Monday, June 22, 2009 PTI: Bryce Harper's Decision To Leave School Early

Las Vegas high school sophomore Bryce Harper’s recent decision to earn his GED and enroll in junior college in an effort to enter the 2010 MLB draft instead of completing his junior and senior years of high school and entering the 2011 draft is garnering a lot of media attention. Harper was recently dubbed the LeBron James of baseball as he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated, just like James when he was a high school sophomore. This week, Chris and Adam debate the merits of Harper’s jump from a sophomore in high school to junior college and then the pros as a 16/17 year old.


I think it is a good decision for Bryce to leave High School, but I think doing so may have negative implications for future high rated high school prospects. If I had my way, he would not be permitted to get a GED in place of finishing up high school.

If I were Bryce, I would want to go pro too. That is part of the problem. Everyone wants to go pro and insure their big bucks before something bad happens. But it is one thing for Harper, a "sure thing" to leave high school early, and quite another for other players who want to follow his lead. For every Kobe Bryant or LeBron James who went straight from high school to the NBA and enjoyed success, there are a dozen or more young basketball players who lost their chance to play in the NBA. These players were once top 10 prospects in the country, being recruited by every college in the US. Now they are out of the NBA, and their college opportunities have disappeared. This is a shame. This is the problem with leaving school early for the big bucks.

I personally think Bryce Harper will be successful in the big leagues. If he is, there will likely be dozens of high school baseball players who want to follow in his footsteps and go pro before finishing their high school education. They will never experience a senior year of high school, and wont even think of going to college. They are passing up the opportunity to use baseball as a tool to better themselves by getting a free education.

And that's not all. Going through high school and college helps young people mature. Most people go into high school very immature, and come out adults ready for the real world. After that, those who are fortunate enough to attend college grow even more. College also provides an opportunity to become educated, and to develop a trade or skill.

I just hope this doesnt open up a can of worms that causes a bunch of young prospects to blow their chances of being successful. Not everyone is ready for the big leagues at age 20, much less 17 or 18. Rushing the growth process is a dangerous precedent that could ruin many careers of some of the potentially best young players. We have seen this in basketball already. Even worse, these kids who go pro at an early age are not just rushing their baseball growth process, but their personal growth process. If they fail, they will be out of baseball with no education to fall back on. They will have one major failure under their belt and will go from being adored as the next great prospect, to Roy Munson. This could be hard to deal with for young kids that have not experienced much in life. I just think it is a bad idea for kids to forego education to ensure the big bucks.


This is the best move Harper can make. He is the best amateur prospect in the United States, if not the world. Every team in the Majors would be thrilled to have him in their system now. Harper is a 5-tool player that can also pitch and scouts have not yet discovered a weakness in his game.

Credentials: Harper is already 6’3” and 205 pounds at 16 years old. He is going to develop more as he matures and should be able to add even more muscle to his frame, although he probably doesn’t need it. As a pitcher, Harper already commands a 96 MPH fastball and the stories of his power are Bunyanesque. Harper allegedly hit a home run 570 feet when he was a freshman in high school, albeit with an aluminum bat.

A second baseman literally dove out of the way of a Harper line drive earlier this season, and Harper won the International Power Showcase, a high school home run derby, at the Trop in Tampa Bay including a 502 foot blast that is still the longest in the history of the stadium (watch it here; MLB power hitters Fred McGriff, Jose Canseco, Evan Longoria, and Carlos Pena have all called the Trop home but trail this 16 year old phenom for top honors). Check out his highlight video here. Harper hit 14 home runs this season. Arm, check. Power, check.

What about speed? Harper has 36 stolen bases this season and has scored 6 times this season on passed balls… from second base. I have seen that happen twice in my life, both times in the majors with speed demons Kenny Lofton and Jacoby Ellsbury pulling it off. This kid can fly. I played in high school with an outfielder named Antone DeJesus (currently in Double-A ball for the Cardinals) who is the fastest ballplayer I have ever seen. He stole 30+ bases every year of high school and I never saw him take two bases on a passed ball. Ok, so he has speed. With that type of speed I can only assume he has the defensive range to be an above average defender.

However, because he is a catcher, that is tough to determine. At the same time, we now have a 16 year old with a 96 MPH fastball, 30+ home run and stolen base potential, and he plays the most demanding position on the diamond. And with that cannon arm, I can’t imagine too many runners stealing off of him. Finally, that brings us to hitting for average, something Harper has done his whole life. His average this year for Las Vegas high school was .626 (he hit .590 with 11 home runs as a freshman). Harper has such a pure, easy swing (in the home run derby video in Tampa, it doesn’t look like he is swinging hard) that it isn’t hard envisioning him as a Joe Mauer type hitter with more power and steals.

Why this is a good move: As I just discussed, this kid has all of the ability to be a Major League all-star in 3 years. With all of this potential and hype, Harper needs to take advantage and get to professional baseball as quickly as possible. He could wait an extra year by playing two more years of high school, but that could hurt him in many ways. First off, Harper is not going to gain anything by playing against high school competition. This would be like Albert Pujols deciding to play all season in A-ball and hitting .600 with 80 home runs. He isn’t going to get any better and he may digress into bad habits because the game will be too easy for him. If he goes to junior college, even if he only hits .275 with 15 home runs the season would still be a success. He would be improving his game against better competition and a 17 year old putting up those numbers in college is still impressive and shouldn’t hurt his draft position. Second, playing only one more year instead of two before the draft can benefit Harper in two ways. He cuts the time frame for him to suffer a serious injury in half because he only has to make it through one season healthy instead of two. Right now, if he can get through next season healthy, he is guaranteed a signing bonus that should hit 8 figures (that’s $10+ million) and could approach $20 or $30 million. Whatever San Diego State star Stephen Strasburg gets from the Nationals should set the bar for Harper (some scouts have said that Harper would be picked ahead of Strasburg if they were in the same draft class). Why risk losing that by playing an extra year of high school ball that won’t benefit his game at all? Second, one less season also means that there is less of a chance that someone exposes a flaw in Harper’s game that could cost him the top spot in the draft. I know that the competition will be harder at the junior college level so Harper’s numbers could (probably/definitely will) decrease, but like I said, I don’t think scouts will be dissuaded to much by a 17 year old putting up above average numbers in junior college. But if Harper falls to a .300 or .350 average in either of the next two high school seasons, it could seriously jeopardize his draft position.

In a risk and reward type scenario, Harper’s decision to play at the junior college level next season minimizes that risk that he could lose the #1 draft spot and the guaranteed fortune that will accompany it. Once he secures that paycheck, he can always return to college if he washes out in the minors or a few years after making the majors. This may be Harper’s only chance to earn that kind of money and he should do everything he can to take advantage of it.
I am not suggesting that the average athlete should make this jump. Most (let’s be honest, basically all) other players do not have the skills to make this move. Even Strasburg didn’t develop into the player he is until he was at San Diego State and conditioned better. But Harper can, and should, do it. The scary thing is, with as bad as the Nationals are this season, they could conceivably sport a battery of Strasburg and Harper in a few years. That could make baseball in Washington relevant, but it may also result in $75+ million in signing bonuses, which Bud Selig would hate.

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rakeback said...

The #1 picks in baseball have historically not produced great results. The names Brien Taylor and Ben McDonald immediately come to mind. I think this kid has all the talent in the world a la Josh Hamilton, but he is far from a sure thing!

free turnkey poker sites said...

The hype on Bryce Harper is just starting. He is finally playing pro ball, and it seems like he has all the skills that made Josh Hamilton so highly regarded out of high school.