Saturday, February 19, 2011

Bryce Harper

Bryce Harper has been called everything from prodigy to the chosen one of baseball. If he continues to become a baseball legend he is off to a good start. The phenom took an impressive first step last summer by being drafted first overall in the Major League Baseball draft.

Harper honed his hitting skills growing up playing in select baseball tournaments around the country. He became a baseball mercenary receiving calls from various teams to play in one weekend tournament after another.  Often he played against older competition and soon his talents shone through as one of the best.

His Freshman season at Las Vegas High School produced the stellar results of batting .590 with 11 home runs and 67 RBI in 68 games. That summer he played on the 16 and under USA National team where he hit .571 with 4 home runs, 16 RBI, 16 runs, and 6 SB in 8 games. Then he was thrust into the spotlight with the Sports Illustrated cover story.

He lived up to the hype his sophomore season batting .626 with 14 home runs, 55 RBI and 36 SB. The fact he spent most of his time as a catcher made those numbers more impressive. A power hitting catcher with speed is a rare commodity. That summer he played on the 18 and under USA National team and hit .294 with 2 home runs, 12 RBI, 9 runs and 2 SB.

To that point Harper had amassed an impressive resume for a left handed power hitter that included the longest homerun on record at Tropicana Field in Tampa with a blast of 502 feet. In a high school game he had another monster bomb of 570 feet. That gave him the confidence to take his talents to the next level when he got his GED and enrolled in junior college with the master plan of entering the MLB draft early.

When he should have been playing his junior year in high school Harper played at the College of Southern Nevada. The fact that the team used wood bats in conference play was another bonus to entice the pro scouts. Harper shined with an offensive onslaught where he hit .443 with 31 home runs, 98 RBI, 98 runs and 20 SB in 66 games. One minor flaw was he struggled some behind the plate only throwing out only 6 of 40 runners that attempted to steal. 

The 2010 MLB draft came in June with the Washington Nationals making the no-brainer decision of selecting Harper first overall. Then the Nationals made another decision by declaring that Harper would start out his career as an outfielder because that appears to be the quickest was to get his bat to the majors. Harper had played some outfield in high school and at Southern Nevada so it shouldn't be a difficult transition. When he does reach the majors it is possible he could spend some time behind the plate again.

After going through the Nationals fall instructional league Harper got his first experience of pro ball by being selected to participate in the Arizona Fall League. He honed his outfield skills only playing a couple games a week while playing on the Scottsdale Scorpions taxi squad. In nine games he hit .343 with 1 home run, 7 RBI, 6 runs and 1 SB.

It is speculated that Harper will start the 2011 campaign in A ball with the Potomac Nationals. How quickly he rises will depend on his phenomenal bat. Keep hitting and they will have no choice to promote him. 

Who will be the next young superstar to catch baseball's eye? I believe it is Derek "Bubba" Starling of Gardner, Kansas. He is tabbed as the number one high school prospect by many and some speculate he has a chance to be the number one selection in the 2012 MLB draft.

While they don't play as many games in a season in Kansas as the warmer weather climates Starling has put up impressive numbers his first two seasons of high school ball. As a sophomore he hit .580 with 9 home runs, 19 RBI and 29 runs in 18 games. His junior season saw him hit .508 with 8 home runs, 24 RBI, 33 runs and 21 SB in 21 games. He also gained attention as a pitcher going 3-2 with a 1.89 ERA, 53 strikeouts, only 7 walks over 37 innings.

That summer Bubba played in the 2010 Tournament of Stars where All Star teams of eight different organizations faced off. His AABC team played in the pool with teams representing the American Legion, PONY and RBI. The other pool had teams representing Babe Ruth, Dixie, NABF and USA Stars. These were the cream of the cream and there were some with the opinion that Bubba was the best of all of them.

Starling continued his summer being selected to the 18 and under USA National team. He did well hitting .339 with 3 home runs, 12 RBI, 20 runs and 3 SB over 19 games. He also spent a little time on the mound pitching 4.1 innings over 3 games with a 0.00 ERA, 7 strikeouts and one walk. 

A tough decision lies ahead for Starling as he has signed a letter of intent to play football and baseball at the University of Nebraska. Yet if he plays well enough to be drafted in the first round, let alone number one over all, the millions will be hard to pass up. I have seen a few mock drafts that believe he could go as low as 11th to the Houston Astros. If given the opportunity I believe the Kansas City Royals would be remiss to pass on the local legend at their fifth spot. 

Two young talents with bright futures indeed!!