’t able to enjoy it the way I wanted to," Beltré said. "And once I understood that it’s just a game and not a business, and allowed myself to enjoy what I did back then, I was able to be a better player."

The 44-year-old becomes just the fifth player born in the Dominican Republic to reach the Hall of Fame, is the only infielder other than Derek Jeter to notch 3,000 hits and win five Gold Gloves and finished in the top 10 of the MVP voting six times, including a runner-up finish with the Dodgers in 2004. He also notched a .942 OPS in 325 total Minor League games.

"I understood that I had talent, but it took me a little longer to master it and be able to understand what I need to get better at," Beltré said. "Once you get the experience, it gets a little easier."

Mauer became just the fourth No. 1 overall Draft pick elected to the Hall of Fame -- Harold Baines, Ken Griffey Jr. and Chipper Jones are the others. He is also just the third catcher to get in on the first ballot (Johnny Bench and Iván "Pudge" Rodríguez being the others).

The St. Paul, Minnesota native was selected first in the 2001 Draft by his hometown Minnesota Twins. That year he reported to the Rookie-level Elizabethton Twins and immediately lived up to the hype of a top overall selection. Mauer hit just about everything in sight -- slashing .400/.492/.491 over 32 games -- while also showing advanced tools behind the plate.

He made his full-season debut the following year with Single-A Quad Cities and continued to show that his rookie campaign was no fluke. In 110 contests for the River Bandits, Mauer hit .302 with 28 extra-base hits, 62 RBIs and walked 61 times versus 42 strikeouts.

In 2003, the elite backstop split the season between High-A Fort Myers and Double-A New Britain and seemed to improve at each stop. In 135 total games that season, Mauer slashed .338/.398/.434 with 37 extra-base hits, 85 RBIs and 73 runs scored. He also appeared in baseball's Future's Game that summer.

Mauer appeared in only 277 Minor League games before breaking camp with the big league squad in 2004 and making his debut in The Show at 20 years old on Opening Day that year. He went on to become a six-time All-Star, five-time Silver Slugger, three-time batting champ and the 2009 AL MVP. He’s the only catcher with three batting titles.

“Few people have embodied the values and spirit of the Minnesota Twins like Joe Mauer,” Twins president and CEO Dave St. Peter said in a statement. “From the moment his name was called on Draft day in 2001, Joe has been a true hometown hero and a cornerstone of our organization. His humility, leadership, kindness and care for others, paired with his unparalleled excellence on the diamond, have made him a role model for generations of youth across our region.”

Mauer is also the most recent draftee to find his way to Cooperstown, and by a long shot -- the most recent draftee inducted into the Hall before him was Roy Halladay, who was drafted in 1995. Mauer's induction also marks the second shortest period of time between being drafted and elected into the Hall of Fame (23 years). He trails only his longtime idol, Kirby Puckett, who did it in 19 years.

"I had a couple guys that I looked up to, but number one was Kirby Puckett," Mauer said. "He was my guy. Just the joy he had for the game. And you know I keep talking about joining a special fraternity -- definitely excited to be there with him."

Helton, like Mauer, was also a first-round Draft selection -- taken No. 8 overall in 1995 by the Rockies. The duo become the 16th and 17th first-rounders to head to Cooperstown.

"You know, it's something that you don't play for, but obviously it's the greatest reward you can have as a baseball player," Helton said.

Originally drafted by the Padres in the second round out of high school in 1992, Helton elected to attend the University of Tennessee instead, and it paid off for the slick-fielding first baseman. Shortly after being selected by Colorado three years later, Helton joined the Single-A Asheville Tourists for 54 games where he hit .254 with 13 extra-base hits.

He showed enough there to open the following season with Double-A New Haven where he really took off -- slashing .332/.425/.486 with 33 extra-base hits and walked more (51) than he struck out (37) over 93 Eastern League games. That effort earned Helton a late-season promotion to Triple-A Colorado Springs where he made the most of the hitting haven that is the Pacific Coast League -- batting .352/.439/.521 in 21 contests.

Helton returned to the PCL in 1997 and continued his barrage on the pitching there -- slashing .352/.434/.564 with 16 homers, two triples, 31 doubles and 88 RBIs -- for 99 games until he was called up for his big league debut on Aug. 2.

The 50-year-old went on to play his entire 17-year MLB career with the Rockies. A five-time All-Star and four-time Silver Slugger, Helton also won three Gold Gloves at first base. He led the Majors with a .372 average in 2000 and finished his career with more walks (1,335) than strikeouts (1,175).

"You never know when the one kid is there that that's his first time watching you play," Helton said. "So that's what I thought about when I went out there to play, is to try to show the younger kids how to play the right way."

The BBWAA-elected trio will join Contemporary Baseball Era Committee electee Jim Leyland in an induction ceremony at the Clark Sports Center in Cooperstown, N.Y. on July 21.

Rob Terranova is a contributor to Follow him on Twitter @RobTnova24.