Key Stats: 570 feet. According to Tom Verducci’s Sports Illustrated article, that is how far Bryce Harper hit a ball as a fifteen-year-old. His talent before arrival in the big leagues is in the same once-in-a-generation category as his teammate Stephen Strasburg. The SI article calls to mind the attention that was given to Lebron James before he arrived on the scene in the NBA. Mike Rizzo has gone out of his way to say that Harper would not play at all three minor league levels before the team promotes him. Seeing that Harper hasn’t played at Triple-A yet, he won’t be playing in the majors to start the season. That said, we saw the impact of Brett Lawrie and Desmond Jennings among others last year, who did not start the year in the Majors. Harper is the number one prospect in the game for a reason and his potential would be too great to ignore in the draft at this point – even with zero at-bats against MLB pitching.
Skeptics Say: Where to begin. He had a very pedestrian .724 OPS against Double-A pitching in just under 150 plate appearances last year. If he is ordinary there, won’t the Nationals want to wait until he is absolutely tearing the competition apart in the minors? Consider the path they took with Strasburg. Despite a WHIP that was under 0.80 in 2010, the Nationals still had Strasburg make 16 starts. It was clear that he had nothing more to prove against that competition, but the Nats wanted to be absolutely sure his confidence and development met their long term plans for him. And Strasburg played in college. It’s hard to argue that Harper will someday be among the elite at this position, but baseball players take much longer to develop than most other athletes. Harper’s greatest accomplishments to date have come while playing AAU and at a community college.
Oh and he also needs to grow up. A lot.
Peer Comparison: These are the last ten hitters that have gone number one overall in the draft:
- Tim Beckham
- Justin Upton
- Matt Bush
- Delmon Young
- Joe Mauer
- Adrian Gonzalez
- Josh Hamilton
- Pat Burrell
- Darin Erstad
- Alex Rodriguez
While being the number one pick clearly doesn’t make a player a lock for stardom, it clearly doesn’t hurt either. Eight of the ten players on this list were serious fantasy contributors at some point in their careers. The jury is still out on Beckham, and Bush was the only player that flopped.
That said, only two of these players got to the show by age 19 (Upton and A-Rod) – which is what Harper must do if he is going to contribute in 2012. Since 1989, only one teenager has legitimately been a player worthy of a top 162 selection. That player was Ken Griffey Jr. Given how challenging the precedents are in front of Harper, it shows just how talented he must be to even get considered at this point in a draft.
Lineup Outlook: Harper is on the 40-man roster, and from the looks of the names there, if he is ready he won’t have a problem supplanting someone else in the outfield. Jayson Werth is the only big name and big contract, so Harper will be the left fielder as soon as he gets called up.
A Blogger's Take: Harper's started slow at each stop before taking off and excelling against each new level of competition and he was just heating up at Double-A before a hamstring strain ended his season. Because he spent so little time at Double-A, the expectation is that he'll start the 2012 season back in Harrisburg. The Nationals have been open about wanting Harper (and other prospects) to master each level before moving up, so the assumption is that he'll start in Double-A and if successful move to Triple-A, setting himself up for a late-season major league debut in 2012. I'd be surprised if the recently-turned-19-year-old was up before that so he might not be much fantasy help for 2012. In a teleconference this week, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo said Harper's adjusted to the outfield well in his first pro season, "His defense has improved dramatically. His baserunning has improved dramatically. His propensity to steal bases has been terrific. He's moving great, he feels great and he's swinging the bat real well." After he finishes up his second stint in the AFL, Harper will be in Spring Training with the Nationals, but I'd be surprised if he starts the 2012 season anywhere but Double-A - Patrick Reddington of Federalbaseball.com.
Projection: Pay little attention to the “numbers” at Triple-A. The sample size was very small and he was great at Single-A. Also, don’t get lost in the 570 foot home run legend. He will swipe bases too.
58 R 10 HR 52 RBI 11 SB .297 AVG .835 OPS