District on Deck’s 2012 Top 15 Nationals Prospects: #1 Bryce Harper


Name: Bryce Harper

Date of Birth: October 16, 1992

Bats/Throws: Left/Right

Height: 6’3″

Weight: 225

Harper was originally drafted by the Washington Nationals in 2010. The consensus top talent entering the draft, he was selected #1 overall in the 1st Round out of the Community College of Southern Nevada (Henderson, NV). Harper was just 17 years old at the time, having completed his high school diploma early in order to enroll at the Junior College that Spring, pushing his Draft eligibility up by a full year. His older brother, Bryan, was also on the CCSN team that season. Bryan, a left-handed pitcher, had been drafted two years prior (31st Round, Washington) and was drafted that same year (15th Round, Chicago Cubs) but did not sign either time. He’d be taken once again by Washington in 2011 (30th Round).

Bryce, meanwhile, did not sign until the August deadline, as expected, but ultimately received a $6.25 Million bonus from the Nationals. The organization elected not to assign him to any of their minor league affiliates as most of the minor league season was nearing its end, but they did have him report to their instructional league in Arizona that fall. Harper would make his MiLB debut the following April, first with Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League.

In 72 games with the Suns, Harper batted a respectable .318/.423/.554 with 14 HR and 46 RBI in 305 plate appearances. He’d add 17 doubles, 19 stolen bases, and almost as many walks (44) as strikeouts (61) in his first taste of professional competition. The offensive production was a positive considering it was uncertain how he’d react while learning a new defensive position. Harper had spent some time in high school playing right field – where he spent most of his time in Hagerstown (51 games in RF, 20 in CF) – but he was principally a catcher throughout his younger career. While there were few who expected Harper to be rushed through the Nationals’ minor league system, the performance in Hagerstown was enough to warrant a mid season promotion all the way to Double-A.

In 37 more games with the Harrisburg Senators before ending his season in August due a hamstring injury, Harper hit just .256/.329/.395 in 147 plate appearances.  He’d add 3 HR, 12 RBI, 7 2B, and 7 SB while spending his time in left field. With a dramatic jump in the opposing talent level, many were curious to see how Harper would react and the offensive struggles were no true surprise. Double-A was the home for a number of quality starting pitching prospects last season, and Harper held his own while still being very young for the level.

After the 2011 season concluded he participated in the Arizona Fall League, further showcasing the abilities that rank him among the game’s best prospects. In 93 at bats over 25 games, Harper hit .333/.400/.634 with 6 HR and 26 RBI. Baseball America had ranked Harper their #1 overall prospect entering the 2011 season. Entering 2012 he may repeat his appearance atop the list (though at worst he’ll still appear in the overall Top 5).

Top Prospect Rankings

Baseball America (Top 10): 1st

MLB.com (Top 10): 1st

FanGraphs (Top 15): 1st

Seedlings to Stars (MLB Top 100): #3 Overall, 1st out of 7 Nationals to make the list

DoD Editor Aaron Somers (Top 15): 1st

DoD Staff Writer Michael Natelli (Top 15): 1st

DoD Staff Writer Andrew Flax (Top 15): 1st

Scouting Report

Courtesy of Marc Hulet at FanGraphs:

"Harper comes as close as anyone not named Mike Stanton to have legit 80 power on the 20-80 scouting scale. He also has a very good eye for his age, although he doesn’t handle off-speed pitches as well as the hard stuff but that should improve with experience. He has the chance to be a four or five tool player."

From MLB.com:

"What else is there to say, at this point, about one of the most touted prospects in the game? Well, try this on for size – facing the game’s most elite pitching prospects in his second go around in the Arizona Fall League, Harper was among the league leaders in a host of offensive categories."

The Positives

Named as “Best Power Hitter” and “Best Outfield Arm” by Baseball America.

Bottom line, the list of positives surrounding Harper are numerous. He possesses a power stroke that has not been seen by a player of his age in quite some time. If he can develop some additional plate discipline while learning to handle off speed pitches he could potentially be one of the greatest hitters in baseball for years to come. While he likely won’t be a big stolen base threat, he also has shown solid speed on the bases, at least enough that will allow him to take advantage of gap power and poor-throwing outfields.

The Not-so-Positives

Harper’s youth works both for and against him. The positives there are obvious, but with that youth comes some continued maturity that Harper will need to harness in order to be the franchise changing star he could develop into. He’s had a few run-ins during his lone minor league season, including arguably taunting an opposing pitcher after hitting a home run. It’s behaviors like that which won’t be tolerated once he reached the Major Leagues. It could get either Harper or one of his teammates injured, or worse.

2012 and Beyond Expectations

Where Harper begins the 2012 season is seemingly one of the great debates that has been ongoing this offseason. Most expect that he’ll begin the season in the minor leagues, to ensure that he won’t become a free agent until after the 2018 season, instead of 2017. Some people seem to think that Harper is destined to return to Double-A in April, only to then move up to Triple-A in about a month or two before joining the Nationals in Washington late in the summer.

There is also speculation that Nationals Manager Davey Johnson may try to bring Harper to Washington directly from Spring Training. He is known to love young talented players with potential and the team is in need of outfielders. No matter how much Johnson may want him on the team’s Opening Day roster, it seems unlikely that the organization will agree to such a decision.

The likely scenario, at least in my opinion, has Harper beginning 2012 in Triple-A despite having a strong Spring Training. While I don’t think the move will be strictly for financial reasons, I don’t think the organization wants Harper to be rushed and he could still use some additional minor league seasoning – he’s only played in 118 career professional games. But, at this point it would seem as though there is little left for him to prove in the minor leagues, which is why I think Triple-A is the most likely landing spot to begin the year. He’ll be facing what should be the toughest opposing competition (at least the most MLB-ready) and he’ll be given the opportunity to learn how to deal with his successes and failures at the level. Presuming he gets 250 plate appearances or so before a callup, that would put him in Washington in late June at the earliest.