With the Pirates falling apart right before our eyes, it makes sense that focus is really turning to the 2010 draft. That makes sense if Bryce Harper is half the prospect everyone says he is (I’ve wanted to write this post since well before both Pittsburgh papers wrote about Bryce Harper on Sunday). The problem is that Bryce Harper terrifies me.
Look at how Boras is talking to the Nationals about Stephen Strasburg. Talking about how the system is broken, how Strasburg wants to set a precedent, etc. etc. It’s possible that that sort of talking Boras huffing and puffing and hoping the Nats play his game and that even if they don’t, Strasburg will take what the Nats are offering (it is supposed to be quite substantial afterall) at 11:59 or so on Monday night.
That’s a potential outcome because as good as Strasburg is, his leverage as a 21-year old college pitcher has its limits. That’s not to say he’s not a great prospect, because he is. He’s about the most impressive college pitching prospect I can remember (though to be fair, the other two that immediately jump to mind are Mark Prior and Kris Benson) and that’s worth something. But he throws 101 mph and everyone that’s ever thrown as hard as he does has encountered serious arm problems. Every pitch he throws for the St. Paul Saints or the Fort Worth Cats is one that he’s not getting paid what he could be getting paid and with the nature of pitching prospects, that’s risky. Both Strasburg and Boras know that because they do, Strasburg is certainly more likely to sign than not tomorrow.
Bryce Harper is an entirely different set of circumstances and that’s what makes me so nervous about him. He’ll be 17 next year, he’s a position player, and he’s got more hype behind him than any prospect in baseball history (which says something in this day and age). He will literally have more leverage on whatever team picks him than any draft pick in baseball history.
What’s scary about Harper is his age. He can sign if he wants, but he can do anything if he doesn’t. Maybe Boras’s insinuations about Japan seem like a joke in regard to Strasburg, but Harper could go to Japan for five years and come back and he’d only be 22. What happens to a high school kid who doesn’t sign and doesn’t go to college? I’m sure there are loopholes here and Harper is the exact client that Boras can probe for those loopholes with. And since he’s so young, he can do it without really even threatening his career.
This is all speculation on my part, of course. I don’t know what’s going to happen with Harper next year. Hell, I don’t even know that the Pirates will finish with the worst record in baseball this year. But I do know that Boras has been rumbling about re-defining the way the draft works for several years now and he’ll never have a better opportunity to do so than he does with Harper.