Just 19, Beltre was the youngest player in baseball when he lined an RBI double off Angels’ southpaw Chuck Finley in his first major-league at-bat on June 24, 1998. The crown jewel of Los Angeles’ farm system, Beltre excelled at every aspect of the game. He routinely turned heads with his defensive work at the hot corner, and used his cannon of a right arm to compensate for any mistakes in the field. He had the power to drive the ball out of the ballpark and the speed to make him a threat on the basepaths. He would also earn a three-year, five-million dollar contract from the Dodgers before he was old enough to buy a drink.
Despite his talents, Beltre struggled after his mid-season promotion from Double-A San Antonio in 1998, batting just .215 in 195 at-bats. But Los Angeles was so convinced of his “can’t-miss” status that they handed him the third-base job in spring training the next year. Beltre rewarded the club’s faith by offering ample evidence of his potential, raising his batting average to .275 over 152 games with 15 home runs, 67 RBIs and 18 steals.
After the season, Beltre was involved in a major controversy when his agent Scott Boras uncovered evidence that the Dodgers had illegally signed him from the Dominican Republic before his 16th birthday. Boras sought to have his client declared a free agent, but after a six-week investigation by Major League Baseball Commissioner Bud Selig elected to strip the Dodgers of their right to sign and develop players from the Dominican Republic for a year instead. The Players Association subsequently took up Beltre’s cause, filing a grievance to grant him free agency, and only after the Dodgers agreed to the three-year deal with their young third baseman was the grievance dropped. The contract looked like a bargain after Beltre, who turned 21 during the first week of the 2000 season, batted .290 with 20 home runs and 85 RBIs in his second full season.