These days, there are a ton of steps young baseball players have to take before making their major league debuts. Recently, we've seen 17-year-old catching phenom Ethan Salas skip some of those steps as he's risen up minor league levels quickly, reaching Double-A already. There is a real chance Salas makes his big league debut in 2024 when he'll turn 18 years old. It would make him one of the youngest players in MLB history.
The San Diego Padres signed Salas in January of 2023 when he was 16 and he made his Low-A ball debut before turning 17. He's played at both High-A and now Double-A and looked the part at each stop along the way. He could be closing in on a spot on the Padres' roster.
That got us thinking about the youngest players to make their debuts in MLB history. What follows are the five youngest players to ever get their start in the big leagues.
1. Joe Nuxhall
This may seem ridiculous to you, but the Cincinnati Reds brought pitcher Joe Nuxhall up to the majors when he was 15 years-old. You read that right, Nuxhall was 15 years, 316 days old when he made his MLB debut in June of 1944. He pitched two-thirds of an inning, giving up five runs on two hits with five walks. The Reds lost that game to the St. Louis Cardinals 18-0. That's not shocking since Nuxhall went from pitching against high schools to facing a lineup that included Stan Musial.
Nuxhall was called up due to player shortages as a result of World War II. He eventually made it back to the big leagues in 1952 and went on to have a 16-year career, and was named to two All-Star teams. He finished his career with a 135-117 record, a 3.90 ERA, a 1.34 WHIP and 1,372 strikeouts in 2302.2 innings. After retiring he joined the Reds broadcast team and was inducted into the franchise's hall of fame in 1968.
2. Tommy Brown
The 1944 season struck again, as Tommy Brown debuted at 16 years-old for the Brooklyn Dodgers two months after Nuxhall's first game. The shortstop and left fielder debuted on August 3, 1944 at 16 years and 241 days old. His first day in the big leagues was the day of a doubleheader against the Chicago Cubs. Brown had a good day, going 1-for-4 with a double in the opener and 1-for-4 with a single in the second. He played in 46 games over the rest of the season and hit .164 with a .400 OPS.
Brown became the youngest player to ever hit a home runs at the age of 17 on August, 20, 1945. He spent 1946 in the U.S. Army, then returned to the Dodgers in 1947. He played nine seasons in the big leagues hitting .241 with a .647 OPS, and was out of baseball in 1953 at the age of 25.
3. Carl Scheib
Carl Scheib was 16 years, 248 days old when he debuted for the Philadelphia Athletics, which made him the youngest player in MLB history until Nuxhall. He made his first appearance on September 6, 1943. The right-handed pitcher entered a game against the New York Yankees that day and pitched two-thirds of an inning, allowing one run on two hits. He entered six games in total that season, finishing 0-1 with a 4.34 ERA and a 1.45 WHIP in 18.2 innings. He made spot appearances over the next two years but his career was paused in 1945 when he was drafted in 1945, but he returned to the league in 1947.
Overall, Scheib played 11 seasons in the big leagues, posting a record of 45-65 with a 4.88 ERA and a 1.52 WHIP. He was an excellent hitting pitcher during his career, posting a batting average of .251 with six home runs, 59 RBI and an OPS of .621.
4. Jim Derrington
Jim Derrington was a baseball prodigy at a young age, as he played semi-pro ball alongside his father at 13 years-old. He entered high school early after skipping two elementary school grades and was named Los Angeles City Player of the Year as a 16-year-old senior in 1956. He recorded an ERA of 0.23 and a batting average of .452. Following a summer of American Legion ball, he signed with the Chicago White Sox for more than $78,000 -- the second largest signing bonus at the time. Due to the size of the bonus, rules dictated he had to be on the big league roster for the next two years.
Derrington wasn't used until September 30 in 1956, when he made his debut as a starting pitcher at 16 years and 306 days old. He went six innings against the Kansas City Athletics, allowing six runs on nine hits, with three strikeouts and six walks. He took the loss.
Derrington made 20 appearances (five starts) as a 17-year-old in 1957, going 0-1 with a 4.86 ERA, a 1.57 WHIP and 14 strikeouts in 37 innings. He bounced back to the minor leagues in 1958 for more seasoning and had mixed success over the next two seasons. In 1960 he blew out his elbow while pitching for the San Diego Padres in the Pacific Coast League. It eventually led to his career falling apart at 21 years-old in 1962.
5. Putsy Caballero
Ralph Joseph "Putsy" Caballero was a star at Jesuit High School in New Orleans, Louisiana in 1943 and 1944, as he led his team to the city and American Legion championships in his first season. The Philadelphia Phillies spotted him and sighed him as a free agent in September 9, 1944. Hall of Famer Mel Ott had scouted him for the New York Giants, but advised Caballero to sign with whichever team offered him the most money. The Phillies handed him a $10,000 bonus.
Caballero jumped to the big leagues, making his debut on September 14, 1944 at 16 years and 314 days old. He went 0-for-1 against the Giants that day, and played in four more games that season without registering a hit. He opened 1945 in the minor leagues where he saw some success, then was called back up to the big league team later in the season for nine games, but failed to get a hit.
He served in the military in 1946, but also spent time in the minor leagues over the next few seasons. In 1948 at 20 years old he finally got a full-time job with the Phillies. He played parts of the next five seasons but failed to make a big impact. He was done in the big leagues after the 1952 season at 24 years old. During parts of eight MLB seasons, he hit .228, with one home run, 40 RBIs and a .547 OPS. He bounced around the minor leagues after that and retired from baseball after the 1955 season.