What does a future Hall of Famer look like before anyone knows who he is?

And how about a future Triple Crown winner? Could you pick him out from among a stack of rookie cards, when that stack was still nothing but hopes and dreams?

That was the challenge presented to collectors who happened upon the 2000 Topps Traded Miguel Cabrera rookie card more than two decades ago now.

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

At first glance, Cabrera looks just about like any other prospect, standing there in his 50s-soap-colored Florida Marlins jersey, waiting for a pitch.

He’s not a beanpole like some young guys are in their early days — think Ben Grieve or even a young Barry Bonds.

And he’s not sporting any teen-angst sprouts on his upper lip — think Greg Maddux on his 1987 Donruss Rated Rookie card.

How in the world, then, could you distinguish Cabrera from other rookies in the set, guys like Pat Strange and Rico Washington and Brandon Phillips?

You pretty much couldn’t, unless you were a diehard scouting reports geek, or maybe an Expos fan who knew something about Phillips … at least until you turned Cabrera’s card over:

Check prices on eBay (affiliate link)

Check prices on Amazon (affiliate link)

There, Cabrera looks young, sure, but still not all that remarkable.

But if you scan those biographical stats, or read through the block of text, something stands out …

Born on April 18, 1983 …

Signed by the Marlins on July 2, 1999 …

Hey … that means Cabrera was just 16 when he landed his first professional deal.

And, not much more than a year later, there he was, one of just 135 guys to appear in a major baseball card set — a Major League Baseball card set.

At just 17 years old!

No matter how you slice it, that’s not a normal occurrence. Maybe, then — just maybe — this kid was going to be something special. He certainly was getting an early start on things, even if his MLB debut was still a few years away.

Once Cabrera crashed the party in Miami, of course, it didn’t take him long to prove he belonged, batting .268 with 12 home runs and 62 RBI in about half a season as a rookie in 2003, then helping Miami win their first World Series title that fall.

And from there, it was off to the races, developing into one of the greatest hitters in the game. It all culminated with the American League Triple Crown in 2013, which netted Cabrera his second consecutive AL MVP award.

These days, Cabrera is taking aim at some pretty incredible career numbers, including 500 home runs and 3000 hits, and he’ll almost certainly collect his Cooperstown plaque five years after he hangs up his spikes.

And that 2000 Topps Traded rookie card of his?

You can expect to pay $1200 or more for a copy in “perfect” PSA 10 condition, with PSA 9s checking in around $350 and “eights” selling in the range of $150 or so.

And, when you look at that card these days? Yeah, it’s pretty easy to see just how good that young man will be … someday.

Want to see a video version of this article?