Here in Australia, we’re not big into ‘drafts’ when dispersing our young talent to the various codes of sport that we know and love. Cricket and both forms of rugby have systems in place where local players develop through the ranks and then graduate to the highest level. Australian Rules Football is the only major sport that uses a national draft and it has only been in recent years that footy fans have started to take notice of the process since young players are having a greater impact on the sport and a wise draft choice can mean immediate dividends.
The United States on the other hand, well that’s a completely different story. The NBA and NFL drafts are broadcast live on television (The NFL draft ran over 3 days!) with endless amounts of coverage, breakdowns and mock drafts showing where potential draftees may end up. Major League Baseball has begun to lift the profile of it amateur draft by televising the first round (with coverage still in-depth and unrelenting in the lead up). The NBA and NFL draft is a little showier because prospects can actually have an instant effect on their teams. Baseball prospects tend to require a little seasoning in the minor leagues before they are ready to step on the big stage and make an impact (The Cincinnati Reds may beg to disagree as they drafted Mike Leake last year and put him straight into the Major Leagues without a single inning of minor league baseball). Drafting baseball players has also proven to be wildly unpredictable with first round draft picks flaming out and 62 round draft picks like Mike Piazza putting together Hall of Fame careers.
You may be asking yourself, why the hell is the Defensive Specialist going on about drafts? Well the Major League draft is rapidly approaching (first week of June) and this year’s event features one of the most unique prospects in it’s history – Bryce Harper. Before the Defensive Specialist gets going on Harper, some key pieces of information on the MLB draft:
- Also known as the Rule 4 Draft.
- Draft order based on previous season’s win loss record.
- Teams that lose free agents in the previous off-season are awarded compensatory picks.
- First held in 1965.
- Held mid baseball season.
- Features 50 rounds (upwards of 1500 players selected).
- Steven Strasburg holds the record for highest signing bonus, signing with the Washington Nationals in 2009 for 15 million.
According to the ever-reliable Wikipedia, to be eligible players must fit the following criteria:
- Be a resident of the US or a US territory (Puerto Rico).
- Have never signed a major or minor league contract.
- High school players are eligible only after graduation, and if they have not attended college.
- Players at four-year colleges are eligible after completing their junior years, or after their twenty-first birthdays. The exception to this is Division III schools, where players can be drafted before their junior year.
- Junior college players are eligible to be drafted at any time.
So why is the Defensive Specialist talking about Bryce Harper? Because the kid is a freak of nature and you need to know about him! Born in 1992, the 6’3 Harper dominated high school baseball to the tune of a .626 batting average with 14 homeruns and 55 RBI’s. This ridiculous output led Harper to taking his GED (General Education Development) test and graduating high school early so that he could enrol in junior college and play baseball at that level. By graduating early and enrolling in a junior college, Harper is now eligible to be drafted. He also featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, being touted as the next Lebron!
Take the time to watch this: Bryce Harper E:60
Sure, he wont be able to pimp on high school chicks anymore, but he is now staring down the barrel of signing a bonus surely close to 10 million! (Which will help with the lady situation anyway)
Harper is blessed with unbelievable tools. Hitting from the left side, he generates violent bat speed and projects as an 80 on the scouting rating scale (80 being the highest rating). This power was best showcased during batting practice at the Tropicana Dome (home of the Tampa Bay Rays) where he hit the longest ball in the facilities history (500 feet +).
Harper’s position of choice is catcher where his arm strength grades out as a 70 and he hits 92-93 mph. He even rates as an average to slightly above average runner!
Many people were sceptical when Harper made the choice to eschew his last two years of high school to chase his baseball dream saying that he’s missing out on developmental opportunities and the experience of high school. The Defensive Specialist has reflected on his own high school experience and feels comfortable that he could have done without the awkward inability to get women and endless amounts of homework if it meant chasing the baseball dream (and uber dollars). Others worried that jumping into a solid junior college league against players 2-3 years his senior and using wooden bats would see his numbers and output diminish significantly. Would a kid be ready for the weight of expectations and increased competition?
Well after a sluggish start, lets just say that he handled things reasonably well:
88 runs scored
29 home runs
Even more amazing was his performance in the playoffs where he started off by going 6-7 with 5 RBI’s and went for the cycle. The next day he went 2-5 with a double and then backed that up by going 6-6 with 4 homeruns, a triple and a double*.
*It must be said that he is playing against decent competition (although nothing like what he’ll see in the pro game).
And it’s that sort of output that will undoubtedly make Harper the number 1 pick in the 2010 Major League draft. As a pro, he’ll need to work on competing against better talent, improve himself defensively and deal with the expectations that come with being a baseball prodigy. The road is littered with talented young men who weren’t able to make the necessary adjustments to their game in order to maximize their prodigious gifts or who let the hard work slide once the many zeros hit their bank account.
Harper is a rare talent who may reach the Major Leagues before he hits 20 or who may fizz out and not get out of the minor leagues. Either way, the Defensive Specialist felt that you needed to know about him because talent like this doesn’t come along all that often.