A phenomenal prospect like Stephen Strasburg or Bryce Harper comes along once every 10 years.
A pair of phenomenal prospects like Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper on the same team at the same time comes along once in the history of the sport.
The Washington Nationals, the NL East, and the rest of Major League Baseball are now witnessing the greatest pair of prospects that baseball has ever seen.
Stephen Strasburg was drafted first overall in 2009, and was considered the top overall prospect by Baseball Prospectus the following year. ESPN stated that Strasburg had been the "most-hyped pick in draft history." His every move was under the microscope, from his last season at San Diego State, to the contract negotiations between the Nationals and his agent Scott Boras, to every start during his brief stay in the minor leagues.
Strasburg lived up to the hype once he made it to the big leagues. He racked up 14 strikeouts in his first career start, the second most all-time for a debut. On the cover of Sports Illustrated shortly after his debut, Strasburg was dubbed a "National Treasure." But Strasburg's first season ended in shock and surprise when he tore his ulnar collateral ligament, requiring Tommy John surgery. Strasburg successfully rehabbed last year, and was the Nationals' Opening Day starter for 2012. He was even named the NL Pitcher of the Month for April.
Only a year after drafting Strasburg, the Nationals once again drafted a prized prospect in Bryce Harper. Like Strasburg, Harper was also considered the best prospect by Baseball Prospectus for the year after he was drafted, and he was also analyzed and evaluated at every turn. But unlike Strasburg, Harper's hype didn't begin when he was in college. Harper's hype machine began churning while he was still in high school. At 16, Harper was declared by Sports Illustrated to be "The Chosen One."
Drafted when he was only 17, Harper went to the Arizona Fall League at the end of the 2010 season to join the other elite minor league players. The following year, Harper played the entire season in the minor leagues, but with every success and every promotion, more and more fans clamored for him to be called up to the Nationals.
This season, Washington and their success-starved fans finally got their wish. After a disappointing spring training and a month-long trip to Triple-A Syracuse, Bryce Harper debuted against the Dodgers in Los Angeles on April 28th. In his first week in the big leagues, Harper scored a winning run, drove in a winning run, and hit four doubles.
Have there ever been prospects as good as Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper?
Absolutely. Since 1990, there have been countless "can't-miss" prospects that have made successful transitions to the major leagues, such as Jason Heyward, Joe Mauer, Josh Beckett, Alex Rodriguez, and Steve Avery. And throughout baseball history, there have been stories of amateur baseball players so good that their success in the majors was all but guaranteed, including Ken Griffey, Jr., Cal Ripken, Jr., Roberto Clemente, Harmon Killebrew, and Mickey Mantle.
But few if any of these players were burdened with the expectations of greatness like those heaped on Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. Both of these players were so good that many fans and even some journalists ignored the improvements of the Nationals to look forward to this season, when both players were expected to be in the major leagues at the same time.
This is not the first time that two excellent prospects began playing for the same team at the same time. The best example from the recent past is Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones of the Atlanta Braves during the team's glory days of the 1990s. Chipper Jones was rated the best prospect by Baseball America in 1993, and debuted that same year before becoming an everyday player in 1995. Chipper was a lot like Bryce Harper in that he was an excellent hitter who debuted as a teenager and was soon batting third in the lineup. Andruw Jones was the top overall prospect in 1996, the year he debuted. He was touted as the next great "five-tool" center fielder, continuing the tradition of Ken Griffey, Jr., Mickey Mantle, and Willie Mays, among others.
Another great example of a pair of prospects playing for the same team can be found if we look a little further back in baseball history. In 1948, center fielder Richie Ashburn and pitcher Robin Roberts both debuted for the Philadelphia Phillies. The fleet-footed Ashburn and the flame-throwing Roberts were the leaders of the so-called "Whiz Kids", the group of good young players that powered the Phillies at the time. Only two years later, this team made a World Series appearance after winning the franchise's first National League pennant in 35 years. Both Ashburn and Roberts were later inducted into the Hall of Fame.
But the "Jones Brothers" joined a winning team, that would appear in five World Series during the decade and win the title in 1995. And the "Whiz Kids" joined a franchise that was already well established, having been founded in 1883.
Strasburg and Harper do not have these luxuries. The two phenoms are joining a team that has not made the playoffs since moving from Montreal in 2005. In its entire history, the franchise has only made one playoff appearance and has never made a trip to the World Series. And the city of Washington, which was without baseball for 34 years before the Nationals came to town, has not claimed a World Series title since 1924.
That is why Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper take the word "prospects" to a deeper level than any pair before them. These two players don't just carry the weight and expectations of their own success. They are expected to determine their franchise's success, and to establish a foothold in a crowded sports town.
But with the greatest prospect duo baseball has ever seen, the Washington Nationals' prospects for the future are suddenly much brighter.