He’s the LeBron James of baseball, we’re told, and his draft is coming up June 7th. He’s seventeen, he’s been on the cover of Sports Illustrated, and he’s already hit the longest ball ever hit at Tropicana Field (albeit not in game competition), a 502-foot shot. Moreover, before the reader starts rattling off the names of baseball’s great draft busts (yeah, yeah, Danny Goodwin, Matt Bush, et al.), he or she is advised to Google the name Bryce Harper, and take a look at the videos available.
This guy’s frightening.
Once again this year the Washington Nationals have the number one pick in the coming MLB draft, and hard as it is to believe, this year’s pick (they say they’ll take Harper) may actually overshadow last year’s. For the kids in the back of the class who have fallen asleep, last year’s pick was Stephen Strasburg, the San Diego State fireballer. Strasburg is widely expected to arrive in Washington in about four seconds. Some feel that Harper will be ready in about eight. He should be a high school junior, but he hurriedly finished a GED to attend junior college, and thus, is eligible for the MLB draft. And mull this over: Strasburg can’t pitch every day; Harper is an everyday player.
And he just may be ready as well.
It is one thing, of course, to throw 103 mph as Strasburg does, but the 6’3″, 205-pound Harper has also been quickly building his own Bunyanesque legend. By the time he was a high school freshman, he was already recognized as the best prep player in his native Nevada. Nominally a catcher, he quickly became a player exhibiting five tools-plus. (He also pitched, featuring a fastball that topped 90 mph.) It is at the College of Southern Nevada, however, that Harper has posted the numbers that are as eye-opening as Bunyan’s Babe, a blue ox.
Southern Nevada may not ring a bell for some, but as the Philadelphia Daily News’ senior columnist Bill Conlin notes, the junior college is the top-ranked baseball school in a network that might be called MLB U. Some juco conferences actually use wooden bats to prepare their hitters for their professional careers, and Southern Nevada plays in such a conference. However, in a game running up to the Junior College World Series, which began this past Saturday in Grand Junction, CO, Harper used an aluminum bat for the first time in his college “career.” The result? A double, a triple and four home runs – and ten RBI. In his overall time in a Southern Nevada Coyote uniform, Harper has put up numbers that seem to belong to that kid on every other Little League team who, opponents suspect, isn’t really twelve years old. Against players generally a year to five years older than he is, Nevada’s A-Bomb has hit .442 with 29 home runs in 62 games. He has averaged 1.44 RBI per game.
So, what will happen once Harper goes pro? Conlin suggests that he isn’t actually Superman, but that he may well be Superman as a Smallville teen. He carefully notes, “Some scouts believe he is a corner outfielder, period. Others believe that holes in his swing will be exploited….” That “others” seems a key word choice. Conlin has seen Harper swing a bat – this is doubtless – and that swing is superbly balanced, scarily level, powerful, and consistent. It is a long swing, but is there “a hole” in it? Maybe not. Besides, Willie Stargell had a hole in his swing; Ryan Howard has one in his.
Legend has it that Harper hit a 570-foot home run at the age of fifteen. This feat may fall into that category comprising the 700-foot missile that Lou Gehrig supposedly launched in an exhibition game against the University of Texas and the 400-foot bomb Ryan Howard is said to have hit at the age of twelve (or six, depending on who’s telling the story). All of these figures are a bit doubtful, but they all accurately indicate that the hitters involved hit balls a very long way. At the same event that Harper hit his 502-foot bomb in Florida, he also propelled balls 461, 477 and 485 feet.
In a couple of years, right about the time that the Phillies core begins to disintegrate, there may well be a battery in Washington that inspires this amazing plea from other NL teams:
“Break up the Nats!”
“Bryce Harper hits 502 ft. baseball home run in the 2009 Power Showcase.” youtube.com. 28 May 2010.
Conlin, Bill. “There’s nothing li’l about Harper’s act.” Philadelphia Daily News 27 May 2010: 66.
Groke, Nick. “‘LeBron of baseball’ visits Western Slope.” denverpost.com. 28 May 2010.