May 21, 2019

Goldstein Sounds Alarm in Harper’s House of Charm

April 25, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

Kevin Goldstein took aim at Bryce Harper’s imposing rep this week in an article at Baseball Prospectus.com about his “makeup.”   The amateur draft is counting down and Harper is more and more the only viable first choice. Will the alarm bells spook the Nationals?  Is character as defining a factor for the rebuilding Washington franchise as many say it is?

Goldstein describes very simply and matter-of-factly four areas of risk about Bryce Harper that escalate to a crescendo.  The first two concern signability.  How much will Harper want and how much leverage does he have to get it.  In both instances the answer to the question is “quite a lot.”  He has huge leverage as a seventeen year old who can return to the year and try again next year.

Many would argue that getting Harper’s signature on a contract is the only concern.  Given the talent of a Bryce Harper and the ability of Mike Rizzo to negotiate effectively with Scott Boras, many will say the only real question is whether the Nationals want to spend that kind of money. They proved with Strasburg they will spend for talent, but they did not meet the outrageous amounts hinted by some writers last summer before Strasburg signed for something almost reasonable.

The third factor concerns Harper’s body type and what Goldstein calls the natural inclination of a seventeen year old with such a large body to add weight as he ages.  He compares Harper to Adam Dunn who was once young and svelt too.  Some have commented that a downside of Adam Dunn is an acceptable risk.  Fair enough.

It is the last area that will grab the attention of many.  Goldstein says that a scout described Harper as, “the worst amateur player from a makeup standpoint he’s ever seen.”  He expanded on this fault line saying Harper has “a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents.” Goldstein says  it is “difficult to find a scout who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid.”

Harsh words indeed from those who have spent the most time trailing Harper and getting to know him.  It has to undercut the estimations of his talent.  The question is to what degree it matters.  For me, I am at heart an old-fashioned fool.  I want to believe in my childhood heroes.  I want Curt Flood always to be the second best center fielder and not a drunk.  I see only Joe Mauers and Ryan Zimmermans on my team.

For the Nationals Goldstein’s picture of Harper poses a more vexing quandry.  On Friday night a respected scout from the Dodgers organization described to Phil Wood–long time Washington media personality–how Mike Rizzo has turned the team around in such a short period of time.  The word “character” filled the conversation.  The scout first described Jim Riggleman, then Pudge Rodriguez and Adam Kennedy, saying how much they had brought quiet professionalism to the team.  Then they discussed the young players Rizzo has brought up this year.  Character was the watchword of the discussion.

The Nationals organization boasts advisors like Davey Johnson and wise men who know this game far better than I.  How do they read the scouting reports on Harper?  Many of the games best players were not necessarily great club house guys, reminds Goldstein.  But can an organization still recovering from Jim Bowden afford to draft a player whose behavior on or off the field could lead to controversy.

Conversely can the Nationals weather the outcry from their fan base if they wave on Harper.  Few will hear that Harper is a jerk, many won’t care.  They will scream that the Lerners were too cheap to try to sign Harper if they announce another name with their first pick.

The quandry is made more difficult by the lack of good alternatives.   In the early spring there good options like Jameson Taillon and Deck McGuire, but both of them have looked less like number one picks in recent weeks.  Manny Machado and Drew Pomeranz continue to have a tenuous claim to first pick talent, but almost everyone admits they pale in comparison to Harper.

Pomeranz is a 6-5 lefty with a perfect pitchers body.  He has a devastating curve ball, a low nineties fastball over which he is demonstrating much improved command against top flight college nines in the SEC.  He has gotten better each week pitching for the University of Mississippi and that development has to impress scouts if he keeps throwing this well through the CWS.

Personally, I am hoping the arrival of Strasburg in Washington in June obscures the Nationals’ draft selection as effectively as a recess appointment.  And if the Nationals are in contention in the NL East even in June, Rizzo will get a bye regardless what he does with the pick.

Kevin Goldstein is the first to surface the difficulty that Rizzo faces.  Maybe it is a no-brainer and if Bryce Harper turns out to be a great outfielder or first baseman, if he is hitting forty homers a year and becomes a good team mate on a good team, I will watch quietly and thankfully, eating as much crow as my seat mates demand.

Until then I will keep track of Drew Pomeranz, the quick developing college lefty who could be pitching in Washington in a year or so.  You can never have enough pitching and makeup has as much to say about how far a young man goes in the game as talent.  That is just the opinion of an old fool though, but one who is willing to be proved wrong.

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