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Welcome to The Show! Jayson Stark is stopping by Wednesday at 1 p.m. ET as part of our ongoing Hot Stove Heaters chats! Check back each day for a new topic and a new chat! Take it away, Jayson!

There's nothing we love more, here in modern American life, than a young slugger. But in the totally unfair universe of Hot Stove Heater-dom, we have a problem. We only get to build our team around one young slugger -- Prince Fielder or Ryan Howard. Good thing there's no wrong answer, because this debate has been giving me a migraine for a week now.

The case for Fielder

The best argument for Prince Fielder can be summed up in two numerals -- 23. That, friends, happens to be his age.

Last year, he became the first 23-year-old in history to hit 50 homers. And he won't turn 24 until May. So he's four years younger than Howard, and feel free to do that math. If Fielder keeps bopping 40 to 50 bombs a year, he'll be at 250-280 home runs before he even gets to the age that Howard is now.

Unlike Howard, whose fly balls tend to be either homers or outs, Fielder is also a 35-double-a-year kind of guy. So he cranked an amazing 87 extra-base hits last year. Want to know the distinguished group with that many extra-base hits, over the last 60 years, at age 23 or younger? How about Willie Mays, Albert Pujols, A-Rod, Grady Sizemore and Joe DiMaggio? Heard of any of those guys?

Finally, you may have noticed that Fielder puts the ball in play way more than Howard. (Then again, who doesn't?) However you assess the difference between 121 strikeouts (Fielder?s total last year) and 199 (Howard's record-setting whiff total), it tells us Fielder makes many more productive outs than Howard does.

The case for Howard

Go ahead. Try to find anybody who has kicked off a career with a home-run output anywhere near Ryan Howard?s. Good luck. Can't be done.

Nobody in history has hit 47 homers or more in each of his first two full seasons. Nobody. Or here's another way to look at it: After 410 games in the big leagues, Howard is already up to 129 homers. Want to know how insane that is? Here's how insane:

That's 72 more than Junior Griffey, 62 more than Barry Bonds, 54 more than Mike Schmidt, 44 more than A-Rod and 31 more than Albert Pujols at the same stage. The only player in the last half-century who was even within 25 homers of Howard, after this many games, is Bob Horner (who was exactly 25 back, at 104).

In fact, you want to know the player in history who is most comparable? It's that George H. Bambino Ruth. He dabbled in the pitching profession for a few years before finally getting his shot as a full-time hitter at age 25. Whereupon he mashed 54 and 59 homers respectively in 1920-21. Ruth, too, got kind of a late start in his career. But building around him worked out OK for the Yankees, wouldn't you say?

The choice

This debate was so impossible that I had no choice but to survey a bunch of people around baseball, just to see which guy they'd pick. Turns out they are just as divided as the debate team inside my brain.

The Fielder proponents basically take him because of his age. The pro-Howard camp argue that Fielder's round-mound body type neutralizes the age differential, because it means Fielder is no surer bet to be still whomping 50 homers in five, eight or 10 years than Howard.

In general, though, these guys side with the player they've seen the most. In my case, that's Ryan Howard. So I'm taking him. But as I said up top, there's no wrong answer. So let's launch the debate. This could be the most fun one yet.

Join the debate!

Vote: Who is the best young slugger in baseball?

Archive: Hot Stove Heaters

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