The Washington Nationals are 19 games away from securing the top pick in baseball’s amateur draft for the second straight season.
You can decide if congratulations or condolences are in order.
Either way, Washington is a full six games ahead of the Pittsburgh Pirates for the right to draft uber-prospect Bryce Harper, the high school catcher from Nevada who is so good he’ll be playing college ball next spring instead of finishing his junior year of high school.
How good is this kid? I’m not going to bore you with the favorable comparisons to Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey, Jr; I mean, that just goes without saying. But he’s good enough to find himself on the cover of Sports Illustrated this past spring, and that’s something that just doesn’t happen too often.
In fact, it’s never happened for a high school baseball player.
This kid who is good is a good kid too. He’s a member of the Mormon faith, attends church seminary classes every morning before school starts, and spends three hours in church every Sunday and a couple more on Tuesday nights.
He’s the same religion and the same position as Dale Murphy when he first joined the Atlanta Braves in the mid-1970s.
Everyone seems to believe he will become the next offensive major league superstar and has the well-grounded family life to make him the star in any team’s clubhouse.
And he’ll be advised by none other than Mr. Scott Boras.
Thus, I am going to commit baseball heresy by declaring right now that the Nationals need to bypass Mr. Stud Muffin and choose a different player with that top pick.
I’ll pause for a moment until the yelling and screaming subsides.
I have always been a proponent of the theory of taking the best player available in an amateur draft, but in the case of the Washington Nationals, Harper’s youth and inexperience is such a detriment that his tremendous athletic skills become almost secondary to the discussion.
The team will be coming off two of the worst back-to-back losing seasons in recent memory, and the Nationals are in dire need of creating some immediate excitement for their fans. Two more 100-plus losing seasons and you might as well begin looking for yet another city ready to accept a Washington baseball franchise.
As good as Bryce Harper may be, he is not going to make the jump to the major leagues at warp speed like Stephen Strasburg, or even Drew Storen, most certainly will.
Harper will be 17 when he is drafted next June and would otherwise be ready to start his senior year in high school. I don’t care how good he may be or how quickly he adjusts to the professional pitchers he’ll face once he reaches "AA"—he won’t be ready to become an everyday player with the Nationals until 2014 at the earliest.
In other words, the damage of two or three more abysmal seasons won’t be undone when Harper makes it to Washington.
Regardless of what the Nationals do this offseason, they will need at least one more quality starting pitcher, and if we look beyond Harper, the next two top projected picks are both college pitchers, left-hander Drew Pomeranz of Ole Miss and right-handed Tony Ranaudo out of LSU.
In 2009, Pomeranz went 8-4 for the Rebels with a 3.40 ERA, striking out 128 in 95 innings. He walked just 37. Don’t let that ERA fool you either; this guy’s the real deal. The SEC is a strong offensive league, and remember, Storen had a 3.80 ERA for Stanford this past season and just finished his first minor league season with a nifty 1.95 ERA.
Pomeranz’ fastball stops out at 94 mph, but he consistently hits 91-92 mph. His curve is his best off-speed pitch.
Ranaudo, 19, was 12-3, 3.04 for the Tigers, striking out 159 in just 124 innings. He is 6’7” and brings a mid-90s fastball.
But wait, there’s more!
Among the top 10 amateurs are five starting pitchers. In addition to Pomeranz and Ranaudo are Josh Osich (Oregon State), Matt Harvey (University of North Carolina), and Chris Hernandez (University of Miami).
The last thing the Nationals need is to draft a 17-year-old kid and then wait until the last day of the signing period before they can sign him, effectively losing a year of seasoning in their minor league system.
With a little luck, the Nationals can draft a college pitcher next summer and have him pitching alongside Strasburg in 2011. Sure, not drafting Harper could eventually backfire, but they need one more starting pitcher in the rotation before they can honestly begin to contend.
It makes sense to me, anyway.