bryce-harper-verducciI’ll give the kid the benefit of the doubt, but seriously, eye black smear?

There has been plenty written about SI coverboy and prep phenom Bryce Harper after he decided to get his GED and leave high school early, preferring to play junior college baseball instead of for his Las Vegas prep team. Even if I choose to believe that Harper is as good as respected baseball writers Tom Verducci and Keith Law believe he is, I think this is an absolutely bad idea from a career prospective.

While the initial reaction might lead you to believe the opposite, it seems many people need a history lesson when dealing with high school baseball prodigies. From a development standpoint, it makes absolute sense for Harper to want to play better competition, to play 60 games instead of 20, to see quality fastballs and breaking pitches instead of being constantly pitched around when he isn’t mashing 70-mile-per-hour fastballs 500 feet.

Yet the baseball draft is about projection and potential, and while the baseball world is in agreement that Harper is the next big thing, will they think that after they see a 16-year-old kid with a gigantic swing struggle for the first time when he’s hitting with wood bats?

The year Harper was born, Chris Schwab, another hulking 6-foot-3, 220-pound left-handed slugger, was putting on prodigious batting practice displays at Cretin-Derham Hall high school. Before Joe Mauer brought dozens of scouts to the corner of Hamline and Randolph avenues, Schwab did the same, awing the birddogs with his prodigious power and unknowable ceiling. With an impressive showing at the 1992 World Junior Championships where he hit .385 and drove in 11 runs in just 26 at-bats, the Montreal Expos — then known for their adept amateur scouting department — decided to pull the trigger on Schwab as the 18th overall pick, even though other than the international tournament in Mexico, they were only able to judge his talents by his prodigious slugging in the St. Paul City conference.

Schwab arrived in 1993 in the minor leagues and hit .220 with zero home runs. His next season, his average plummeted to .178, and hit only 7 home runs in 410 at-bats while striking out 150 times. Schwab never made it higher than High-A ball, and in his 9 seasons in the minor leagues, only as a 22-year-old in rookie ball did he ever hit better than .224.

My point in the Schwab example isn’t that I think Harper and Schwab are destined for the same fates, but that one of the best assets that Harper has is the unknown presence of his ceiling. Only when you actually see Bryce Harper hitting real pitching, will we know if he can do it. Taking a 16-year-old, regardless of his exploits with an aluminum bat and in batting practice, and moving him to an ultra-competitive junior college baseball program, can only hurt his stock.

Matt Macri, now a farmhand with the Minnesota Twins, was offered a $2 million signing bonus after being named Gatorade’s state player of the year in Iowa. He turned down that money to attend Notre Dame, where he proceeded to hit .206 as a freshman before undergoing Tommy John surgery. Macri hurt his draft stock even more when he went to the Cape Cod League and hit just .172. Macri’s junior season saw him lead the Big East conference in runs and hits while being named its top third baseman, but the damage was done. Macri fell to the fifth round of the MLB draft, signing for only a fraction of what he was offered as a high schooler.

Often times college football quarterbacks are penalized by their body of work on the field. Recent players like Matt Leinart, Aaron Rodgers and Brady Quinn fell in the draft, mostly because scouts had disected enough tape to find reasons not to draft them. Raw projectible quarterbacks, most recently first-round pick Josh Freeman, still find their way to the first round because while they haven’t had experience, they show the tools needed to succeed.

I have no problems with Harper’s family and their decision to allow their 16-year-old son to leave high school early to get better at baseball. Bryce’s father Ron is absolutely correct when he says “We’re preparing him for college. That’s the priority. He’s very bored in school… We spoke with his counselor, his principal and his coach, and they agreed he’s ready for this.”

My problem lies in the logic.

One Response

  1. I was wondering if you think Bryce Harper will go to the Washington Nationals as the 2010’s 1st pick? Leni from Bryce Harper Baseball

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