By David Wade
It's hard to look at a line of .342/.435/.623 for an 18-year-old in the Sally League and find fault. However, go beyond the ridiculous numbers and we see that is the case with Washington Nationals farmhand Bryce Harper.
Harper is playing with Class A Hagerstown, and making a mockery of it. He has 14 home runs through 56 games. But, it's that latest home run that draws people back to what seems to be the only negative anyone can find with the kid.
Baseball Prospectus writer Kevin Goldstein covered Harper's profile as a prospect back in April of 2010. In that article, Goldstein relayed concerns of many scouts surrounding Harper's makeup. Among the unflattering traits was a concern over on-field behavior "that includes taunting opponents."
Harper did just that last night after hitting a home run, when he blew a kiss at the Greensboro pitcher he had just taken deep.
Goldstein's article prompted some at the time, especially those who might downplay things such as clubhouse chemistry, to opine that any concerns about Harper's makeup are squashed by the amazing talent he possesses. Rob Neyer, Tom Tango and Hardball Times guys noted that the Nationals wouldn't pass on a once-in-a-lifetime hitting talent because he's cocky. And they were right. The Nationals made him the No. 1 one pick anyway.
There is no way to know how Harper, a teenager who's been in the spotlight since before he could get a driver's license, will act once he gets called up to the Nationals. Maybe this situation gets handled by his managers in the minors, as Jim Bowden suggests. Mike Schmidt believes big league pitchers will stick one in Harper's ear if he brings that act to the show.
Presumably, those who are the best at what they do all carry a certain amount of confidence that may even tilt toward arrogance. It may also mean they are sometimes egomaniacs who obsess over their craft, which is sometimes what makes them so good in the first place. Didn't we learn this from guys ranging from chess prodigies like Bobby Fischer to ace fighter jet pilots like Pete Mitchell?
So, any major league player likely dominated his competition for years as a youngster. Any player who dominates his peers in professional baseball must surely know how good they are. These guys all possess a tremendous amount of confidence. Isn't that why it's so hard to believe All-Star pitchers might get "rattled" when a runner's on first, or that a tie game in late innings will unnerve a top-flight slugger? So, we've suspected for a while that Harper knows how good he is. If he didn't, the Sports Illustrated cover at age 16 may have let the cat out of the bag. If he didn't then, he may have figured it out when he destroyed the competition at his junior college.
What the Nationals have to figure out is how much of the bad they can take with Harper. Here's a quick guess: They'll take a lot.
That's the scary part for them. There's a ton invested in this kid. Not just the money, though it is significant, but the hype that follows this particular kind of talent. And the hope of ticket sales that accompany a guy who may grow into the type of player fans make it a point to watch hit, even in batting practice.
They have to ride with Harper 'til the wheels fall off, and they better hope that his attitude doesn't derail his track to the majors.
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