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Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The Scoop on Bryce Harper

Perfect Game Staff        
Bryce Harper has received an unusual amount of attention from the media this past year. Most visible was the front cover story in Sports Illustrated. That story was very interesting, but it portrayed a young baseball player who can do no wrong. A young Superman of sorts, who has unbelievable power, a 96 mph fastball and as fast as a speeding bullet. While very entertaining, the story was not totally accurate.

Harper is one of the best young prospects we have seen in a long time. And we have seen most every young top prospect over the past 15 years. He grades out very high on the MLB scouting scale in both the power and arm departments. He is a very good young catcher, but like all young catchers, he has some things to learn. He is an excellent hitter, but no hitter alive is perfect. The mental aspect of hitting is just as important as the physical side of hitting. And just in the interest of accuracy, Bryce is an average runner, far from a plus speed player. He runs well, especially for a catcher, but speed is not his strong suit. Bryce has the physical ability to do amazing things, but we must remember that he is a 16 year old boy.

Bryce Harper holds the Jackie Robinson Award after being honored at the Aflac Banquet in San Diego. From the Left are Ozzie Smith (Honorary Chairman of the Aflac Game), Sonya Pankey (Jackie Robinson's Granddaughter) and Dan Fleishman (Aflac's vice president of corporate sponsorship)

During Aflac week, we noticed some unusual things, even so far as Aflac All Americans are concerned. First of all, Harper is the youngest player ever to play in the Aflac Game. He stood out in many ways as its obvious his skills are far beyond his age level. The talk of him being the first pick of next year’s draft are premature. It might turn out that way or it might not.

We certainly played a role in young Bryce Harper’s legendary status. In 2005 as a 12 year old, he became the youngest player to ever attend a Perfect Game Showcase. Here is the short report listed in his pgcrosschecker file.

Bryce Harper is a 2011 C/P/SS from Las Vegas, NV, with a 6'0'', 180 lb. frame. He has a solid, athletic frame and showed a lot of athletic ability all over the field. He had a powerful, balanced approach, as Bryce showed a short, aggressive swing with good lift and stayed inside the ball well. He hit 2 HR's during the games. He showed solid fielding actions in the IF and had a quiet approach behind the plate with good feet and blocked well.

The long report is much more revealing, mentioning that he was the best prospect there, but we didn’t grade him because of his age. After all, he was 12 years old at the time. His numbers included running a 7.90 in the 60. A pop time of 2.1 (amazing for a 12 year old), his velocity throwing to 2B was 72 mph. He also pitched and played shortstop. His fastball velocity was 79 mph.

Over the next couple years we watch Bryce Harper at several different events. Including a great showing in the Area Code Games. Some will claim that he was the best prospect at the Area Codes when he was 14-15 years old.

Harper played in the PG WWBA 18U National Tournament when he was a freshman in high school. One scouting director came up and said, there might be 15 first rounders or more here, but the best player here is a damn freshman. Harper also played in the 17 U PG WWBA Championship.

As a freshman (class of 2011) he played in the PG 2010 Grads National Showcase. He was the best player there, in spite of being the youngest. Here is the short report in his pgcrosschecker file.

Bryce Harper is a 2011 C/P/Ss with a 6'2", 185 lb frame from Las Vegas, NV who attends Las Vegas High School. Great athletic strong baseball body, very aggressive swing, glides into it, plus bat speed, long through zone, good extension, power hitter, ball jumps off bat, takes hands to ball well, nice deep load, attacks ball, open stance, very quick transfer, plus footwork, extremely strong arm, Top Prospect.

The confidential long report mentions him as a potential first pick of the 2011 draft and that he’d be a first round pick now as a freshman in high school if he were eligible. Those words are tough to release to the public. The naysayers would have a good time with that type of hype.

Harper also participated in the PG/Aflac Showcase in LA. He bounced back and forth from the Area Code Games to USC for this event. Once again he stood out. Here is the short report from that event.

Bryce Harper is a 2011 C/P/SS with a 6'3'', 195 lb. frame from Las Vegas, NV who attends Las Vegas high school. Then comes this one from Las Vegas. We did a story a while back about young Bryce Harper. It's all true! He is the #1 prospect in the 2011 class and that's not likely to change. Plus arm, no plus plus arm! Quickness and agility. Only a 2011 but probably the best high school hitting prospect in the country right now. Extreme power. Unlimited ceiling! Not sure there has been anyone to compare him to at the same age.

This was the first bit of hype that caused people who read PG reports to stir a bit. Harper attended a home run contest in Tampa and hit a home run (with metal bat) that some claim was the longest ever at Tropicana Field. The legend grows! Bryce then was featured on the front cover of Sports Illustrated. The story called him the “Chosen One” and compared him to Lebron James of all people. We are baseball people, but I’ve never seen a youth baseball player that I would compare to Lebron James as a basketball player. Anyway, all the hype made Bryce Harper the most famous youth baseball player who ever lived. Most of the hype was very much deserved, some was simply an exaggeration. It was all very interesting, but what a load to place on a 16 year old kid.

Fast forward to this year’s Aflac Classic. From day one it was obvious that things were much different this year. One of the big differences was Bryce Harper. Here he is, playing with and against the best high school prospects in the country. Finally, he is going to be on national television, for all to observe. People will be expecting to see the impossible. Once the game is over, the self anointed experts will pick his game apart unless he does the unbelievable. Publications with a reputation for honesty and integrity will base their opinions on this one game. None will mention that this is the first time they have ever seen him play. They probably won’t mention the extreme pressure involved when everywhere the young kid goes the autograph hunters are lined up. We wondered if his team mates understood how much interest he created in the game and the cause. Bryce was there not because of baseball alone. He was there because he cared about the cause and young kids suffering from cancer. All the hype, well, he didn’t ask for any of it.

Is Bryce Harper confident? Absolutely, he is as confident as any young player we have ever seen. Is he cocky? Yes, he does have a little cockiness. Yet, he hands out praise much easier than he accepts it. When interviewed he would bring up how good the other players were. One thing we have always noticed about the very best is that they have no problem praising others of the same caliber. They don’t compare things, they see things very clearly without bias. The very best don't spend any time being envious of others.  After being chosen as the 2009 Jackie Robinson Award winner, Harper was humble. He also went straight to his father, Ron, and they hugged closely for several minutes. After all, the Jackie Robinson Award is the highest honor in high school baseball.

Most of the players involved in the Aflac Game, didn’t get the whole story regarding Bryce Harper. Some didn’t understand that everywhere he appeared this year turned into a mini media circus. They didn’t know him well enough to figure out his personality or sense of humor. But when he threw out a base runner trying to steal in the first inning at Petco Park, you could see that these players appreciated that kind of ability. Talented players appreciate talent! They know when something unusual happens! Most of the writers, not the scouts, jumped on the 3 strike outs and two ground outs in the game. Some even mentioned some catching flaws. People need to disregard much of what is written by those who don’t understand talent. Scouts surely noticed how he made pitchers better and that he blocked every ball with runners on base. All this while catching the best and highest velocity pitchers in the country who he had never caught before. His catching really stood out in the game, yet there are always a few who just don’t see what might be so obvious to others. Also, there’s no doubt that these high profile pitchers put out a little extra when Harper was at the plate. The last time we saw a potential number one pick strike out three times in an Aflac Game? Justin Upton! That was about five years ago. Justin also won the Jackie Robinson Award. He did in fact become the first pick of the draft and he also played in the All Star game this year.

Lupe Cruz is a business man from California. He coached Bryce for several years in youth baseball and became a mentor for Bryce. Lupe’s son Erick was on those teams and he and Bryce developed a very close friendship. Bryce was scheduled to attend an event in Fenway Park at the same time the Aflac Game was scheduled. Bryce was honored to be selected an Aflac All American but he was torn because of the previous commitment. It was Lupe and Erick that helped Bryce Harper decide where he needed to be. Erick is also a very talented player and a definite DI type prospect. However, the past year Erick received some very sobering news. We asked Erick if he wanted to write something to the Aflac All Americans. Here is what he wrote…

To All The Aflac All Americans,

There are a few of you who know me as a friend and a pretty good baseball player. As a baseball player on the West Coast I have had the pleasure of playing with some pretty good players including some in this room. I was a team mate for a short season with Stefan Sabol and what seems like a life time friend of mine Bryce Harper who hit a 245 foot home run off of me when we were 8 years old. By the way Bryce has been hitting prodigious shots since I have known him back then.

But I am not sending this message to my friends I am sending it to you all who have worked so hard to be the players you are. A year ago this month I had just finished my freshman season at Claremont High school where I started every game on the varsity baseball squad and was enjoying life.

We had just returned from our summer tournament at East Cobb with ABD when I felt ill and woke up with a swollen neck. To make a long story short I was diagnosed with lymphoblastic leukemia, needless to say my whole world just stopped for a minute because I did not want to believe my future was about to change. That’s how fast it happens.

Well since a year ago I have spent about four months in the hospital along with going to the doctor practically every week for a year receiving chemotherapy both in pill form and liquid form to go along with radiation and let me tell you it is no fun. I consider myself the luckiest guy now because I am in remission.

Other children have not been so lucky and need help from people like you. Although you were picked as the best ball players in the country you were also picked because you are great ambassadors as well. The Cancer society needs more and more ambassadors to help find a cure and help children live a long life. All of you just being here have contributed to these kids already. Going forward we hope you continue to help anyway you can.

Good luck at the game and I hope to see you guys on the field soon.

Erick Cruz

You see, Bryce Harper was at this year’s Aflac All American Classic because he wanted to help. It was Lupe and Erick that meant so much to him. People can judge what they want regarding all the media attention and hype. The truth is Bryce Harper helped draw the biggest crowd ever to attend an Aflac Game. He was at least partially responsible for the huge television audience. This was more important than a baseball game to Bryce Harper. He could have done much better, he could have been pissed off and headed to the clubhouse, but he didn’t. Harper and Tony Wolters (Game MVP) stayed on the field and signed autographs for everyone until they were forced to leave by officials. How come no one wrote that anywhere?

Scouting Report from the Aflac Classic…

Bryce Harper…
Harper was the focal point of many scouts (record turn out) including some MLB GMs all week in San Diego. First thing anyone notices is that he has a much leaner look than some might expect. At 6’3/195 he has an ideal pro body that should get even stronger over the next couple years. He carries himself well and looks the part. Next thing that stands out is his arm. This is as good an arm as you will ever see on a young catcher. Next thing that stands out is the bat speed he creates. There’s no question that he has plus power and he’s going to hit home runs. His hitting ability was best shown in BP this week when he would hit line drives to all fields at will. Then he would show some serious power and bounce a few off the building behind the right field wall at USD.

The only thing we noticed and it’s easy to understand. Harper was lunging forward a bit early. We think it was because normal home runs or line drives just don’t seem to be enough anymore. People are expecting the ball to travel over 500’. Bryce seemed to be over swinging that little bit that gets you off the ball. It’s a product of trying to do the impossible against the best pitching in the country. After all, people don’t expect anything normal when Bryce Harper is at the plate. We think Bryce might have got caught up in doing the amazing rather than just letting his amazing talent take charge. Scouts understand, but sometimes the general public doesn’t. All that counts is what you see, but some people see things differently. What we saw was an amazing talented young player who had a lackluster day at the plate. If we had a season of 162 Aflac Games, the talent would take over.

In the end… It’s our opinion that Bryce Harper has been over hyped. However, in no way has Bryce Harper’s ability (withstanding running speed) been over rated in the least. We are going to hear a lot about Bryce Harper for many years to come. Everybody might just as well get used to it. That includes Bryce himself!

Will he be the first pick next June? Who cares?
Does he have first pick ability? Absolutely!

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