July 28, 2021

Weighing Bryce Harper

March 8, 2010 by · 3 Comments 

Bryce Harper had no where to go but down after being hyped as Lebron James last June.  Questions arose after uneven moments in his play last summer, then again at the start of the college season.  Nationals GM, Mike Rizzo, who will pick first in the amateur draft in three months, must decide whether the growing doubts about Harper outweigh the very substantial positives.Keith Law has never struck me as the type who is bowled over by hype and his assessment of Harper quoted in a recent MLBrumors.com article make me believe that the 17-year old Harper has real skills that deserve a number one draft pick.  Baseball America still has him sitting atop the leader board, but there are other talents like Texas high school pitcher Jameson Taillon creeping up on the “Chosen One,” as SI called him last year two minutes after Strasburg was drafted.

I like the comparison of Harper to Tim Tebow by Buster Olney.  As a life-long Gator fan, I know all about Tim Tebow.  I watched him coming out of St. Augustine as a uniquely hyped quarterback in his high school class, watched him lead my alma mater to a national championship, win a Heisman.

But I have also seen all of the analysis of his intensely flawed throwing motion.  I know he has seen the same thing and have to wonder why he has been unable over four years at Florida to correct such an obvious flaw.  That is what I wonder about Bryce Harper.  How fast can the very young Bryce Harper grow into the prodigious talent that rivals Tebow’s coming out of high school.

When you compare Jameson Taillon with Harper there are so many more reasons to like Taillon. When  Taillon had all of the cameras on him last summer in the under-18 Pan Am Championships in Venezuela, he was dominant, pitching the USA to a win over Cuba.  He had 7 and 2/3 innings of four-hit ball, no runs and 16 k’s.  Harper was also outstanding hitting third in the lineup, but it took him some time to adjust to playing at the highest level.

Taillon is eighteen and while it is hard to say that a high school senior is older and more developed than any one in the amateur draft, Taillon is a year older than Harper and may be more mature.  He is committed to Rice University and his 3.8 GPA indicates that there is a mental maturity a bit deeper when you consider the GED Harper settled for.  Taillon, like Harper, has plenty of choices when it comes to whether he wants to sign a pro contract this summer.

The Nationals have held their cards pretty tight, although they have said that in the ideal world, they would prefer to draft a player who is further along than Harper OR Taillon.  But the college class in 2010 does not have the dominant player along the lines of Stephen Strasburg, at least not at this juncture.

So what’s a GM with a crying need for “close-to-ready” players to do.  When the upper levels of the Nationals farm system are as thin as they are, can the Nationals afford to wait and see if Bryce Harper is all they say he is?  Can they play russian roulet with a Scott Boras agent again, especially one with all the cards that Harper will have at 17?

I think the last question may have more to do with who the Nationals will draft than anything else.  Last season it all came down to Stephen Strasburg’s desire to play baseball.  He was already 21 years old and he did not have as much leverage as Harper at 17 will have.  The young man can always pack it in if he doesn’t like the Nationals offer.  He can play another season at the college level or play in the independent leagues.  What is another year to a 17-year old if it Boras convinces him it may mean an additional 25 million dollars?

The number one college player is Anthony Renaudo of LSU who has been out with injuries since making his first start in February.  Close behind is Deck McGuire of Georgia Tech who has been very impressive in his two starts, but the Nationals would probably love to avoid all of the drama with young pitching prospects and take a position player.  The problem is the drop off in position players after Harper.

It is still early and the college season is just getting started.  Two years ago Gordan Beckham came out of the weeds at the University of Georgia and convinced even the hard boiled skeptics like Keith Law that he was the goods.  He has become one of the quickest developing talents, slotted to play third base for the White Sox for a long time to come if he can play like he did in his rookie year last season.

The Nationals need is for a talent that will develop quickly like a Beckham. And I like the chances that Bryce Harper and Scott Boras will do all that Strasburg refused to do in driving the price of amateur players to new highs. Do I want the Nationals to be part of that drama?  No way.

On the other hand, do Nationals fans want to sit back and watch Bryce Harper tear up the league in a couple of years knowing he could have been ours?  I guess it depends what we get instead.  Mike Rizzo has his work cut out for him.  I am betting he finds a college player who can hit or decides between a Deck McGuire or Taillon based on signability.

Strasburg will be pitching in Washington by the time the draft is held. Hopefully Nationals fans will have enough on their plate such that a summer long drama about whether the next Lebron James gets his $50 million payday can be someone else’s headache.


3 Responses to “Weighing Bryce Harper”
  1. Nick says:

    This article seems pretty out of touch with the reality: Harper’s bat is truly special, in the same discussion as Arod and Justin Upton coming out of high school. The fact that he is hitting .408/.500./.800+ as a 17 year old, in a wood bat league, on the #1 Juco team in the country says it all. His high leg-kick, one of the major concerns, has been corrected. And to correct you, he was an honor student in high school, and is carrying honor role grades through the first semester of Juco. How many 17 year olds do you think can handle this?

    But it all goes back to tools, and high school players with 80 power, a 70+ bat, a 70 arm, and the desire to be one of the best ever dont come along often.

  2. You can ignore the facts if you wish, but this is more than just reading a bunch of scouting reports. Harper is going to have unique leverage as a seventeen-year old. He can wait out the Nationals like Aaron Crow times four–for each year older that Crow was. He has shown a desire to do exceptional things by coming our of high school as he did. Does he want an exceptional signing bonus? You bet he does. Do the Nationals want to play that game? Personally I don’t think they can afford to. They need near-ready players who have done more to prove their abilities than Harper has in his first year of JUCO ball. The question is whether the Nationals need another Ryan Zimmerman who can make a contribution in 2011 or some kid claiming he is ARod and wants $25, $50 million of someone else’s money to test that hypothesis. So easy to spend other people’s money. Real life decision making is more complicated.

  3. Trace says:

    There’s certainly room for discussion whether the Nationals’ ownership will pony up to Harper’s projected demands, but there are two factors that have not been addressed: 1) Mike Rizzo has a good relationship with Scott Boras. Last year’s Strasburg negotiations were civil and private, and both parties basically got what they wanted without a paradigm shift in amateur negotiations. But the bigger issue is #2) Harper has an opportunity to get between $10-$15 million. How many 17-year olds walk away from that? If he refuses and bides his time in CC baseball for another year, he risks injury that could lower his draft status, plus puts himself another year away from the truly big paydays, arbitration and free agency. How many millions did Jason Varitek, an early Boras client, lose in free agency over less than a million in signing bonus when he was drafted. As much as people like to disparage Boras for being overly-greedy, he’s not so bad a businessman as to risk missing out on the bigger payday.

    As for the Crow negotiations, his representation was seeking to make a statement. They opened with a ridiculous offer and didn’t call to negotiate with the Nats until literally 45 minutes before the signing deadline. Boras does not operate that way.

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