Will Bryce Harper Set A Record?
Likely No. 1 pick's bonus demands will be steep
CHICAGO—Though most 17-year-olds would be juniors in high school, Bryce Harper has handled the jump to junior college baseball with aplomb.
Perhaps the best power-hitting prospect in the history of the draft, Harper hit .410 with 21 homers in his first 47 games at the JC of Southern Nevada. His home run total ranked second among juco players—first among those in wood-bat conferences—and set a new school record. He already had bashed more homers than the Coyotes hit as a team (19) a year ago.
Harper has another record in his sights as well. If the Nationals make him the No. 1 overall pick, as expected, will he be the best-compensated draftee ever?
Stephen Strasburg set new standards for the highest bonus ($7.5 million) and largest guarantee (a $15.1 million major league contract) after Washington made him the top choice in 2009. Rest assured that the Boras Corp., which advises Harper and also represents Strasburg, will be looking to top those numbers.
Scouts considered Strasburg a better prospect than Harper, arguably the best ever in draft annals, and he'll require considerably less minor league seasoning. But Harper also possesses more leverage than Strasburg did.
Had he declined to sign with the Nationals, Strasburg would have re-entered the draft as a 22-year-old senior and could have only maintained, rather than boosted, his value. Harper could go back into the 2011 draft as an 18-year-old sophomore, and he could transfer to an NCAA Division I team and conquer better competition.
Strasburg was so gifted that he was almost compelled to sign, because he was offered more money than he could reasonably turn down. Harper is also a prisoner of his own talent. No drafted hitter ever has been offered an eight-figure guarantee, and that much money would be tough to decline.
Look for Harper to sign minutes before the Aug. 16 deadline expires, somewhere between $10 million and $12 million.
Can Taillon Break Through?
If the Nationals pass on Harper, the consensus No. 2 prospect in the draft is The Woodlands (Texas) High righthander Jameson Taillon. He has it all: size (6-foot-6, 225 pounds), an explosive fastball clocked as high as 99 mph and an equally devastating curveball.
In the first 45 years of the draft, however, no high school righthander ever has been selected No. 1 overall. Only six have been taken No. 2, none in the last decade: Pete Broberg (1968, Athletics), J.R. Richard (1969, Astros), Jay Franklin (1971, Padres), Tommy Boggs (1974, Braves), Bill Gullickson (1977, Expos) and Josh Beckett (1999, Marlins).
The fact that no prep righty has ever been the top choice is more an oddity than an adage that teams try to follow. There have been several worthy of going No. 1, but it just hasn't happened yet.
Richard and Beckett were considered the equal of any prospects in their draft classes, but were bypassed for hitters as the Senators took Jeff Burroughs in 1968 and the Devil Rays opted for Josh Hamilton in 1999. Likewise, Jimmy Jones was rated as highly as any prospect in 1982, but the Cubs went with a position player in Shawon Dunston.
Bill Gullickson was the consensus top prospect in 1977, but cash-strapped White Sox owner Bill Veeck went with Harold Baines, whose $32,000 bonus was easily the lowest ever for a top selection. Todd Van Poppel (1990) and Matt Harrington (2000) were the best players available in their draft years, but scared off clubs with their desire for groundbreaking deals. The Braves went with Chipper Jones over Van Poppel, while the Marlins took Adrian Gonzalez over Harrington—two of the better decisions ever made with No. 1 overall picks.
Duels Turn Into Duds
The biggest pitching matchup of the season pitted Mississippi's Drew Pomeranz against Louisiana State's Anthony Ranaudo. They could be the first two college pitchers drafted in June, but they didn't look like it on April 24.
They were both out of sync after rain pushed their duel back a day, and 20-mph winds blowing out at Oxford-University Stadium didn't help. Ranaudo gave up nine runs and recorded only five outs, while Pomeranz allowed nine walks and five runs in three innings as the Rebels won 11-9.
That dud recalled maybe the most anticipated showdown in College World Series history. LSU and Texas met in the 1989 semifinals, with the Tigers sending Ben McDonald (the No. 1 overall pick that June and then considered the best college pitching prospect ever) against Kirk Dressendorfer (who led the nation with 18 wins as a sophomore and was projected as an early first-rounder in 1990).
Bothered by a blister on the middle finger of his pitching hand, McDonald had the worst outing of his career. He set a still-standing CWS record by allowing 11 earned runs before departing with one out in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Dressendorfer had a stiff lower back and could barely bend over. The Longhorns, who were uncharacteristically short of pitching and would start outfielder Scott Bryant on the mound in the championship game, decided to let Dressendorfer gut it out as long as he could. He walked eight and threw 135 pitches in six innings, earning an ugly 12-7 victory.