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April 22, 2010

Future Shock

Bryce Harper

by Kevin Goldstein

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Coming into this spring, Bryce Harper was universally seen as the top player in the draft, but the chances of Washington taking him with the first pick were initially handicapped as a 50/50 proposition. Harper's performance so far at the College of Southern Nevada has changed those chances significantly, as he's basically given the Nationals no excuse to pass on him by batting .401/.494/.866 with wood bats in a junior college league at the age of 17. He's crushed 17 home runs (the team has just 45) in 142 at-bats, drawn 26 walks, and even stolen 13 bases in 15 attempts while playing catcher, third base, and some center field.

Nats general manager Mike Rizzo has consummated numerous contracts in the past with super-agent Scott Boras, including Stephen Strasburg's record-breaking deal last August, so that's another non-factor. Still, while the chances of Washington selecting Harper slowly creep to "lock" status, there are still four questions remaining.

  1. The Number: We're not talking about statistics anymore, we're talking about money, and there's little clarification as to just how high we'll go. The first part to understanding the problem is to know how Boras historically negotiates. Boras never just provides a number, there's always a baseline comparison, then adjustments for history (inflation). For example, Strasburg was Mark Prior plus inflation; any great hitter is Mark Teixeira plus inflation. With Harper, there is no baseline to begin at, as there's no precedent for a talent like his when it comes to age and proven ability. "You know that money is going to be extreme," said one team official, "but I have no idea where it is going to end up." Adding to the potential problem is Boras' recent public statement bemoaning the difference between what American and international players sign for as amateurs. Projections range wildly, from a figure of $7 to $8 million—which would make him the highest-paid teenager ever—to a number that exceeds Strasburg's $15.1 million, as Boras might not be willing to go backward after breaking the bank in 2009.
     
  2. The Leverage: Without question, Harper is the most leveraged talent in draft history, and that could play a major role in this summer's negotiations. He's 17, and he's the best player in the draft. "He certainly could say, 'Give me this crazy amount of money or I'll go back to school and do it again,'" said one scouting director. "The thing here is that it would not hurt him in the least. He would do it again, and next June he'd be only 18, and the same age as most high school picks." This leverage does only last for one year, however, and the current CBA expires after the 2011 season, and changes to the draft, especially in terms of bonuses, are expected to be a major issue in the upcoming negotiations.
     
  3. The Body: Harper is listed at 6-foot-3 and 205 pounds, but most think he's about an inch taller and 10 more pounds than that. To be fair, Harper is a chiseled athlete, with no complaints about his current frame, but some wonder just what he will look like when he's 25. There's an excellent chance that he looks like Joe Mauer (6-foot-5 and 230) or Matt Wieters (also 6-foot-5, and 225), but there is some fear at the outside chance of him ending up like Adam Dunn, who at this point is 6-foot-6 and is listed at 287, and is a slow, range-less behemoth. That was not always the case: Dunn was 6-foot-5 and 230 pounds coming up through the Reds’ system, and had back-to-back 20-steal seasons in his first two full years. Like Dunn, Harper is so big so early in life that it has to be at least a minor concern. 
     
  4. The Makeup: This should not be underrated. It's impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn't blown away by Harper's ability on the field, but it's equally difficult to find one who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. "He's just a bad, bad guy," said one front-office official. "He's basically the anti-Joe Mauer." How this plays into the negotiation or future evaluation is yet to be determined, as history has shown us that the bigger talent a player is, the more makeup issues teams will deal with. Bench players can't afford to be problems, but plenty of teams happily put up with difficult superstars.

 Make no mistake, these are all very real issues, but as of today none of them is keeping Washington from selecting Harper with the first pick on June 7. He's hardly "Baseball's LeBron," he's simply a unique player, and one who happens to be the most talented player in this draft by a wide margin.

Kevin Goldstein is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Kevin's other articles. You can contact Kevin by clicking here

36 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

ramtax

As a Nats fan -- yes, there are a few of us -- I'm deeply concerned about his makeup issues. Is this a lack of maturity thing? Is it his upbringing?

If the Nats decide that the makeup issues are too much to overcome, where does the long drop to the second-best player in the draft take them?

I can't believe I'm even asking that but arrogance is such a hateful character trait.

Apr 22, 2010 09:06 AM
rating: 0
 
Jack G

Seventeen years old, been on everyone's radar for years, guaranteed eight figure payday coming up, huge fish in a small pond, Boras in his ear telling him he's a golden god...

Hell, I'd be surprised if he wasn't an arrogant little a-hole. That doesn't let him off the hook but he's being really ill-served by the people around him if they've let him develop into that kind of person. At best he's going to need it beaten out of him in the minors, at worst he's a pricier Ryan Leaf

Apr 22, 2010 09:22 AM
rating: 7
 
tommybones

Maybe he should look into getting adopted by Mr. Jeter's parents for a few years... ;)

Apr 22, 2010 09:29 AM
rating: 0
 
Fruitland Generic

So he can be ever more arrogant on the field? Jetes, stop with the jump throws on easy grounders and trying to call your own strike zone. Those actions were played out by your 3rd WS title. Leave the arrogant jerk bit to A-Rod, he's much better at it.

Apr 23, 2010 08:13 AM
rating: -3
 
jetson
(660)

There's a million athletes like this in basketball who haven't had this written about them.

From what I've heard, his upbringing did nothing to discourage the traits.

Apr 22, 2010 12:58 PM
rating: 0
 
EvanHochschild

Who, exactly?

Apr 22, 2010 17:07 PM
rating: -1
 
jsullivan03

Agreed. Gary Huckabay said something similar to this at a BP book signing a few years ago.

I imagine it really would be difficult to be grounded if you end up on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16.

Apr 22, 2010 15:51 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

Arrogance coupled with his body type would worry me. Makes it much more likely that he turns into Adam Dunn rather than Joe Mauer. "Watch my weight?!? How far did that last homer go? F' yourself!!!"

Apr 22, 2010 09:21 AM
rating: 2
 
baserip4

Frankly, if you're worried about him "turning into Adam Dunn," you probably shouldn't be worried.

Apr 22, 2010 11:39 AM
rating: 7
 
jsullivan03

Agreed. Having Adam Dunn as your worst-case scenario for a first-round draft pick is a pretty good minimum return.

Apr 22, 2010 15:49 PM
rating: 0
 
Fruitland Generic

Try Billy Rowell as a comp. The O's have him in High-A for a third year in a row and are still trying to find a position for him. And you can't find a scout or coach in the O's system with a good word to say about the kid.

Apr 23, 2010 08:15 AM
rating: 0
 
lazyrasmus

I was 17 years old once. While I was pretty terrible at baseball, I still thought I was pretty awesome nonetheless.

He's a kid. Cut him a little slack.

Apr 22, 2010 09:26 AM
rating: 2
 
tfierst

No offense, but you probably had to grow up because you didn't make millions by the time you were 18. I'm not leaning one way or the other on Harper, but not a valid comparison IMO.

Apr 22, 2010 09:50 AM
rating: 5
 
CRP13

Bryce Harper's coming was foretold by the great Prophet Wieters.

Apr 22, 2010 10:58 AM
rating: 0
 
gilgamesh

While it's hard to dismiss everyone calling him an a-hole, wasn't part of Josh Hamilton's appeal that he was a great, humble guy who kissed his Mom before every game? We don't know who people will become yet, and although I'm guessing Bryce Harper will never become Joe Mauer - it likely just isn't in him - a personality is still forming at 17, and life will happen.

Apr 22, 2010 12:39 PM
rating: 4
 
BrownianNotion

True, but Josh Hamilton's derailment had to do with drug abuse; it wasn't simply a negative evolution of his personality. Implying the opposite may be possible for Harper seems a little far fetched. The comparison that intrigues me is Billy Beane the player: talented yet unaccustomed to failure. I'm curious to see how the kid with "top-of-the-scale arrogance" and "a disturbingly large sense of entitlement" responds to the first time he really struggles. The only question there is, given how talented everyone claims this kid is, how much is he going to struggle?

Apr 22, 2010 13:56 PM
rating: 2
 
serviceoutrage

While I'm sure there will some Boras Posturing(TM) about Bryce spending another year in school, it seems unlikely to me that the kid who couldn't even wait to finish high school before starting his obvious HOF career would actually burn another year of his life.

Apr 22, 2010 12:46 PM
rating: 3
 
billm21

Agreed, serviceoutrage. The whole idea of getting him out of high school early wasn't so that he could play JC ball for two years. It was to get him into pro ball a year earlier. If they don't take what is offered to them this year, then it defeats the purpose of what they were trying to accomplish. In the end, I think there will be too much money offered for them to walk away from it.

Apr 22, 2010 13:14 PM
rating: 0
 
Richie

As well as Boras plays the media, my guess is the Nats will be too spooked to gamble on Harper really not wanting to go back to JC ball.

Apr 22, 2010 15:09 PM
rating: 0
 
mdupske

The media in my town have Boras pegged: he makes overblown statements about how great his clients are, tries to make everyone think that there are multiple teams interested (even when there aren't), and then makes vague statements about holding out or not signing. I realize that this is what agents do but not many competent reporters buy it any more. They assume he is overhyping his case. Hopefully the Nats (and any other team) would be ready to let him go back to junior college, independent league, or wherever if the kid gets snotty about being the best around. They would get the second pick in next year's draft if he doesn't sign if I'm not mistaken.

Apr 22, 2010 20:07 PM
rating: 0
 
SydFinch

I think that this aspect is over-rated.

Jeff George would have been a great baseball player. If possessed comparable greatness it would have shined. This isn't a "diva WR" or Stephon Marbury, this is baseball. Largely an individual performance sport. It is you at the plate and in the field to make plays and execute.

Barry Bonds was the biggest A-hole ever and ignoring roids the greatest player ever.

I would think that a stat-head site above all would recognize the minimal effect that Harper also being an A-hole (and I won't judge on that regard for several years) will have on his baseball prowess.

Apr 22, 2010 16:00 PM
rating: 0
 
Nathan

I think you're on to something, but it really depends what sort of a-hole you're dealing with. Is he lazy? Is he completely unwilling to listen to instruction, even when the instructor is clearly right? Those character flaws might affect the development of skills. Just being arrogant and unkind wouldn't necessarily do so. It would take more specific information than just the fact that some scouts aren't impressed with his personality to come to any conclusion about the affect this might have on his career. Of course, we shouldn't jump to any conclusions about a 17-yr-old on third-hand disapproval.

A further consideration for the Nats might be: will Harper ever consider signing a slightly-discounted home-team deal, if he ever becomes a phenom free agent? By most accounts, Joe Mauer gave the Twins a break. Harper might not do so for the Nats.

Apr 22, 2010 17:36 PM
rating: 3
 
Rob_in_CT

If this kid is as good as he appears to be, the Nats shouldn't worry about signing him as a FA. They should get as much out of him as possible pre-FA and then let him go. Especially if there are concerns about his "body type" later in life.

Apr 23, 2010 05:53 AM
rating: 1
 
Amos

Jeff Kent was a pretty terrible guy and he was the best pick in his draft.

Apr 22, 2010 16:08 PM
rating: 0
 
stellagroove

The game of baseball doesn't involve helping old ladies across the street. Yeah, we'd like every player to be Curtis Granderson in the makeup department, but that isn't realistic. And yes, if he turns out to be Adam Dunn is that really so bad? 30-40 home runs a year and 100 walks a year? How many 1st overall picks have achieved that?

Apr 22, 2010 16:19 PM
rating: -1
 
jocampbell
(148)

When people talk about "makeup", they usually seem to have things like "work ethic" in mind but there is nothing in KG's comments that I can see that addresses that. Is he lazy, does he work hard on aspects of his game, does he stay in condition, etc.? Even if he's arrogant, that doesn't tell you anything about his work ethic, it might be good and it might not be.

Apr 22, 2010 17:24 PM
rating: 1
 
Rob_in_CT

My thought exactly. One can perhaps imagine that his arrogance might lead to complacency, but it doesn't appear to have happened yet. He's a "chiseled athlete" so I have to imagine he's put his work in.

Who knows... maybe he finds himself facing the finest pitchers on the planet and fails a bit, and as a result learns some humility. Maybe not. But if you're the Nats, you gotta take that chance.

Apr 23, 2010 05:50 AM
rating: 0
 
Richie

The issue in the article itself isn't about his becoming Adam Dunn. It's about his winding up with an Adam Dunn type body. In which event Adam Dunn isn't his floor, it's his ceiling.

Apr 22, 2010 20:20 PM
rating: 5
 
Fresh Hops

Really? Why isn't Babe Ruth his ceiling with an Adam Dunn body?

Anyway, ending up with an Adam Dunn body is a big "IF", so I think attaching the word ceiling to that just doesn't represent the his real ceiling.

Apr 22, 2010 21:09 PM
rating: -3
 
Richie

You can't quantity the effects of A-holes in the business world anymore than you can in baseball. Yet businesses avoid hiring them like the plague. And quickly show them the door when it's time to cut workers.

Baseball players are together in close quarters 6-7 days a week from February into October. Attitude will rub off from one to another. Don't know how much being a jerk adversely affects those around you. But certainly it does.

Apr 22, 2010 20:30 PM
rating: 2
 
SirVLCIV

Give me 9 Gary Sheffields, and I'll give you an amazing offensive club. 'Makeup' is overrated.

Apr 23, 2010 08:56 AM
rating: 0
 
Hendo

Makeup is rated pretty highly by Rizzo. Of the 30 MLB GMs, I'd say Rizzo would be the most likely to give Harper a pass, just as his predecessor Jim Bowden wouldn't have cared less.

Apr 23, 2010 09:44 AM
rating: 0
 
fawcettb

Yeah, but they'd all want to play positions they were ill-suited for, and insist on batting 3rd. You'd never get them on the field for all the clubhouse fighting...

Apr 26, 2010 07:27 AM
rating: 1
 
Infrancoeurgible

9 Gary Sheffields? There would be nine times the accusations of racism then. Maybe Gary Sheffield #10 could manage the team.

Aug 11, 2011 23:43 PM
rating: 0
 
Andy

What position does he profile best at? There aren't many catchers 6'5" 230. Is there any thoughts that he will be able to stick there when he's 25? Can he play a convincing CF or will he end up being a corner whose bat will play?

Apr 23, 2010 10:51 AM
rating: 0
 
fawcettb

The two best catchers in the game fill that profile perfectly: Mauer and Wieters.

Apr 26, 2010 07:28 AM
rating: -1
 
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