03/26/10 10:00 AM ET
Sky's the limit for teenager Harper
Hard to find flaws in Southern Nevada freshman's game
By Jonathan Mayo / MLB.com
And if you haven't seen him play, undoubtedly you've heard of the legend of Bryce Harper. At times, it may seem like it's reached Paul Bunyan fable status. Would it surprise anyone if there were reports that the 17-year-old phenom swung tree trunks instead of bats, that he could run faster than a speeding bullet, leap over buildings, etc.?
Some of the hype, truth be told, is legitimate. Some of it, not surprisingly, has been blown out of proportion. So let's play part myth-buster, part truth-finder with the most hyped Draft prospect since, well, at least since Stephen Strasburg.
Just who is Bryce Harper? Before breaking that down, though, it's worth taking a second to find out what people around Harper all the time think about him.
"It's pretty funny. One of my coaches... we were sitting out there during intrasquads and he said, 'You know, you were a test tube baby,'" Harper joked. "I said, 'What do you mean?' He said, 'You have everybody in you. You have Jackie Robinson, you have Mickey Mantle, you have Joe Mauer. You have everybody. Your parents just haven't told you yet.' We were just joking around. I have all of those guys in me, I guess. I don't know. I'm Bryce Harper."
Who do scouts really think Bryce Harper is? MLB.com talked at length with a scout who's seen the College of Southern Nevada freshman repeatedly and knows his game in and out.
At the plate
Hitting ability: There's no question that his bat is the thing that excites scouts the most. He's got great hands and a good bat path. Early in the season, he did have some trouble when he was having a mechanical issue at the plate. Coach Tim Chambers described it as him sitting down too much, which would force him to lunge a little bit and get out in front with his core.
That, in turn, meant he was forced to use his arms and shoulders too much in his swing. When he was doing that, hard inside stuff could cause him some trouble. While he was fighting it at times and had to be reminded not to sit back, he had largely corrected it after the first couple of weeks of the season.
"I really don't fight myself a lot," said Harper, who's hitting .420/.514/.864 over 27 games. "You just want to be the guy, and you want to do it every time. I had a little mechanical issue, I guess, but everything's going good now, so I'm not going to change it."
Nor should he, really. Even when he was having the mechanical issue, his ability to use all fields was uncanny.
"Pitches, middle away, he's about as good as I've ever seen. At age 17, to hit the ball to straight away center or to the opposite field like that, with wood, is freaky."
Power: This is where scouts' eyes light up the most. Typically, it's a scout's job to be negative, almost cynical. A guy like Harper gets seen so many times, his slightest weakness will invariably get picked apart. But when it comes to his power, both raw and present, there's really no negative to find. Of his 37 hits, 22 have been for extra bases. On the scouting scale, 80 is the highest grade a player can get in any one tool. Normally, it's about as easy as a figure skater getting a perfect 10 on the old scoring scale.
"He has 80 power at age 17," the scout said. "Guys don't hit the ball out the other way with wood like that. Not even big leaguers. And he does it pretty easy. It's 80 present, 90 in the future. It's off the charts. "I've never seen anything like it. It's hand strength and hand speed more than bat speed."
Running speed/base running: He's a catcher, so the thinking is he's not a runner. To an extent, that's true in that he's not an above-average runner. But considering his size, he moves pretty well.
What he does have, he uses extremely well, so the tool actually plays up. He's very aggressive on the bases, running everything out hard. He'll even steal some bases (He's gone 6-for-8 this season). So while no one will be drafting Harper because of his wheels, his base-running acumen is actually a plus.
Fielding: This is where things start to get a little more varied and interesting. While nearly everyone feels Harper will hit, and hit a lot, at the next level, there isn't a consensus about whether he'll be able to stay behind the plate defensively. His bat will play anywhere, but obviously his value is at its greatest if he can catch.
There are tools there, starting with plus arm strength. He's got a gun, one that used to throw in the 90s when he was on the mound and would work from third or right field, his other possible defensive homes. The problem is that he's got a long arm motion. It seems even longer because he has the tendency to jump to throw, then takes a very long stride. Some see this as something that will keep him from staying there, others see it as correctable, especially given his athleticism.
This week's Draft Reports
|Cameron Bedrosian||East Coweta HS (Ga.)|
|Jesse Biddle||Germantown Friends|
|Kellin Deglan||Langley Blaze (B.C.)|
|Bryan Harper||Coll. of Southern Nevada|
|Bryce Harper||Coll. of Southern Nevada|
|Marcus Littlewood||Pine View HS (Utah)|
|Peter Tago||Dana Hills HS (Calif.)|
As for the other aspects of that part of the game, he's flexible in his lower half and doesn't seem as big as he is behind the plate. He gets really low with a good, wide base. That can sometimes limit a catcher's range, but Harper is very agile behind the plate with excellent lateral movement.
One other flaw he has is a tendency to reach out or lunge for the ball, instead of letting it come to him. Again, that's something some scouts feel he can correct.
"He has the potential to be an above-average catcher," the scout said. "He's raw in terms of technique and fundamentals."
If, though, catching doesn't work out for him, or if a team wants to save his legs and move him, he has the goods to play elsewhere. He isn't as good at third as he is behind the plate, according to some, but keep in mind he hasn't been able to focus at any one position since he's moved around a bunch for CSN.
"I think he could play anywhere except shortstop," the scout said. "He's not great in center field, but if you needed him to, he's not going to hurt you. He could be an above-average right fielder. He's fluid and moves well."
Makeup: The big "M." This, in many ways, might be the most surprising thing about Harper. He's certainly not short on self-confidence, bordering on cockiness. A guy that sure of himself, with that much attention and hype, it would be a logical leap that he's the type who just shows up and lets his natural ability do the work.
It would be an incorrect leap to make. Harper seems to know only one speed and you're not likely to see him not run a ball out or not give maximum effort. And while he has moments -- he did get thrown out of a game the week before last -- he's really handled everything that's been thrown at him fairly well.
"You can't take an at-bat and just jog it out," Harper said. "You have to play it like Pete Rose would, run every ball out, run every ball hard. Hit a popup to the pitcher, make it to second before he catches it. It's all those little things that make you a better player."
"It gets lost in the hype; the guy is a pretty good baseball player," the scout said. "He's not intent to let his bat speak for himself. He's going to get dirty. For a super rockstar, that says a lot.
"There's some hunger there. He wants to be involved. That pushes him to learn and to want to learn the game and the aspects of every position. For a guy who bounces around, he really does a good job. He's a good student. He's not a guy who's content. He wants to be challenged mentally and physically."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.