Every sport has its fair share of player rivalries, like Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson, or Tom Brady vs. Peyton Manning, or Sidney Crosby vs. Alex Ovechkin. Could there potentially be a new one on the horizon?
Meet Kirk Nieuwenhuis and Bryce Harper, two young stars who play outfield for their respective teams: the New York Mets and the Washington Nationals. Kirk is a 24-year-old third round draft choice out of Azusa Pacific University, a NAIA school. Bryce Harper is a 19-year-old first overall pick out of the College of Southern Nevada, a NJCAA school. Both were highly touted prospects in their organizations.
Nieuwenhuis has just come off a brilliant April where he hit .325 with two home runs and eight RBI. He is a clear lock for the April Rookie of the Month award, and should garner attention for the Rookie of the Year vote.
Harper, whose major league career has lasted three games, has already impressed with his bat, his speed, and his fielding. As a former No. 1 overall draft pick, he will be watched closely and will be given every opportunity to prove himself.
The two haven't faced each other yet, but they could potentially have a rivalry brewing, especially with what's at stake.
If Harper will be staying in the majors for the duration of the season, like Nieuwenhuis, then both will be fighting for the Rookie of the Year award.
Because Harper is a higher profile prospect, he will earn national media attention and thus, more recognition from the BBWAA, the group responsible for voting for the award winners.
Even if Nieuwenhuis were to continue hitting at the pace he has been hitting, if Harper were to copy his stat line, you can imagine who would win.
Take a look at 2006. Hanley Ramirez (.292//17/59, 51 SB) beat out both Ryan Zimmerman and Dan Uggla for Rookie of the Year. Aside from batting average and stolen bases, Uggla (.282/27/90) and Zimmerman (.287/20/110) had far more productive seasons. Hanley won because he was a higher rated prospect. Both Zimmerman and Uggla were robbed that day, but enough about that.
In this new rivalry, one has to pick a side. While it's practically assured most baseball fans would go for Harper, I'd have to go the opposite way and choose Nieuwenhuis.
Why Nieuwenhuis? Quite simply, I like his style of play. He is a 24-year-old stud who plays with the poise and athleticism of a 28-year-old veteran. He comes from a smaller school where he probably received little to no media attention. He tore it up in the minors until he needed shoulder surgery in 2011, and then came back and managed to join the big league club on the second day of the season.
Nieuwenhuis has also never struck me as arrogant. He seems to do his job, then gets ready to do another. If he makes a mistake, he either cuts his losses or makes up for it in some way.
The reasons why I didn't choose Harper are quite different. I will admit that I have always disliked him, ever since he was a high school junior, when he captivated America with his "power" display at a showcase in Tampa Bay where he hit a 502 foot home run (come on people, it was a batting practice pitch).
Harper was bad news when he signed superagent Scott Boras, and it was especially irritating when he couldn't wait to finish high school and got his GED so he could enter the 2010 draft. The last straw in that saga was when he talked about his dream of playing for the Yankees after he was drafted by the Nationals! There was also a report that fellow phenom Stephen Strasburg supposedly disliked Harper. And who could forget his infamous kiss after his home run in Hagerstown? Altogether his cockiness has drawn a huge red flag for me.
I do acknowledge and respect Harper's ability though, even if I find his character to be a bit flawed. Nonetheless, I have, and always will be a critic of Bryce Harper.
I wish both Nieuwenhuis and Harper well, and hope that a rivalry does form, even if it only lasts a year.
One thing I look forward to is the day that the two meet in a series, which could happen June 5 at the earliest. Then we will see who is the better of the two.