Born October 16th, 1992 (1992!!) Bryce Harper is a 17 year old left-handed hitting catcher currently playing for Southern Nevada Community College. He is also the most-hyped baseball prospect of my lifetime.
His throws clock 96mph on the the radar gun and he has off the charts power – a solid 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale. It is said that he is more advanced than Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez were at the same age.
In Harper’s second year of highschool he put together a line of .626/.723/1.339. In 115 at-bats he slugged 22 doubles, nine triples and 14 home runs. Of those 14 HRs, 8 of them came in his last seven games. He drove in 55 while scoring 76 times. His BB:K ratio was an impressive 39:5. That’s right, 5 strikeouts in 115 AB. He also finished the season – including playoffs – on a 23 game hitting streak. He stole 36 bases in 39 attempts. Not only that but he is so fast the he scored 6 times on wild pitches – from second base. He was the first-ever sophomore to win Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year award
Pretty impressive, no? Harper also hit a towering blast that was measured at 570 feet. On paper he is quite the stud but those numbers are to be taken with a grain of salt. The level of competition is not that high and he was facing sloppy 74-80mph fastballs. His high school league was also an aluminum bat league.
This past summer Harper stepped it up by playing for six weeks with USA Baseball’s 18-and-under team. Bryce helped the American U-18 win a gold medal by hitting .294/.375/.588 with 2 home runs and 4 doubles in 34 at-bats. He also led the team with two stolen bases in as many attempts
Despite those eye-popping statistics, Bryce Harper didn’t gain real notoriety until he participated in the International Power Showcase at Tropicana Field in Tampa Bay in 2008. It was at this showcase that Harper hit the longest homerun ever recorded at the Trop, measuring 502 feet. In fact, it would have travelled even further had it not smashed into the back wall of the dome.
Below is a video of the showcase (please have patience with the ads at the beginning!)[youtube liS3kGvQ9Bk]
The hype surrounding Harper continued to grow as he was dubbed by Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One” and the “Lebron James of Baseball.”
Both Bryce and his parents knew that his development would plateau if he continued to face the low-level competition that his high school league had to offer. At the age of 16 Bryce obtained his G.E.D. and enrolled in South Nevada Community College – bypassing his final 2 years of highschool. Coincidentally, this also made him eligible for the 2010 MLB draft. As a result he became the consensus #1 pick of the 2010 draft.
However, Harper being selected #1 overall is far from a lock. In his first weekend playing for the South Nevada Coyotes he went 3 for 15 and had some difficulty adjusting to the use of a wood bat. He is represented by Scott Boras, an immediate red flag in regards to his signability. Harper is also futher away from contributing at the major league level than many other highly-touted collegiate pitchers.
Harper will be splitting time this season between third base and catcher for two reasons. First, some scouts fear that his body will outgrow the position of catcher so this gives them a look at Harper being able to play another position. Second, it is in the drafting team’s best interest for him to move off the position to allow his bat to develop quicker. His coach is not concerned with Bryce’s ability to catch:
“I’m in the camp that thinks he can catch and thinks he can be a very good catcher,” the American League scout said. “I don’t think he dropped a ball all weekend. The release had some issues. Throwing to second base, it’s a little long, but the arm strength makes up for that for now. It’s something he’s probably going to have to shorten up. But, receiving-wise and blocking-wise, I think that’s going to be fine catching. I think that’s his best position. I know there are some nay-sayers with that, but I think he projects to be a good catcher. He stabs a little bit and he’ll get flinchy every now and then on a swing, but he’s a 17-year-old kid and that’s pretty normal for a player his age.”
If the video below is any indication, his arm is fine behind the plate. Watch him gun down a runner trying to steal 2B from his knees.[youtube R2kGLEfuOFM]
The kind of pressure that the 17-year old Harper is experiencing and will experience is enormous. For Bryce’s first game at Southern Nevada CC, 1400 fans were in attendance. That is 500 more than ever before, all there to see the young baseball phenom. It is important to keep in mind that he is still a “kid” and should still be in highschool while he is playing against older players that are gunning for him. The team has taken this into consideration and has imposed a ban on Harper speaking to media, scouts and even fans. This has left scouts exasperated because they can’t get a feel for his makeup – a component just as important as talent. So what is Bryce all about?
“I’m going to play against you the way Pete Rose did,” he says. “I’m going to try to rip your head off. That’s just the way I am. Old school. If I could play for a guy like Lou Piniella or Larry Bowa, I’d love it.”
Bryce Harper is a classic “all-out, all the time” player. Although not a vocal leader (remember, he is only 17!) when in high school he always discussed his ideas with coaches and teammates on how to get better and win, despite being surrounded by seniors:
“I’m not a very vocal leader,” Harper said. “But if I want to get my point across, I’ll get it across. Maybe not vocally. Maybe it’s just playing hard. This year I had to take control of the team and say that we needed to be a team and not be individuals. Our whole team was leaders. Every guy on the team did something. All of us contributed. We were all leaders together.”
I don’t mean to “Harp” (get it?) on this fact, but he is still a young kid. During the 2009 AFLAC All-American game, Harper displayed his youthful exuberance during a pregame infield/outfield drill. Midway through Harper’s session, he stepped back from home plate and turned his body toward the first base line. Harper unleashed a screaming, straight line trajectory, missile down the right field line and over the fence in the corner, measuring a distance of 340 feet. Fans were in awe and scouts took notice.
“I love the way people talk crap,” Harper says. “I hear it all the time. Overrated. You suck. I’ll just do something to shut them up, like, I’ll show you. It’s like in regular pregame work. I like to show off my arm. Just so it’s like, there you go. Don’t even think about trying to run.”
Easy Bryce, I used to try to do that sort of thing when I was your age. Now my shoulder looks like it had a bad experience with a cheese grater.
With Harper’s signability issues, the number of college arms and closer-to-being-MLB-ready talent in the draft, it is not inconceivable that Bryce could fall 7-11 places in the draft. It is very difficult to project if a player can have a meaningful impact in the major leagues at 17 years old and not having played a single professional game. With the Toronto Blue Jays selecting at 11th and publically stating that they have a substantial amount of funds earmarked for the draft, is it possible the Jays have finally found their catcher of the future? Yes, a lot of things have to go right for it to happen but a Jays fan can dream.
“Bryce has a saying,” Ron (Bryce Harper’s father) says. “Whenever people say how good he is, he likes to say, ‘I’m not done yet. I still have work to do.’ He’s going to get a lot better, and I say that because of how hard he works. I don’t think he’ll ever rest on his laurels.”
He hasn’t rested on his laurels. Bryce Harper currently sits at a line of .349/.420/.744 with 3 home runs in 11 games. He’s also struck out 8 times in 43 AB and is 3 for 4 on stolen base attempts, having worked diligently to adjust to the wood-bat league.[youtube 11P0yOZCptM]
A 10-minute bio on Bryce Harper.[youtube 0-RkGZqpCfU]
Harper’s first home run in a collegiate game.