Bryce Harper – Best Prospect Ever?

Bryce Harper has received his fair share of attention over the years, coming as close to being labeled a prodigy as anyone in recent history. As a sophomore in high school, he was launching 500 foot home runs in Major League Stadiums. At 16 years old, Sports Illustrated put him on the cover of their magazine. At 17, he left high school a year early to compete with wood bats against Junior College players and hit 31 home runs, breaking the previous school record for homers in a season… which was 12. He also won the Golden Spikes award as the best amateur player in the country during the year in which he should have been a Junior in High School, and then was the first overall pick in the draft last summer.

And yet, despite all the hype, I’m still not sure we’re accurately appreciating just how good this kid really could be. He’s 18 years old, playing in his first professional season at a time when he should be getting ready to graduate from high school, and he’s hitting .396/.472/.712. That’s his line after last night’s 4 for 5 performance – one which included a grand slam, his eighth home run of the season.

He’s eighteen years old. Sure, it’s only 111 at-bats, but he could go into a slump of epic proportions and still match the numbers put up by some of the best age-18 seasons of all time.

For instance, in 1994, Alex Rodriguez was in a similar situation to Harper, having been the first pick in the draft the summer prior and making his debut in a full-season league at 18. He started out at low-A Appelton, where he hit .312/.376/.577 in 278 trips to the plate before he got promoted. Even after you account for the slightly lower offensive environment of the Midwest League in 1994 (average OPS of .710 versus .737 for the 2011 South Atlantic League), Harper’s performance is blowing away what Rodriguez did in Appleton.

He’s not only showing more power than Rodriguez did at the same age, but is also showing a more disciplined approach at the plate – something you just don’t find in many teenagers. Harper’s walk rate is the 14th best in the league and most of the guys ahead of him are in their twenties. Additionally, Harper is showing no real platoon split, posting an OPS better than 1.000 against lefties and righties alike. Even the best left-handed hitting prospects usually have problems with southpaws early in their pro careers and have to adapt to facing quality stuff from that side, which isn’t common at the amateur level. Harper is just mashing LHPs as well.

Rodriguez’s stock only continued to improve after he got promoted, as he hit well in both Double-A and Triple-A and finished his first big league season in the majors. Harper hasn’t done that yet, and he’s not a shortstop, so there’s a case to be made that the 1994 version of Rodriguez was a better prospect than Harper is now, but we have to at least acknowledge that Harper hasn’t had the chance to prove that he can do what A-Rod did during the summer of his first pro season, and Harper is easily outpacing him through this same point of their first season.

It’s not just A-Rod he’s showing up either – it’s basically every other prospect in recent history. Chipper Jones hit .326/.407/.519 in the same league back in 1991, but he was 19-years-old and had made his professional debut in rookie ball the year before. Andruw Jones played in the SAL at age 18, but hit a relatively modest .277/.377/.512 by comparison – his monster season would come the next year, when he climbed four levels and got to the majors after proving he was the game’s premier prospect.

Perhaps the most impressive young performance in the SAL over the last 20 years came from Adrian Beltre, who hit .307/.406/.586 in 288 plate appearances as a 17-year-old. That year, the average OPS in the league was just .672, so Beltre’s mark was over 300 points higher than the norm for the whole league; Harper’s current mark is over 400 points higher than the average hitter in the SAL this year.

Josh Hamilton? He didn’t make his full season debut until age 19, and then he hit .302/.348/.476. B.J. Upton? .302/.394/.445 in 453 plate appearances – Harper already has more home runs than Upton had in the SAL at the same age, though Upton spent almost the entire year at that level. His brother hit just .263/.343/.413 in full-season ball at this age.

Really, to find a similar performance at age 18, you probably have to go back to Ken Griffey Jr in San Bernardino in 1988. In 58 games at the level, he hit .338/.431/.575 when the league average hitter was putting up a .256/.354/.351 line. The numbers aren’t quite as staggering, but the sample size was larger and they came in the California League, which is high-A ball- a step up from where Harper is now. Given adjustments for league context and quality of competition, Junior’s performance is at least on par with what Harper is doing now, and probably a bit better. But that’s the best we can do.

Harper’s performance so far is only slightly less impressive than what Ken Griffey Jr did in 1988 (the only year he spent in the minors) and probably on par with Alex Rodriguez in 1994 (in what probably should have been his only year in the minors). Griffey and Rodriguez are two of the best players in the history of the game, and (PED issues for Rodriguez aside), easily first ballot Hall-Of-Famers. They’re inner-circle guys – the best of the best.

That’s who Harper is keeping up with right now. Instead of going to prom, Harper is putting himself in the conversation for best prospect in recent history. He can’t keep this pace up, but he doesn’t have to – even with some significant regression in his numbers, this is still going to go down as one of the best age-18 seasons we’ve ever seen. Harper is proving that he is worth every bit of the hype he’s ever received.




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Dave is a co-founder of USSMariner.com and contributes to the Wall Street Journal.


194 Responses to “Bryce Harper – Best Prospect Ever?”

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  1. Telo says:

    Watch out for those 2013-2016 Nats!!!!!!!!!! Stras, Harper and Zimm… could literally be the three best players in baseball for a few years. That would be crazy.

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    • Zimmerman is not going to be one of the best players in baseball, bud.

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      • Fred Flint says:

        Doesn’t having the third highest WAR for 2009-2010 combined already make him one of the best players in baseball?

        +21 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • jaywrong says:

        hey chris, maybe you should, you know, look stuff up before you make yourself look like an idiot.

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      • Telo says:

        It’s ok guys, he is an expert on the Miami Dolphins. I think he knows how good Ryan Zimmerman is.

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Chris meant Jordan Zimmerman, right?

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      • adohaj says:

        To everyone who put a – on Chris’ comment I can think of 2 players better than him at the same position.

        longoria
        Youkilis

        Also there are many players better than Zim at other positions. I guess it depends on your definition of “one of the best” but it’s not that crazy to think he won’t be.

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      • Dave says:

        You can stare at stat sheets all day and be fantasy geek #1 all you want. Real baseball guys (the ones who play and coach) go by feel. They go by the day to day impression that a player makes on them. As a guy who has watched Zim everyday since 2005, I’ll tell you without a doubt that Zimmerman certainly has it in him to be one of the game’s best players. He makes the same impression that Cal Ripken did. On the field, off the field, offensively and defensively. Cal won two MVP’s. Are you going to say Cal Ripken wasn’t one of the best players of his era?

        Get back on track here. With the change in philosophy and the young core that they have, the Nat’s will be moving up in the standings and stature. They should be in the playoffs within 2-3 years. Harper is going to be a huge part of that. So will Zimmerman and Strasburg.

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      • Dauber says:

        “Real baseball guys (the ones who play and coach) go by feel.”

        When I tried to feel the players they arrested me. I guess I should stay with numbers.

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      • jaywrong says:

        @adohaj

        its not that simple.

        longoria, maybe splitting hairs.

        youk? that’s a joke.

        way closer than you think yo.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        “Chris meant Jordan Zimmerman, right?”

        To be an ass, Zimmermann

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    • Minstrel says:

      And while Zimmerman isn’t in the running for best player in baseball, he’s definitely an elite, blue-chip player. It’s a pretty impressive core of talent that they could have in a year or two.

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      • jaywrong says:

        mistrel… if he’s elite, isn’t that saying he’s one of the best in the sport?

        just look at his stats, defensive metrics… its pretty darn simple to put him in in the top 5 in baseball. (when healthy of course)

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      • fredsbank says:

        he is one of the best, if you trust the defensive stats…. he’s not THE best, that’s all that’s being said, and it is 100% true that ryan zimmerman is not the best player in baseball by any means

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  2. keegs says:

    Harper’s numbers are actually bogged down by his performance in the first two weeks of the season, before he got contact lenses.

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  3. Bill says:

    “hit 31 home runs, breaking the previous school record for homers in a season… which was 12″

    And the 12 was with aluminum bats! LOL

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    • TK says:

      To be fair, can you imagine the records LeBron James would have broken had he played at a rinky dink school in some conference nobody cares about? That’s why a lot of people thought his Golden Spikes Award was a joke, like giving the Heisman to some Division II guy with over 2000 rushing yards.

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      • Richard says:

        and those people took no consideration of the fact that he did it at 17 in a wood bat league. by all accounts, he’s kind of a punk, but his talent is undeniable. if he went to UT or LSU, he would’ve mashed as well.

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      • nateg26 says:

        Division 2 in baseball is not the same as D-2 in football. Many players use small schools as jumping off points to professional careers, knowing that they can get drafted basically at any point after their high school graduation.

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      • thaljr says:

        D1 Guys don’t necessarily win the Heisman w/ 2k yards, terrible cross sport reference…let’s stick to baseball. And Nevada JUCO ball is hardly, “rinky dink” one of the few states that makes JUCO use wood, and their state AAU teams are always well represented in every Perfect Game, AAU, or USSSA event I ever worked. I imagine Lebron would have faired well in JUCO ball as a teenager to answer your question. But to rebut your point that noone cares…well you answered it yourself “thought HIS Golden Spikes Award” Obviously the people who did not care or thought his season was a joke were not the ones who factored into the decison and should be considered irrelevant. 140 plus comments and counting also reiterates people care, people really do care.

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      • TK says:

        People care about Harper, not his rinky dink Juco team. No one cares about the high school LeBron went to, they care about him. And on the Div. II guy with 2000 yards, I didn’t say or even suggest that a Div. I guy with 2000 yards would win the Heisman, only that it would be stupid to give the award to a guy in Div. II with 2000 yards, which to me is the same as Harper’s situation in my opinion and the opinion of many others.

        If LeBron had quit school after his sophmore year and played in some rinky dink basketball conference that allowed that in Div. II or III, he could average 40 points a game and would not be in the discussion for the Neismith Award (even as the clear #1 pick in NBA).

        BTW, Harper is great and all that. Not trying to say anything bad about Harper. He didn’t vote for himself and it’s not his fault he had to play in that league instead of the SEC or PAC 10 or whatever.

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  4. Fred says:

    If he weren’t a white American, everyone would question his age. Personally, I want to see a birth certificate, and none of this “certificate of live birth” nonsense either.

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    • SKob says:

      No one questions Jason Heyward and that kid looks like a 26 year old linebacker!

      I actually think Jose Iglesias is younger than they say! If that kid is actually over 15…

      +13 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Rally says:

        Still older than Peter Bourjos, who is a productive MLBer at age 13. At least, that’s the age he looks.

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      • gnomez says:

        Papelbon actually looks like a little leaguer.

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      • ElJosharino says:

        Let’s not forget the opposite end of the spectrum. Freddie Freeman looks like Biff Tannon circa 1955, which puts him at 56 years old this year. Quite a far cry from the reported age of 21.

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        I think Papelbon looks like an adult but acts like a Child, he’s first in line.

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    • Telo says:

      Erm, well, I think you are searching for racism where there isn’t any. The reason that the ages of “non-white” players are always scrutinized is because they are generally from outside the country, and more importantly, out of the American baseball system until one day they are magically found “at the age of 18″, with their very authentic Dominican or Venezuelan birth certificate to back it up.

      If someone grows up in America, playing sanctioned youth baseball, HS ball, etc, they are providing age verification pretty early on… it’s just a lot less likely for the 9 year old parents of Bryce Harper to think “Ok, let’s start lying about our son’s age so he has slightly more value when signing his first couple MLB contracts”.

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    • philosofool says:

      Why are we talking about race? This is dumb. The kid has a damned social security card and since he’s an employee of the Washington Nationals, they can verify his date of birth.

      Race problems in the country are real, but let’s spend our energy working on those where they actually exist. Bullshit like this is counter productive.

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    • steve-o says:

      Social Satire + Saber Forum = Face Palm

      D’Oh!

      +37 Vote -1 Vote +1

    • Random Guy says:

      I’m pretty sure Greg Oden was actually 44 years old when he was a freshman at Ohio State, winning the award for least convincing portrayal of a teenager since Stockard Channing in “Grease.”

      Strangely, just four years later, Oden appears to be 54 now. I still don’t know how that works.

      +23 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • DavidCEisen says:

        Hyberbolic Time Chamber training

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      • neuter_your_dogma says:

        Alan Ruck in Ferris Bueller’s Day off was just as bad a portrayal

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      • My echo and bunnymen says:

        Any time a Dragonball Z reference comes up is a moment to enjoy.

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        • Corey says:

          I like knowing that I’m not the only person who got the reference……..

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        • Corey says:

          ok…..ill admit that he is good….Very good, but that does not change the fact that he is a Duche Bag. Griffey might have been a little cocky but he was not an asshole. Griffey was a role model, Bryce Harper is just some asshole that was lucky enough to be born with talent..

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    • fredsbank says:

      obvious troll is obvious

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    • Currierite says:

      It could be that the people who have their age questioned often have foreign birth certificates that are more prone to be counterfeit…nah must be racism.

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    • ElJosharino says:

      Whoops, math correction. Biff was what, 18 then? So Freddie is at least 74.

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  5. chuckb says:

    I just looked at Albert Pujols’s numbers for the year he spent in the minors. He shot through the Cards’ system in only 1 year but he was 20 years old at the time. In 440 PAs w/ the Cards’ low-A affiliate in Quad Cities, Pujols put up a robust, but not quite Harper-like, .324/.389/.565 line. Those numbers are really similar to A-Rod’s and they were playing in the same league (albeit 6 years apart) but Pujols was still 2 years older than Harper is right now. It’s a very impressive start for Harper — one that should excite Nats’ fans.

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  6. Lewie Pollis says:

    He does have a .452 BABIP. Obviously we’re talking about a guy who’ll probably be consistently well over .300 and it could be partially a product of his league, but you have to take that into consideration, no?

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    • OremLK says:

      I don’t see him as anywhere near a lock to hit .300 at this point. His 20% strikeout rate is mediocre, even given his age. However, even if he winds up striking out a lot (he has plenty of time to improve!) he could still hit for a decent average, like many other high-strikeout sluggers have managed. Homers don’t count as balls in play! Right now it seems reasonable to project something along the lines of .280/.380/.500, which by the way is a pretty ridiculous line to project for an 18 year old kid, and it’s just plain silly that we can feel reasonably confident he will reach that level.

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      • Lewie Pollis says:

        I meant that his true-talent BABIP would be over .300.

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      • thaljr says:

        Are you talking this season for Harper, or Ike Davis in his prime?

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      • Oprah says:

        You’re seriously projecting an .880 OPS out of Bryce Harper, a man with once in a generation power.

        .300/.420/.630

        He is going to hit 45-55 home runs year-in-and-year-out, which will translate to a .300-.350 IsoP.

        Even if he strikes out some, he’s is going to make such absurdly hard contact, leading to a high BABIP, high average.

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    • theperfectgame says:

      I’d think that if a player’s skill level is significantly above that of the pitchers he’s facing, a BABIP significantly above what we’re used to seeing would be sustainable. I have no idea where that line would be drawn, though.

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    • Temo says:

      Not at the minor league level, no.

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    • Patricio says:

      You do realize that, in order to hit .396, you need to have a high BABIP? I don’t know his LD, GB, or FB rates…but, those rates are far more pertinent than a high BABIP.

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    • Michael F says:

      Not really.

      Like if you’re hitting .320 and have a .450 BABIP, yeah, that’s going to come back to Earth and you’ve been really lucky. But he’s probably absolutely crushing the ball and a .450 BABIP is extremely reasonable for a .396 AVG.

      For instance, Joey Votto seems to be a consistent AVG + .030 to .050 BABIP guy, and he’s awesome; no one’s denying that.

      It’d be a lot more troubling if this were Strasburg and his BABIP against was like .100 or something. Then you can say “Yeah, let’s take a step back…”

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      • Criminal Type says:

        What’s “weird” about Votto, I guess you’d say, is that he wasn’t an elite prospect at any point. He was A Dude Who Seems Pretty Good. He was a top-30 guy, maybe lower.

        And now he’s … sick.

        Back to the point: Harper is insanely good.

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      • d says:

        Criminal Type, take a moment and glance at Miguel Cabrera’s mL numbers.

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      • The Ancient Mariner says:

        Huh? That makes no sense.

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    • Rally says:

      Don’t expect his BABIP to regress to anything close to the league level. That works, sort of, among MLB players. It should work for minor league quality players playing in minor leagues. Bryce Harper is just completely overmatching the league he’s in. We should expect his BABIP in the league to be, well probably not quite .452, but way more than the typcial low-A player.

      Pretty soon he’ll probably move up to the next level and it will be a moot point.

      Another prospect worth getting excited about in the same league- check out 18 year old Manny Machado.

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    • RobMer says:

      Sure he has a .452 BABIP, but he’s also hitting .400. He is going to have a high BABIP. He’s obviously crushing the competition right now.

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  7. SKob says:

    The amazing thing is that Harper actually struggled in the first week or so. If you subtract about a week from his stats for adjustnig to the league and his numbers are other worldly. He is an absolute freak of nature and I am so glad he’s on my NL only keeper team for just $2!

    How lucky were the Nats to be so bad at what could be the best possible time in history. I’ve heard concerns about Strasberg’s motion and harper is still young and in Low-A, but how could you not be excited to be a Nats fan right now?

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    • SKob says:

      Posted this the same time as Keegs made his comment. Nice info on the contact lenses!

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        People still get contact lenses?

        Why not LASIK?

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Should clarify …

        Contacts don’t usually mix well with wind and dust … 2 things that baseball diamonds are full of.

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      • MarkV says:

        They have to wait for your prescription to stabilize for LASIK. Plus he would have had to take time off.

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      • LexDiamonds says:

        Because his body isn’t done maturing. I had LASIK when I was 21 and even then the doctor warned me that I might have to get it done again later in life if my body matured in some weird, unexpected way.

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      • Matt says:

        I think they like your eyesight to stop or slow down in their deterioration, which is why it’s pretty uncommon to see kids get it.

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      • Rally says:

        The eyesight makes me think how lucky Harper is to play today. As of now, he’s got a chance to be Griffey or A-Rod, and if you really want to dream, Barry Bonds or Babe Ruth.

        Put him in the 1920’s, maybe they can’t do so much for his eyesight and the best he becomes is Chick Hafey. Who knows, just a thought.

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  8. Aaron says:

    What are you regressing his performance to? If he is the Best Prospect Ever (which he might well be) then .396/.472/.712 could easily be his true talent level (at low-A).

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  9. RotoChamp says:

    Jesus Montero put up .326/.376/.491 in 569 PA as an 18-year old catcher in the Sally.

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    • Dave Cameron says:

      I skipped over the recent young studs – Montero, Trout, Heyward – because, honestly, he makes them all look kind of crappy. Mike Trout was the talk of baseball last year and Harper already has more home runs than Trout had in half a season at low-A ball.

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      • don says:

        He’s probably 2 rungs down the prospect ladder but Jon Singleton hit .373/.460/.672 for the first half as an 18 year old in the Sally league last year, before slowing considerably in the second half. Harper may well be a generational talent but it’s still only a month and a half of games.

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      • wobatus says:

        Beltre’s season at 17 is pretty impressive. That’s a year younger than Harper. He was listed at 18 at the time, right?

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      • JH says:

        I think Trout is pacing Harper pretty well so far. Hitting better than .300/.400/.600 as a 19 year old in the Texas league. And Trout has much more defensive value.

        Overall as a prospect even if harper maintained these numbers I’d take Griffey, A-rod and Andruw Jones over him, as all three played premium positions very well in addition to their freakish offensive outputs (Jones’ huge season wasn’t until he was 19, though).

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      • NEPP says:

        This might be ridiculous (it almost always is to use a HoF comparison on a prospect) but here’s Willie Mays’ slash line from his Age 20 season in AAA (his only real minor league numbers available):

        In 164 PA: .477 AVG/.524 OBP/1.323 OPS

        2 years older and 3 levels higher obviously.

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    • Rob says:

      Q.) How does that compare with Harper’s .396/.472/.712 line? A.) Not very well.

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      • Kaka says:

        Exactly. And the inevitable “But Montero’s a catcher” argument is moot given half of the scouting community don’t even think he’ll be a catcher long term.

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      • RotoChamp says:

        Nobody is disputing that nobody can match Harper’s start over a full season, but Cameron said he was comparing his start to ‘ some of the best age-18 seasons of all time.’

        Montero and Heyward put up nearly identical seasons as 18-year olds in the Sally, and they are comparable to many of the player mentioned in the article.

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      • AA says:

        Well, Harper was sort of a catcher when drafted :-P

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  10. Mark says:

    Given his stellar performance to date and the expected regression, what’s a probable timetable through the upper levels and into the majors? Could we see him up as soon as 2013?

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  11. Temo says:

    If you want to look for downside, none of the other guys you mentioned struck out in more than 20% of their PA at that age (Andruw Jones was the closest, at 19.3%.

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  12. Error! Error! says:

    Bryce Harper dropped out after two years of high school. He went to Jr. College for a year and is now playing professional baseball when he should still be in high school.

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    • Rob says:

      Thank you for rewording the article and restating what everybody else in the world already knows. In other news, the sky is sometimes blue.

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      • phoenix2042 says:

        but not always. we would be remiss if we did not point out that it spends a significant amount of time being black.

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      • “Blue” is just the color your brain is processing. You cannot verify that the sensory images you are experiencing are physically so. Your brain may just be a thing in a vat inventing this comment.

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      • Vince says:

        Actually, the article says he left one year early, which is incorrect. See, one and two are actually separate numbers.

        First, your reply made me think you were a dick. Then, I felt sad for you because you apparently suck at math and reading as well.

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      • Oprah says:

        Well, the writer said that Harper left a year early. He left HS 2 years early.

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    • Todd says:

      And he didn’t drop out of high school, he earned his GED. Very different.

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      • Oskar says:

        In semantics, yes, but to take the GED Tests an individual must not be enrolled in high school. So technically, he had to “drop out” to take the test. But you are right, it certainly does not seem appropriate to use “dropped out” in its usual pejorative meaning.

        FWIW, this is going by PA regulations, so it is possible (but very unlikely) that Nevada is different.

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    • c otter19 says:

      No Sh*t!!!!!

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  13. Jawnset says:

    I really hate those colored folk.

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  14. Epic Fail says:

    If he were Spanish it would be questioned because THE SPANISH are the players who fake their ages!!

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  15. CircleChange11 says:

    This is amazing, because of his age, rather than his grade. This isn’t a case of a defensive end dominating high school football, in part, because his parents started him at kindergarten at 6.5 years old. Yes, parents do that sort of thing.

    Even in his showcase leagues, he was not playing against guys his own age, but guys 2-3 years older.

    The player I would compare him to is Griffey Jr. As a 17yo, Junior was doing quite well in A- ball, and then did so well in A/AA as an 18yo that it was time for MLB.

    I see no reason for Harper to stay in the minors past this season (if even for the full season). He’s not going to learn much teeing off on MiLB fastballs or watching subpar breaking pitches.

    Giving Harper contact lenses seems like giving Peyton Manning a laser-guided targeting system.

    I’m not a big, go ga-ga over prospects type of guy, and am usually just the opposite (beware most prospects fail), but you have to be essentially the pessimist’s pessimist or the hater’s hater to not realize that Harper really is as advertised … like LeBron James was.

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  16. keegs says:

    I know you can’t separate small sample sizes into even smaller samples, but in discussing K%, it’s at least worthwhile to note:

    no contact lenses: 28.8% (17 K in 59 AB)
    with contact lenses: 17.3 (9 K in 52 AB)

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    • Choo says:

      I will never underestimate the changing power of contact lenses. I got them about half way through my freshman baseball season. It was waking up with x-ray vision. I felt like Superman.

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      • Rally says:

        I had a tough time playing baseball with contacts. All the dust and wind bothered my eyes. I tried using some Kareem-style goggles to protect them, but that really can distract your vision.

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      • JohnnyComeLately says:

        Rec-Specs rule!

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      • Choo says:

        I kept a bottle of saline solution and extra lenses in the dugout. I tried keeping a small bottle in my back pocket, but that backfired when I slid, stood up, and had to play the next few innings looking like I sharted myself.

        As for rec specs, there is some definite peripheral weirdness to adjust to. I never did.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I played college baseball in Chicagoland. Cold and wind are not friendly to contacts (cloudy, hardening, etc). I had LASIK a few years ago, and felt like I was cheating life. It was so awesome.

        My 10yo wears these new version of “sports goggles”. Basically they’re Rec Specs badass brother. Things damn near have mirrored lenses. It’s not fair.

        Basically “The Chronicles of Riddick” goggles.

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      • Chris says:

        @ Rally. Did you look like Chris Sabo?

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  17. Joe Joe says:

    Mike Stanton hit .293/.381/.611 as an 18-year-old in the same league in 2008. Stanton did it over 125 games and 540 at-bats so we’ll have to wait and see where Harper is at that point. My guess is that you could go back and find a 100 AB stretch in that season where Stanton hit similar or close to what Harper has done.

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  18. Zobmie says:

    So, when do you think the Nats bring him up? Is an A-Rod comparison a good one in this case too?

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  19. bwoods says:

    Just focusing on stats generated by an 18-year old in A ball in a relatively small sample–and leaving aside for the moment the extent of the scouting hype coming in–what about Manny Machado as another point of comparison? Machado is only three months older than Harper, is playing in the same league, and has been generating some favorable reports about his defense at a more premium position (SS).

    Harper has 13 more plate appearances (Machado is currently out with a dislocated kneecap), with an OPS that is .083 higher and two more home runs.

    On the other hand, Machado comes out ahead or very close in a lot of the peripheral stats. Machado has an even better walk rate (17.1% to 13.6%) and a far better strikeout rate (12.6% to 21.2%). Their ISOP’s are very close (.278 for Machado, .287 for Harper). Machado is walking more than he is whiffing.

    Harper’s overall OPS advantage seems largely driven by the crazy .461 BABIP (compared to Machado’s .352). (As a side note, I’m curious what kind of BABIP regression you would expect from a super-prospect in the low minors.) Even with the BABIP difference, though, Machado has a higher OBA.

    They both appear to be outstanding prospects.

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    • Ben says:

      Yup, as an O’s fan, my initial thoughts obviously went straight to Machado. I’m obviously biased, but I thought at the time of the draft that the gap in hype between Harper and Machado came nowhere near the actual gap in their potential, and I’ve seen nothing thus far to change my mind. I’ll defer to the scouts who do this stuff for a living and say that Harper is the superior prospect, but when you factor in positional adjustments I just don’t see how you can project Harper to have a significantly higher peak WAR than Machado.

      Now Dave, if you could kindly ask your Mariners to pass on Rendon, I can continue to my fantasies of a Rendon-Machado left side for 2013-2019.

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    • Eric Farris says:

      Per fangraphs, Machado is at .333/.450/.610 how does that make his OPS within .083 of 396/.472/.712?

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      • Mark says:

        That’s a good question, Eric. Player profile currently has Harper at 1.138, and Machado at 1.062, with the difference being 0.076, yet their slash lines don’t add up to that. Am I missing something?

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      • bwoods says:

        It doesn’t–I was looking at their numbers through before last night’s game and didn’t realize Harper’s big night was not included. So the comparison is a 4-5 and a HR short on the Harper side. Still, I’m not sure how much one night can really change the analysis.

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    • Sean ONeill says:

      bwoods has a bingo. While Harper has been incredible thus far, what Machado has done is downright amazing. His plate approach is fantastic for his age, his power for a middle infield prospect has been incredible, and he’s gotten good reviews defensively (he better have given the fact the Orioles moved Jon Schoop, no slouch defensively at SS himself, to 3B to accomodate him). If he hadn’t gotten injured, it’s quite possible we’d be starting to see a “Who’s better, Machado or Harper?” debate start to form. Personally, I actually think Machado’s the more impressive prospect given the difference in position.

      Machado’s line his final 10 games before he got injured:
      .438/.561/.969, 5 HRs, 9 BBs, 5 Ks, 2 SB (0 CS), .333 BABIP.

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  20. David Carter says:

    If the topic is “who’s the best prospect ever,” then you have to mention Al Kaline in there somewhere.

    Kaline went straight from high school to the Detroit Tigers at age 18. At 20, he won the AL batting title with .340.

    Haper is a great prospect, but he isn’t in the show yet.

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    • Ben says:

      But then again, a major leaguer isn’t a prospect. Knowing how they do in the majors defeats part of the point. And of course there are some other problems when considering players of that era (fewer teams, less competition, higher leaguewide averages, etc.)

      A-Rod, for instance, went .358/.414/.631 with 36 home runs (and 8 defensive RAA) in his age 20 season and finished with 2.1 more WAR than Kaline did when he was 20. If you want to talk about precociousness in the majors, you kind of have to start there. All things considered, you could argue ARod’s career has been a disappointment, given the way it started out.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        Other than the use of PED’s I wouldn’t consider it a disappointment simply from the standpoint that it would be unrealistic to expect any player to improve upon a .358-36 HR season at 20. Do we really expect him to be hitting .397 with 51 HR at age 27, and then even better at age 29? All the while playing THE premium defensive position.

        He’s having a hall of fame career … and rather top shelf HoF career. That can’t really be disappointing, while I understand the point you’re making.

        I think what we can see with the outrageous phenoms is that there’s not always a huge development curve … they’re pretty much awesome from the get go and stay awesome for a while … but they don’t often go from really awesome to just awesomely awesome. It’s not like Spaceballs with “ridiculous speed” to “ludicrous speed”.

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      • Garrett says:

        Circle (awkwardly, though correctly) makes the point that projecting improvements in skill/talent/whatever from players at the top iota is laughably stupid.

        Its completely idiotic to take the exceptional and then apply generalizations derived from normal populations. Though apparently there is only a handful of people who realize that Ted Williams wasn’t going to put up 15+ WAR when in his “prime”.

        Also: lol @ Griffey being anywhere near as good as A-Roid. Completely fucking ridiculous.

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      • michaelpemulis says:

        I wouldn’t consider it “completely fucking ridiculous” to suggest Junior was at a time on A-Rod’s level. Take Griffey’s performance from his debut through age 30 (*before* the injuries became chronic, mind) and compare it to Rodriguez’s over the same period and yeah, A-Rod rates a li’l better overall, but it’s certainly not completely one-sided as you imply; in reality, they were trés semblable in their production.

        Through age 30 (1680 games), per 162 games:
        Griffey:
        PA – 703; AB – 610
        WAR (Sean Smith/BR) – 7.1
        Slash – .296/.380/.568/.948
        Walk% – 11.49%
        K% – 17.3%
        HR/RBI/R – 43/122/112 (I know, runs and RBIs aren’t very telling; this is mostly just to better illustrate the semi-uncanny similarities)
        Plus defense at a premium defensive position.

        Through age 30 (1746 games), per 162 games:
        Rodriguez:
        PA – 723; AB – 630
        WAR (Sean Smith/BR) – 7.2
        Slash – .305/.386/.573/.958
        Walk% – 10.5%
        K% – 20.7%
        HR/RBI/R – 44/126/127
        Solid defense at an even more premium defensive position.

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      • Garrett says:

        Why are you making up some arbitrary time period?

        PS: Injuries aren’t random. Junior’s view on training are laughable and his injuries a just product of stupidity and laziness.

        -8 Vote -1 Vote +1

      • Nat Haniel says:

        Until WAR takes into account a players attitude, ie, “intangibles”, you, by addressing issues which have nothing to do with a player’s ability to hit, pitch or defend, have actually made a case as to why Junior was more talented than Arod. If Griffey hadn’t lost 400 games to injury, there would be no comparison between the two.

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      • Garrett says:

        His “intangibles” are directly manifested in his utter inability to hit/defend/pitch when injured. His comments are naive and laughable (and assuming he’s not an outright liar). “Talented” is a chickenshit word that is meaningless. I refer purely to his ability to play baseball. Perhaps you should read my posts more critically and stop citing his inability to play ball as reasoning for his ability to play ball at a high level.

        There is no comparison. A-Rod is much much better. He’s 20WAR ahead and his lead is growing. He’s currently ~25th in WAR among active MLBers. He’s still an All-Star caliber MLBer. Junior doesn’t play baseball. So he is equal in talent to me, you, DC, everyone else who won’t take a MLB PA.

        There are literally 0 (non-retarded) arguments that result in the conclusion Junior ~ A-Rod.

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    • Rally says:

      Mickey Mantle at 18 is comparable. Playing in a class C league Mick hit .383 with 26 homers and a .638 SLG. BB-ref doesn’t have his walk total.

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      • Steven says:

        Motha Fucka!

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      • EDogg1438 says:

        And Mick always walked a ton in the majors, so it’s reasonable to believe he did in the minors as well. He’s probably boasting a >.500 OBP that year.

        Even so, his slugging is about 100 points lower than Harper’s.

        It puts some perspective to Harper’s prospect status though to compare him to possibly the most talented baseball player ever.

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      • NEPP says:

        When we can reasonably throw names out there like Griffey Jr, Mantle and Mays when talking about a guy….I mean, DAMN.

        This kid might be special.

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  21. Jasper says:

    do you think Harper will have my baby? I’m a man by the way

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  22. Garrett says:

    Clearly we can use some MLEs and handwaving to project a head enlargement and a melanin darkening to become GOAT.

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  23. “He’s got a bad body, lousy make-up and overly-complicated, right-center swing. Pass.”

    —Scouty McScout.

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  24. stu says:

    The second coming of Ted Williams huh? Let’s play a few in the majors first..

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  25. west says:

    His strikeouts cut down on my excitement, as does his use of eye-black.

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  26. reillocity says:

    It’s really a shame that there’s no minor league split data going back 50 or so years to put this month of data in perspective. I’d bet there’d be a lot of “Who’s that?” if you could find the what-I-would-expect-to-be few dozen cases of a similar one-month start to a minor league career.

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  27. Todd Klimson says:

    I just bought his 2 of his Jerseys!!

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  28. PJ says:

    Nationals are gonna look real good next year.

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  29. Adam G says:

    I think there have been some excellent points made so far. A few things that I have noticed:

    1. Harper’s K% in May is 13%. While Stanton is probably the only recent prospect w/ similar power, Harper’s ability to adjust has been astounding. Stanton got better every month, and by the end of the year he was playing at an elite level. Harper on the other hand went from playing very well to uber-elite in about 100 plate appearances. His growth curve is incredible.

    2. Machado (if he gets back on the field and keeps up his #s) should be right there in the conversation with Harper. He’s been superb, has an incredible eye, and surprising power. I would lean towards taking Harper over him right now, but Machado’s comps right now are very impressive.

    3. We still have to be cautious because as has been pointed out, guys like Singleton and Schoop came out of the gates mashing, and then come back down rather abruptly. I think Harper is the real deal, but it’s just the beginning. Things can change fast.

    4. At his current pace, Harper absolutely projects as one of the best prospects ever. I would put Griffey and some old school names up there, but maybe just 5 total.

    That is all.

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    • Garrett says:

      So umm… You used 100 PAs to determine true talent and growth curve. (Actually 100 would be overstatement of the century.) Wao. That is retarded.

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  30. TK says:

    What makes a ##-age season. I was looking on BR, where they list the player’s age, and they say ARod was 18 in 1994 (DOB 7/27/75) whereas Jones 1996 season is listed as age-19 (DOB 4/23/77).

    I always thought it was your age when the season started. So what is it?

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    • Joof says:

      Age on July First, if I remember correctly.

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      • TK says:

        Thanks, I guess that is based on that being close to half way through the season. These proclamation or whatever you want to call them about how great a player was or is during a paticular age season are a bit arbitrary, and it should be noted that Harper is 6 months older than Andruw Jones was during the season he made it to the big leagues and hit two WS homers. It would be just as fair to compare that year to this year for Harper as comparing 1995.

        That really just shows that this is at least a bit silly.

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    • William O'Brien says:

      Age at July 1

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  31. DJ says:

    LOL @ the rest of baseball soon!

    Nats have a lot to be excited about – even some of the young pups they have up right now are solid players.

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  32. Joseph K. says:

    It’s odd to see people beat him down even as the numbers get better and better each day. If you examine each level that he has visited, he was always 2-4 years younger and accomplished more then anyone. Right now he is 18 y 7 m and that is youngest in The SAL, which has an avg age of 22. He has better overall numbers then almost anyone in all of Minor League Baseball let alone The SAL. Even Griffey Jr. Hit 276 at his last level, AA before he was promoted. There is nobody comparable at this point to Harper. He also has committed only 1 error in the outfield, which is amazing to me. His success and more importantly his ability to overcome learning curves at each higher level is unprecedented. His consistency is what separates him right now. He has simply been the best at every single level while being the youngest each time.

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    • Sean ONeill says:

      A) Who do you see “beat[ing] him down”?
      B) He’s been at one level, Single A. Unless you want to count the JuCo season I guess, but that’s a bit of a reach.
      C) What does Junior’s batting average in AA have to do with anything?
      D) Learning curves at each higher level? Have you been to the future where he’s already made it through the minors to AAA or the MLB?

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  33. Antonio Bananas says:

    People always talk about the jump in levels. What do you think is the significance of being brought up in what should be the best pitching division in baseball and being on a team where you will face all the best pitchers (by that I mean, he’s not on the Phillies so he has to face the Phab Phour, Josh McNasty Johnson, the Bravos depth, etc). You could call him up in the AL Central right now and he’d mash. I wonder if being in the NL East will slow him at all.

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  34. dbp john says:

    No use comparing Harper to guys that spend their seasons in the SAL. He is going to be in Potomac by July if he keeps it up.

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  35. peric says:

    Two words: “Ted Williams”. That’s what Harper and Rizzo are shooting and so far they must just have the next .400 hitter in the offing. And he is probably faster than Williams was and could likely be a better fielder. He’s the post-Steroid hope. That old records can be equaled or smashed without performance enhancing drugs.

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  36. peric says:

    People always talk about the jump in levels. What do you think is the significance of being brought up in what should be the best pitching division in baseball and being on a team where you will face all the best pitchers (by that I mean, he’s not on the Phillies so he has to face the Phab Phour, Josh McNasty Johnson, the Bravos depth, etc).

    Perhaps but what if? Perhaps in late June next year?

    1. CF TBD
    2. Jayson Werth LF
    3. Albert Pujols 1B
    4. Ryan Zimmerman 3B
    5. Bryce Harper RF
    6. Wilson Ramos C
    7. Danny Espinosa 2B
    8. Ian Desmond SS

    With the wealthiest owners in baseball, and the Lerner’s new found determination to field a winner, the fact that they out-bid everyone for Texiera and Grienke, and given what they paid Werth you have to figure the Nats might just go after Pujols with everything they’ve got. Think the Phillies fab four could stand up to that lineup? Harper might just mash in the midst of that lineup.

    And pitching-wise? They come out next year with Strasburg, Zimmermann, Gorzelanny and perhaps Yunesky Maya. Not a bad rotation to start with all things considered?

    The

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    • Fat Spiderman says:

      I laughed out loud. Good one.

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    • NEPP says:

      I doubt Halladay would care if he were facing the 27 Yankees…especially considering his career splits versus the Yankees.

      Seriously though, there is the potential for a great core in DC in a couple years and they have a determined owner who wants to spend. Part of Werth’s deal was along the lines of the Pudge deal in Detroit a few years ago to break the ice on top flight FA’s signing with them. Yeah, it was an overpay in baseball value and no one disputes that, not even the Nats GM I bet…but overall, it was part of what appears to be a smart strategy.

      This is coming from a Phillies fan too. The Nats could be scary in a few years.

      Also, no way they sign Pujols…though I bet they make an offer.

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    • William says:

      Yankees and Sox could rest 2 or 3 and still have a better lineup.

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    • fredsbank says:

      what are you on and where did you get it?

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  37. Trev says:

    Quick back of envelope calculation:

    Ken Griffey Jr.: 324 PA, .325/.414.557 – BABIP .341
    Bryce Harper: 122 PA, .396/.472/.712 – BABIP .424
    Bryce Harper + 202 PA @ SALL League Average: 324 PA, .344/.408/.555 – BABIP .391

    If you regress Bryce Harper all the way back to league average, he’s still comparable with Griffey.

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  38. kick me in the GO NATS says:

    Yippppppee!!! I may have to change my name.

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  39. LongTimeFan says:

    What people fail to take into account is the advantage brought forth by the hype and exposure available today that wasn’t then with lessor technology and inter-connectivity.

    So here we have an 18-year old probably not near as good as he seems but benefits from the fear his reputation instills into these low-A-Ball pitchers facing him and how that impacts their states of mind while doing so.

    I personally don’t think Harper is as good as the hype but until he begins to face more experienced, more self-contained and controlled pitchers, the intimidation factor of his legend as well as his beaming confidence, will continue to factor into how he’s pitched, and what pressure these pitchers put on themselves to get him out, or pitch around, in fear. His reputation fuels fear and not necessarily the kind of pitching that evokes outs. Harper is the beneficiary of modern as well as social media that does his bidding in advance of him, an advantage neither AROD, Griffey and others had.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      I can understand why one would come at it from this perspective. I certainly understand how one would also not want to go with the flow on this subject as well.

      But, Harper has been playing against kids 2-4 years older than him for a long time now … and he’s been head and shoulders the best kid on the field.

      It’s amazing for kids to play a year up and hold to own. To play a couple of years up and absolutely dominate is simply unbelievable.

      He was a 16yo playing against college pitchers (19yo) in showcase leagues, on the west coast.

      He dominated older pitcher long before the reputation existed.

      I guarantee pitchers give Harper everything they have. You could make a name for yourself by giving Harper a hat trick.

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  40. Theo says:

    I suppose the major question is how many players have put up these kind of numbers and not turned into Hall of Famers.

    Because, seriously, some of this conversation is making me way too excited, and I’m not even a Nationals fan.

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    • Jimbo says:

      Ditto.

      I think the conversation should be about when to call him up.

      Why not let him play in the bigs for the month of June? If he adapts, great…start on those HoF stats asap. If he tanks, I still have a hard time imagining he wouldn’t be better off for it.

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  41. mttvnkrk says:

    Ryan Zimmerman is above average but he’s garbage compared to other third baseman

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  42. Bob says:

    I’d rather have Trout than Harper, still. One year older, mashing two levels higher, more defensive value, and (at least on the surface) much more baserunning value.

    Probably rather have Machado, too, for the reasons others have mentioned here: *vastly* more glove value, even better strikezone command than Harp.

    Lastly, we shouldn’t overlook another 18-year-old who’s off to a phenomenal start. Oscar Taveras fairly dominated the Appy league last year at 17, and is 26-for-52 to begin his Midwest League season. Small sample, sure, but a .500 average, with power to all fields (half his 10 professional HR’s have been to the opposite field) and a modest K rate (around 12%) offer a lot to dream on.

    Moreover, Taveras has gunned down 3 runners in just 10 games this year in RF. Good range, good arm, and *potentially* a future MLB batting champ with 30+ tater power. Also, great makeup, as the scouts like to say—works hard, playful kid, and confident in his abilities.

    Don’t sleep on O.T. ;)

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  43. stratobill says:

    While there is no doubt that Harper is a hugely talented ballplayer, those of you who are using his current season’s stats as proof of his awesomeness need to take a deep breath and count to 10 before you post again. I don’t care what his numbers are, 134 plate appearances in A ball is just not a large enough sample to use as “proof” that he’s better than Mantle, Williams, Griffey, Mays, etc etc at the same age. It’s just not.

    Personally, I’d say that Harper has a 50-50 chance of having a better career than JD Drew. That’s not a knock on Drew, he’s a fine player. And it’s not a knock on Harper to compare him to a player who may end up with close to 300 Homers and 1000 RBI in his career. I’m just saying that it’s crazy to expect that any kid is going to turn into a Hall of Famer based on what he’s done before turning 19.

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    • jfcincotta says:

      It’s kind of a Bayesian thing, really. (1) We have very high expectations of Harper due to the fact that he’s been called a once-in-a-generation talent by scouts, performed exceptionally well to this point in amateur ball, has been younger than everyone else he’s played against, etc. (2) In his first 134 PAs in professional ball, he’s been unreasonably good — I mean this literally in that if you had asked anyone what would be a reasonable expectation of him as a 18-year old playing pro ball for the first time no one could have reasonably expected him to be nearly this good. It doesn’t mean he’s this good, of course, but it does mean we can recalibrate our expectations upward.

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  44. Scott says:

    This article just got a shout out on PTI. Called FG by name. Woohoo.

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  45. ICEYhawtSTUNNAZ says:

    Tony Fucking Kornheiser…hold on, my head is still spinning just cited…this article on PTI. .

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  46. PTI Quote! says:

    Um, Tony Kornheiser just directly referenced this article on PTI. I believe it was something like “I read on fangraphs that there hasn’t been a prospect like this in Class-A since Ken Griffey Jr”

    Dave Cameron is my hero!

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  47. dan says:

    Wow, looks like I am late to deliver the news, and also not the only nerd to be excited about it…

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  48. MM = Overrated says:

    For all you Machado morons out there, let me know when he has on OPS over .700 on the road, ok?

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    • Oprah says:

      U MAD? YEAH, U MAD.

      Who the hell cares about a guy’s home/road splits, LOL. What a dode. It’s not like his home stadium is some extreme hitter’s park skewing his numbers.

      …1.062 OPS =1.062 OPS = 1.062 OPS

      I like how you state his sub-.700 OPS on the road while disregarding his 1.289 home OPS.

      Last time I checked, stats in a home game count just as much as stats in a road game.

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  49. RobMer says:

    Mickey Mantle at 18: .383 BA and a .638 SLG in 519 ABs He chipped in 30 HRs and 331 total bases.

    I mean, if we’re talking about the greatest prospect ever, I guess he needs to be mentioned.

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  50. Bob says:

    Here’s some fun numbers for anyone interested in home/road splits:

    Mike Trout on the road .373/.472/.695

    With 10 walks vs. 7 whiffs

    What Trout’s doing in AA as a 19-year-old may be less unprecedented (more precedented?) than what Harper’s doing at 18, but I think both of them—and Machado as well—fall into the same prospect micro-category of Could Be Baseball’s Best Player In Five Years If They Stay Healthy And Work Hard.

    (And I’m honestly not sure Oscar Taveras doesn’t at least belong in that conversation, too.)

    Q: If Machado “becomes” Hanley Ramirez and Harper becomes Manny Ramirez (but with average RF defense), who would you rather have?

    Pretty much looks like a toss-up to me….

    Oh, and it’s nice for FG to get the Kornheiser Bump.
    Kudos Dave Cameron!

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    • Garrett says:

      I can only pray that you’re talking about for the first 6 cost controlled years (since we know that in the future players like Bryce are SET FOR LIFE and will never sign extensions like players currently do).

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  51. Catch 22 says:

    I think everyone has forgotten what a great prospect Gregg Jefferies was. Jefferies’ story also offers a bit of a cautionary note.

    Here is the link to his stats – they are absurdly good.

    http://www.baseball-reference.com/minors/player.cgi?id=jeffer001gre

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    • Choo says:

      The SI story about Jefferies as a prospect hit me hard as a kid. I was an 8th grader with big league dreams and the work ethic of a typical 13-year old with a Nintendo in his basement. The amount of work and time Gregg Jefferies (and his Dad) spent on drills – and the drills themselves – was a humbling, intense, and motivating experience. It changed my baseball work habits for the better and I always wanted to thank the author and Jefferies for the boost.

      Hey, I found the article! Gregg Jefferies SI

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  52. Matt says:

    I guess he’s sort of come back down to earth since this article was written. He’s right about the level of the comparables in the article, like Arod or Beltre. Looking through the SAL league for the last years, Mike Stanton is basically the most recent prospect to put up these kinds of numbers at age 18 in this league, and he did it over a full season (but more power and less plate discipline). So I guess Bryce Harper is the best prospect since Mike Stanton.

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    • GrouchoM says:

      Been waiting a while for a slump, huh? Sure, they’re both exactly the same, Harper’s going to strike out 158 times, right? Right? Or 28.3% of his ABs, right? No? looks like you guessed WRONG

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      • Matt says:

        No, actually I just stumbled across this article now. I did say that Stanton seemed to have more power numbers and less plate discipline than Harper. Anyways the article was written after he had a hundred-and-some ABs, so it’s reasonable to see how he’s doing now with two-hundred-and-some ABs. Which is still good, but not demolishing the numbers of all the best prospects ever.

        You know, I don’t think you’re really Groucho Marx, because Groucho was funny.

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  53. Excellent web site. Lots of helpful info here. I am sending it to some friends ans also sharing in delicious. And of course, thanks for your sweat!

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  54. Ron says:

    Boy, that escalated quickly… I mean, that really got out of hand fast.

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