August 16, 2011
Prospects Will Break Your Heart
Positional Primacy: Right Field
Well, friends, this is it, the final installment in the series (although I am planning on doing a recap article, so I guess that’s not entirely true). It’s been an exercise within an exercise, and by this point in the minor-league season, the initial lists in the series are obsolete. I’d hang myself with the arbitrary noose of the process, but I thought it was fun to compile, and the constant [read: pestering] correspondence with my sources strengthened my willingness to correspond with my sources. Let’s call it professional growth.
Throughout the 11-part series, I’ve tried to put a spin on traditional rankings by mixing up the formula, either by manipulating the display or profiling players based on characteristics other than their present skill level. At times the waters were murky, but I’m a lake man, so I prefer the dangerous swill of that liquid to the pellucid waters of the norm. I wanted to create conversation and consternation, rather than consensus and contentment. One of my biggest pet peeves is the need to make everything black and white, right or wrong, good or bad. Baseballs might come in a box, but the end result should never fit comfortably back into one, so I try to encourage the debate that stems from dissatisfaction, even when the debate is firmly rooted in general ignorance and internet chest inflation.
I receive countless e-mails from readers (mostly very positive), but occasionally a reader (or listener) will take great offense to my thoughts, taking to the keyboard to pontificate on my blatant errors. I actually enjoy this part of the process because it’s emotional and raw, and even though it’s often delivered in a confrontational manner, the passion bleeds through the page and I respect that. I’m not perfect, nor do I claim to be, and neither are my sources in the industry. Everybody sees the game through a unique lens, and if you disagree with something to the point where it prompts an emotional reaction, I’m all for it.
With that said, this series has been a great experience and I already miss the process of compilation. OK, what I miss most is studying reports on every player at every position and bothering my baseball brethren to the point of professional embarrassment. I’m not sure what prospect series is next, or if I’ll write another “Jason goes on an adventure, has an anxiety attack, and finds his way back” type of article, or if I’ll go in a new direction altogether. I’m not sure where I will end up or what it will look like, but one thing is for sure: I look forward to finding out. Let’s go out with a bang.
Leader of the Pack (Present) Bryce Harper (Nationals)
Let’s start with his power, which is already an 80-grade tool and should make Harper a perennial home-run champ. If everything clicks, he’ll put up video-game numbers. Some within the industry describe Harper’s hit tool as having “average” potential. (The word “average” caused the prospect tide to roll back and the moon to turn black.) With such overwhelming all-fields power in the bat and the ability to reach base at a high clip, Harper could hit .275 every season and still be an offensive behemoth. For Harper, an average hit tool will be enough to let the power beast out of the cage.
On defense, Harper’s arm has easy 80-grade strength, but it’s still raw and needs refinement, so it doesn’t grade out at the elite level… yet. His game speed and quickness are currently above average, allowing for plus range in right field. Some scouts have suggested his defensive tools could find a home in center for several years before a move to a corner is necessary. The glory rests on the bat, but Harper should develop into an above-average defensive player as well, making him a weapon on both sides of the ball.
Harper’s “makeup issues” seem to get more water-cooler minutes than Walter White’s latest escapade, as his on-field attitude often blurs the line between what is seen as confidence and what is seen as cocky. I’ll take a little of both without much complaint, especially from an 18-year-old who has been anointed the next deity of the diamond; given the pressures associated with the crown, I think Harper is holding it together better than he gets credit for. Being a jerk might be an unattractive quality (I should know, right?), but I’ll take the talented jerk over the talentless sweetheart every time, and so would every team in baseball.
Harper can change the game if he reaches his ceiling, and that’s a lot of weight to carry on such young shoulders. Not to belabor the point, but Harper’s mature on-field ability often distorts the reality of his emotional immaturity, which lags behind the accelerated development of his physical tools. As observers, it’s easy to lose perspective, as we see the man in the uniform, yet fail to see the teenager underneath it. We also have a tendency to tear down what we build up, and our lofty standards are often tied to our own pedestrian failures. We can’t relate to Harper’s extraordinary ability, so it’s natural to amplify his faults or weaknesses to feel more comfortable with our own. I get it. Why do you think I’m so unsympathetic when it comes to Cristiano Ronaldo’s failures? Nobody should bethat good-looking.
My point: Let’s talk about Harper’s “makeup” in a negative light when his actions start affecting his performance negatively. Perhaps that is already the case, and if so I’ll stuff the makeup argument back into my overly-agape mouth. But at present, I don’t feel like I’m in a position to make that call, so I’m not going to suggest it’s an issue until I actually see it becoming one.
Harper will be a major-league regular before he turns 20, and should impact the game on multiple levels before he reaches his first arbitration season. The ability to fail and adjust, both on the field and off, will decide how far his tools can take him. His ceiling is a bust in Cooperstown, and his floor is that of a very good major-league regular. Can’t-miss talents often find a way to miss, but it’s hard to envision a scenario where Harper fails to become something worth the price of admission.
The case against: Harper wasn’t born in Texas. That’s the only thing I can think of.
Leader of the Pack (Future): Michael Choice (A’s)
Choice is athletic with good speed, but most people see him moving to a corner spot before he reaches the majors. Right field is a good fit because his arm is strong enough for the position and his glove is more than adequate. Defense isn’t going to be Choice’s calling card, but his versatility will give the A’s options.
Choice has a chance to be a middle-of-the-order force, with the on-base skills and in-game power to pardon the high strikeout totals and low batting average. The severity of the latter will determine his ultimate value, but if he can make enough contact to utilize the well above-average power in his bat, Choice will become a first-division slugger. Oakland could use that, right?
The case against: Choice swings and misses a lot, and some question the future utility of his hit tool. The numbers look great, but mature college bats are expected to thrive in the friendly California League, so the jury is still out. Some scouts are pessimistic, fearing a Mendoza line hitter with too much miss and not enough mash. I’m with the optimists; I see a first-division player, even if the contact rates aren’t overly impressive.
Jake Marisnick (Jays)
Oscar Taveras (Cardinals)
Bryce Brentz (Red Sox)
In the Shadows: Domingo Santana (Astros)
In the Dark: Ariel Ovando (Astros)
I Just Don’t Get It: Tim Wheeler (Rockies)