Bryce Harper might be the next “Natural.”
Here is a great Trivia question for the Day:
Question: Who currently owns the record for the longest Home Run in Tropicana Field?
In January 2009 I attended the Power Showcase International High School Home Run Derby exhibition in Tropicana Field where the top 70 players came from 10 countries to participate in the event. You could tell how many professional baseball scouts were there by the laptops and the portable Juggs guns looking for that next star to step out of the High School ranks and make their mark. But under their breath several were there to check out the phenom some people have called “Baseball’s LeBron.”
Bryce Harper has been getting notice for about a year now for his tremendous hitting (2008 Nevada Batting Champion) and skills behind the plate (All-State catching selection for Nevada), but here he was up against some of the best of the High School players in the world. Oh, did I fail to mention the guy is only 16-years old and only a Sophomore in High School playing amongst the big boys here. I included the video above to illustrate that this kid might have outgrow his present level of competition.
During this free event in Tropicana Field I saw the 16-year old hit some balls that would have made both Jonny Gomes and Carlos Pena stand up on the top steps of the dugout and clap for the kid. During the event there were several players who hit monster shots to rightfield and centerfield, Harper even hit one ball right above the Tropicana Field big screen for a 461 foot shot early in his first round. But the kid also did something no other hitter did in this tourney when he hit an opposite field HR in the event.
And that was only the beginning as he also hit a 477 foot and 485 foot rocket to the left of the Bright House sign in rightfield. And he was just getting started in the event. But this kid is no stranger to playing against better competition and making himself better. He was in the 2008 Area Code Games in California usually reserved for High School juniors and seniors and while hitting with a wooden bat, he still outpaced and outhit players two years his senior in the event.
Some people are calling him a hitter for the next generation already because of his tremendous bat speed, which is already quicker than slugger Mark McGwire in his prime, plus his speed and agility on the field. But the real problem here is not that the kid can play, or that maybe the next level is the right move for him, but his current age of 16 might make him a desired prospect in Latin America or other ports in the World, but in the United States, it keeps you from even being considered for the MLB First Year Player draft.
So what do you do if you have the talent and the ability to light up a scoreboard and get the crowd on your feet, do you wait your two years knowing you will go in the First Round, or do you look for other options. Well, Harper and his parents are looking at option “B” right now.
For the young star to even be considered even for the 2010 draft he would have to complete his GED studies and then be admitted into a Junior College this fall. Another option could have been to move outside the boundaries of the United States to some Carribean hot spot like the Dominican Republic and then be considered without question for the 2010 draft.
I personally view that as a quick fix by him to get his eligibility for the draft and a better level of competition to further showcase or improve his skill levels. Sure by bypassing his last two years of High School he will get a shot at playing at another level and seeing if he is really ready to take that huge step up into considering the major leagues in 2010.
The JUCO ranks have many fantastic institutions that have very esteemed baseball programs. Who knows, maybe even the Howard College Hawks ,the2009 JUCO World Series Champion might have a spot on their roster for the young phenom.
But something seems to be missing here. Something that I know most of us cherish and treasured out of our last two years in High School. They are fundamental things that those two years will take from his life and personal development. I mean, I know that multi-millions could be on his doorstep in June 2010, but you just can’t replace some things in your life with money or a professional contract.
I am not saying that missing a Senior Prom or a Homecoming dance will tarnish him, but they are major social steps in a young person’s life. Those last two years in that environment does set you up better for some of life’s pratfalls.
I had talent in school both at the college and High School level, but I would never have thought of such a thing because of my family commitment to a college education. That made even the fantasy thought of an action like Harper’s not just suicidal because my Father would have buried me in the clay infield, but socially it would have been a culture shock of mammoth proportions for me to go from a rowdy Marine Biology class to a minor league locker room in less than one year.
I know his parents have vowed to be there every step of the way to keep him out of trouble and even steer him towards the right direction if needed. But I remember another young player who’s parents were so into his baseball life and one tragic event in his career almost ruined him for life.
People in and around baseball thought the same thing about Josh Hamilton before a simple truck accident coming back from a Spring Training game derailed his career via drugs, seedy friends and a travel down one of the darkest roads of his life.
I am not predetermining the same or any variation of it for Harper, but the reality is there for all to see. Hamilton finally got his path righted and began to transform himself back into a model MLB player. But he lost valuable playing time and career numbers battling something most people did not see in the light of day by him.
You can also point towards Robin Yount, Ken Griffey Junior as examples of the opposite, but they finished their High School careers even if the prize was out there for them to pick off the tree at 16-years of age.
One mistake can ruin your high flying goals and aspirations. I am not here to question his parents motives or even the influence they might have on Bryce, but Hamilton used to rely heavily on his parent’s influence and advice, and when it was not there, he started towards the darkness.
16-years of age is a wild time in a young man’s life. Not only does your body get to go through more changes, you get to piece yourself together to become the kind of person you want to be in your life. I know if you asked Harper right now his answer would be a professional baseball player.
But do the thrills and rewards outweigh the development of this guy into even a more prolific hitting machine, or will he be the next Paul Wilder, who was a 1998 First Round pick of the Rays and never rose above the Class-A level of baseball. It is going to be a slippery next 12 months for the young phenom with pitfa
lls and college courses maybe derailing some of his plans.
But in the end, I still see him maybe getting a shot to being only the second person since 1967 to hit a home run before his 19th birthday. The other phenom who got that homer was Yount, who hits his shot in 1974 with the Milwaukee Brewers.
Harper has all the tools and the ability to strive and prosper in the game of baseball. But as I mentioned before, the core support system for him is his family and his religion, which he might be calling on both a lot in the next 12 months to get him through the rough spots. He might just be on the board when the teams pick again in 2010, and he just might be the first guy to step to the podium with MLB Commissioner Bud Selig.
The event at Tropicana Field in 2008 had several great names in High School baseball including a former MLB player son, Dante Bichette Jr. from the Orlando area. But most of all, I am going to remember the phrase he told to Babe Ruth’s granddaughter the first night of the tourney at a banquet at the Hilton in St. Petersburg, Florida. “I am going to win that bat” Harper told her before the event. He went on to hit 6 consecutive homers in section of the event that averaged over 469 feet.
The Answer to the Trivia Question is: Bryce Harper, who hit a 502 foot shot to rightfield that hit above the big screen metal facing just below the Tropicana roof. It is currently the longest hit ball by any hitter in Tropicana Field history. It got him that special bat, the Inaugural Babe Ruth Award for the longest home run in the event. The future is bright for this 16-year old phenom to make his mark in 2009.
All I want to do is watch him hit another round of B P one day in the Trop. Hopefully on that day he will be donning a uniform in the MLB and putting on a show like Mike Piazza did for the home crowd back in 2001 when the New York Mets came here and he put two straight up into the “beach” area of Tropicana Field.