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Comp: Josh Hamilton
However his career unfolds, Bryce Harper has no precedent.
Given the changes in media and sport culture, one cannot compare the pressure he faces as a 19-year-old baseball player to anything anyone playing the game at his age has ever experienced.
Does that make sense?
He is the hype machine on overdrive, so much so that it makes sober assessment near impossible.
Any good prospect evaluation combines statistical analysis and eyewitness evaluation. And when it comes to Harper, I’m not sure we can trust any of the latter—not with so many eyes affixed to his every move, each pair straining to develop some sage, novel perspective.
We know he’s a really, really good left-handed-hitting outfielder with exceptional physical gifts. We know that his performance last year as an 18-year-old in A and AA was about as good a debut season as we’ve seen in the past decade of professional baseball.
So almost by default, I go back to the last left-handed hitting outfielder to put up numbers even remotely close to Harper’s: Josh Hamilton.
When he was 19, Hamilton played a full season at Single-A and posted a .302/.348/.476 slash. Harper’s line at the same level was a face-melting .318/.423/.554.
The younger Harper was better, but at least Hamilton is in his zip code.
However, at this point, the conversation devolves into a ramble about their many differences.
Hamilton has a smoother swing that produces great contact and a bit less power. Harper takes violent cuts and displays more natural pop. Harper has the better arm. Hamilton is an inch taller. Hamilton didn’t make the bigs until 26 because of drug addiction. Harper could be there before 20.
But, if we’re looking for some sense of what Bryce Harper could do in a full season of big-league baseball, Hamilton provides a template. Not a mirror, mind you, but a template.