Bryce Harper and 5 MLB Prospects Who Lived Up to Unbearable Hype
In the history of Major League Baseball, there have been very few players who have merited the level of hype as Bryce Harper.
There have been even fewer players who have actually lived up to those lofty expectations.
Drafted first overall by the Nationals in the 2010 MLB Draft, Harper’s rapid ascent through the minors (and immediate impact at the Major League level) has little precedent. Yes, there have been plenty of players who have reached the major leagues within a few years of being a high-school draft pick, but only a few have ultimately had Hall of Fame careers.
Will Harper be the next teenage superstar to become a Hall of Famer? Only time will tell. But if his career unfolds like these five players, then we are currently witnessing the start of a legendary and tremendous big-league career.
Ken Griffey, Jr.
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Ken Griffey Jr.—who had the favorable bloodline of his father, Ken Sr., already a big-league veteran—was named the U.S. High School Baseball Player of the Year in 1987, as he was one of the most highly recruited players in the country.
The first overall pick by the Seattle Mariners in the 1987 draft, Griffey reached the major leagues after only 552 minor-league plate appearances, making the jump from to the Show directly from Double-A.
The rest is history, obviously, as Junior would go on to command the attention of baseball fans nationwide following his call-up. “The Kid” ultimately put the finishing touches on a surefire Hall of Fame career, retiring with 630 career home runs, a .907 OPS and 78.6 WAR.
In his 22-year career, Junior was a 13-time All-Star, 10-time Gold Glove winner, and the 1997 American League MVP.
Signed by the New York Yankees out of high school as a shortstop, Mickey Mantle also needed little seasoning in the minor leagues before making his major-league debut. Entering the Yankees’ system as a 17-year-old, the Oklahoma native needed only 1,033 plate appearances on the farm before making his Yankee debut at the ripe age of 19.
Mantle went on to become the greatest switch-hitter of all time, as he finished his 18-year career with 536 home runs, 1,509 RBI, .977 OPS, 120.2 WAR and won the 1956 Triple Crown to top it all off. His illustrious career also featured 20 All-Star appearances, three MVP awards and seven World Series titles.
Nicknamed “Rapid Robert” for his blazing fastball, Bob Feller was signed by the Indians—for $1 and an autographed baseball—out of high school as a 17-year-old. Unlike Griffey Jr. and Mantle, the right-hander completely bypassed the minor leagues, appearing in his first game with the Indians later that year.
Feller quickly became a household name due to his upper-90s fastball and propensity for striking out opposing hitters. As a 17-year-old, Feller was 5-3 for the Tribe with a 3.34 ERA and 76 strikeouts in 62 innings. Even at that age, his immense talent was undeniable and foreshadowed the rest of his 18-year major-league career.
The hard-throwing Iowa native would ultimately become the most dominant pitcher of his era, as he spent every year of his Hall of Fame career with the Indians. Following his age-37 season—he missed the 1942-1944 seasons due to military service—Feller, an eight-time All-Star, retired with a career record of 266-162 with a 3.25 ERA and 2,581 strikeouts over 3,827 innings. He posted a career 66 WAR, including a 10.1 WAR in 1946.
The nation’s top prospect as a high-school senior in Miami, Fla., Alex Rodriguez was selected by the Seattle Mariners with the No. 1 pick in the 1993 draft. Like the aforementioned Mantle, Feller and Griffey Jr., Rodriguez spent very little time in the minor leagues—114 games to be exact—before reaching the Show.
On July 8, 1994, an 18-year-old Rodriguez made his major-league debut as the Mariners’ starting shortstop.
Though his career is far from over, Rodriguez has already assembled quite the Hall of Fame portfolio: 2,799 hits, 633 home runs, .951 OPS and 104.6 WAR. In his ongoing 19-year career, he has already been a 14-time All-Star, 10-time Silver Slugger winner and three-time MVP.
Now it's simply a matter of where the baseball writers stand on his PED use.
Chipper Jones was selected by the Atlanta Braves with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1990 MLB Draft out of high school in Jacksonville, Fla. Unlike the others on this list, Jones didn’t reach the major leagues as a teenager, as he spent three years in the Braves’ system before ultimately making his debut. After playing in eight games as a 21-year-old in 1993, the switch-hitter missed the entire 1994 after tearing his ACL.
However, he made up for lost time in 1995 (his rookie season) by pacing all rookies in nearly every offensive category, and finished second in the National League Rookie of the Year voting behind the Dodgers’ Hideo Nomo.
Since then, Jones has put together a Hall of Fame career over the last 19 seasons: .304/.402/.532, 458 home runs, 1,460 walks compared to only 1,363 strikeouts and an 82.7 WAR.
He is a seven-time All-Star, won the 1999 NL MVP, a World Series champion (1995) and won the NL batting title in 2008 (.364/.470/.574).