The Washington Nationals have made several moves over the past week indicating that their interest in Bryce Harper is extremely high, and they may be zeroing in on the 17-year-old phenom. In 51 games Harper is batting .417/.507/.899 with 21 homers, 64 RBI and 16 stolen bases. He has been the most valuable player on a club that has gone 42-10 this season.
Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post reports that Nats General Manager Mike Rizzo flew to Las Vegas to watch Harper play this weekend. Harper went 4-6 in two games this weekend, scoring three runs and driving in two more. Rizzo told Bill Ladson of MLB.com:
"He played great. He has great energy, great tools and he is one of the five or six guys we are talking about taking with the first pick. He has great bat speed and great leverage power. He is already comfortable with the wooden bat."
Regardless of whether or not the Nationals are going to take Harper, Rizzo wouldn't be doing his job if he didn't go and watch the player who is widely considered the most valuable prospect in the draft. The Nats GM however has insisted that they have no questions about his make up (seemingly Harpers biggest down side), and that they are impressed with his ability.
It looks like they are set to draft the kid, and they should. A 17-year-old, with a wood bat, putting up numbers like that against college students is phenomenal. This term gets thrown out a lot, even last year with Strasburg, but he truly is a once in a generation hitting talent. At this point in the game Harper is so much more advanced than guys like Ken Griffey Jr. and Alex Rodriguez were at the same age. The only think left to worry about is the money.
SI.Com's Jon Heyman reports that Bryce Harper, who is advised by Scott Boras, will look to break the $15.67 million mark that Stephen Strasburg earned from the Nationals last summer. However Heyman indicates that while both players are considered incredible talents, they are at very different points in their careers and the negotiations could go in a variety of different directions. Most notably, Strasburg is a player who was a mature junior in college, and was widely considered a finished product. He should be helping the Nationals win games by June. Harper on the other hand is 17 and is less of a "lock" to be in the majors immediately.
To me the biggest difference is youth and eligibility. Harper, 17, can either return to community college for another year, or transfer and go to a division one school to prove his talents yet again. Were the Nationals to draft him, Harper could demand as much money as he wanted. If he doesn't get it he could simply go back and play more.
Strasburg on the other hand had nothing left to prove at the college level. As a pitcher, the years he has to earn money off his arm are limited, so it made more sense for him to sign after his junior season. Harper theoretically can play until he is 40, especially if he moves from catcher to outfield. The only reason Harper has to sign for less money than he wants to this season is to 1. become the youngest number one overall ever, and 2. try and make the majors before he turns 20.
While the Nationals would certainly like to draft and sign Harper, if they do not they still have options. Aside from Harper, the 2010 draft is considered far less talented than the 2011. If they are not able to sign the 17-year-old catcher, they will get a compensatory number two overall pick in the 2011 draft, to go along with whatever draft pick they will earn when 2010 is finished.