The hype surrounding Major League Baseball's presumptive 2010 No. 1 overall draft pick, Bryce Harper, is getting pretty intense.
He's graced the covers of Baseball America and Sports Illustrated before he's even signed a professional contract. A friend of mine recently tried to belittle me for my hesitance to declare that Harper will someday be one of the best hitters of all time.
In short, the buzz surrounding him is the highest it's been around an amateur baseball player since...Stephen Strasburg, last year's top pick.
On June 8, Strasburg will make his much-anticipated MLB debut—just one day after Harper, his likely future battery mate, will be drafted.
Assuming the Washington Nationals take Harper with their No. 1 pick, there's no question that Strasburg and Harper will be one of the most hyped unproven prospect combos in baseball's draft history. But are they the most hyped unproven prospect combo in baseball's draft history?
Here are the 10 most ballyhooed duos and trios of youngsters whose fans expect (or expected) to carry their teams for years to come.
Maybe this is an unfair characterization, but the first word that comes to mind when I think of the San Francisco Giants is "crusty."
Sure, there are young stars like Tim Lincecum and Pablo Sandoval, but the image in my head is the result of guys like Aaron Rowand and Edgar Renteria. Offseason additions Aubrey Huff and Mark DeRosa certainly don't add any youthful vitality.
Luckily, the Giants have a solid core of prospects ready to make big league impacts. The group is led by Madison Bumgarner, the No. 10 pick of the 2007 draft, who, interestingly enough, was the first high school southpaw San Francisco drafted since 1971. (Okay, maybe that wasn't interesting.)
The Giants hope Bumgarner will spend most of his career pitching to Buster Posey, the fifth-overall pick of the 2008 draft. With a middle-of-the-order-caliber bat, Posey is among the cream of the best crop of catching prospects in recent memory.
How strong is the hype? To give some illustration, despite the former's velocity problems in Spring Training and the latter not being named the team's Opening Day starting catcher, a recent poll of Bleacher Report's MLB Featured Columnists ranked Bumgarner and Posey 14th and sixth, respectively, on their top prospects list.
Most of the combinations on this list were groups who tantalized fans for weeks or months, if not years. However, this trio was together for exactly three days before one got the call to the majors.
The first of the group to join the Rays organization and see MLB action was B.J. Upton. He racked up a ridiculous 56 errors in 2003, then was named the game's No. 2 prospect in 2004 by Baseball America. What does that tell you about the buzz surrounding his bat?
The next to join the farm system was outfielder Delmon Young, showing power and contact en route to being named baseball's No. 3 prospect. Two of the top three prospects on one team? Not bad.
But it wasn't enough for Tampa Bay, who went out and traded for Scott Kazmir—who would soon after be named BA's No. 7 prospect—at the 2004 Trading Deadline from the New York Mets.
Now that's a solid farm system.
After years of mediocrity, the New York Yankees entered the mid-90s with a sense of pride and optimism as youngsters like Andy Pettitte and Bernie Williams advanced through the Bombers' farm system.
But no one captured New York fans' imaginations like Derek Jeter and Ruben Rivera.
Jeter was so talented that an Astros scout quit his job when the team passed on the then-prospect with the first overall pick of the 1992 draft. As many now know, the Yankees took Jeter with their No. 6 pick. He was widely acknowledged as the Minor League Player of the Year in 1994 and came in at No. 4 on Baseball America's top prospect list the following year.
Rivera (cousin of Mariano) was an amateur free agent signed out of Panama in 1990. He had the bittersweet distinction of making BA's Top 100 list five years in a row, peaking at No. 2 in 1995 (the same year Jeter finished fourth).
One went on to become the captain of the new Yankee dynasty. The other once stole and sold Jeter's bat and glove.
The Baltimore Orioles haven't earned a Rookie of the Year Award in 21 years. But the Birds have had two consecutive presumptive winners.
Last year, Brian Matusz, the fourth overall pick in the 2008 draft, posted a 4.08 FIP (Fielding-Independent Pitching) in eight big league starts after throwing just 113 Minor League innings. He was the preseason favorite to be the Junior Circuit's top gumshoe in 2010—the first of many awards and accolades he was likely to receive over the course of his sure-to-be historic career.
With a 5.28 ERA to his name so far, the odds of him catching Austin Jackson don't seem terribly high. Luckily, Baltimore fans are used to this kind of disappointment.
Just ask Matt Wieters, the No. 5 pick in the 2007 draft and (hopefully) the Orioles' catcher of the future. 14 months ago, Wieters was the favorite to be the AL's 2009 top rookie, despite never having played a game above the Double-A level.
Of course, the expectations haven't stopped there. After just 130 professional games, an MLB.com article proclaimed Wieters to be a switch-hitting Joe Mauer, "but with more power." No pressure, though.
American culture in the 1990s was obsessed with Generation X, but baseball fans—especially in Queens—were more concerned with Generation K, a trio of young pitchers who, it was prophesied, would return the Mets to glory.
First came Bill Pulsipher, the Amazins' second round pick in the 1991 draft. By the time he reached the majors in 1995, he had gone 35-22 with a 2.87 ERA in the minors, even throwing a no-no in 1994.
42 rounds later, New York signed Jason Isringhausen to be Pulsipher's deputy. He got off to a slower start in the minors, but went 22-10 with a 2.36 ERA in 1994-95.
The final piece of the puzzle was Paul Wilson, taken with the No. 1 overall pick in the 1994 draft.
By 1996, each had appeared at No. 37 or higher on one or more of Baseball America's famous lists, Wilson even reaching the No. 2 spot in 1996. Think of them as the Tim Hudson, Barry Zito, and Mark Mulder of their generation, but in the minor leagues.
Spoiler alert: things didn't work out the way they were supposed to. But hey, at least Isringhausen got a nice write-up in Moneyball. Speaking of which...
Don't recognize the man in the picture? That's Jeremy "Badge" Brown, the "bad body catcher" whose journey from overlooked college-ball stud to first round pick in the 2002 draft was chronicled in Michael Lewis' bestselling book, Moneyball.
Brown and outfielder Nick Swisher were the two most fully described examples of Oakland Athletics GM Billy Beane's unprecedented method of drafting—ignoring traditional wisdom and "toolsy" players in favor of hitters with established track records of plate discipline and power.
"Now Lewie," you might ask, "how can you say these guys were hyped? If Beane's opinions were mainstream, Swisher would have been taken No. 1 overall. And the only reason the A's were able to sign Brown for $350,000 is that no other team took him seriously."
To this I say: How many other prospects have been featured in a No. 1 bestselling book?
In the 1990s, the Atlanta Braves were baseball's best team for producing hot prospects.
A young Brave made the Top Four of Baseball America's list eight years in a row from 1990-97, then again in 1999. Before this season, four of BA's 20 annual lists featured a future Atlanta player at No. 1 (for comparison, no other team has had its players win more than twice).
Meet No. 5.
A five-tool stud whose bat reportedly sounds like Hank Aaron's when he hits the ball. He has surpassed his lofty expectations so far and is likely on his way to being named the NL Rookie of the Year. You could pair him up with a complete schmuck of a prospect, and he'd still probably make this list.
Luckily, he's not alone. For the first time in the franchise's rich recent history, Heyward teamed with right-hander Tommy Hanson to give the Braves two top-five prospects in 2008.
With an already-established ace and a homegrown home run king, the Braves should have the star power to compete for the foreseeable future.
Two of the most anticipated debuts of the 2007 season came from the Boston Red Sox rotation: Japanese import Daisuke Matsuzaka and homegrown prospect Clay Buchholz.
Dice-K's dominant performances in Japan's NPB League and the 2006 World Baseball Classic sparked a bidding war for his services when the Neibu Lions allowed him to negotiate a deal with an MLB team.
The Red Sox coughed up over $100 million to sign Matsuzaka, but no one doubted that they were getting a premier pitcher for their investment. With a full arsenal of plus pitches, even discounting the rumored "gyroball," Matsuzaka immediately shot to the top of Baseball America's top prospects list for 2007.
Buchholz took a much more traditional route to the big leagues. Boston fittingly took him with the 42nd pick of the 2005 draft—the team's compensation pick for losing ace Pedro Martinez to the Mets.
His stock has risen dramatically over the last couple years, in large part because of the Red Sox' unwillingness to trade him, even for Cliff Lee or Adrian Gonzalez.
Oh, and he's the second player in baseball history to pitch a no-hitter in his second big league start. No big deal.
Trivia question: Who are the only teammates to ever be named Nos. 1 and 2 on Baseball America's top prospects list in the same year? And while you're at it, who are the only two teammates to ever be ranked No. 1 in back-to-back years?
If you've read the title of this slide, you've probably figured out that the answer is Rick Ankiel and J.D. Drew.
The second-overall pick of the 1997 draft and the fifth in 1998, Drew's college achievements were unprecedented. The first 30/30 player in collegiate history, he hit .455 his senior year with 100 hits, 100 runs, and 100 RBI.
He tore through the minor leagues, posting a .952 OPS before getting his first taste of big-league action in September 1998. Upon arriving in St. Louis, he promptly hit five homers in his first 28 at-bats. Is it any surprise that fans compared him to Stan Musial?
Meanwhile, Cardinals faithful also thought they had found their next Bob Gibson in Rick Ankiel, their second selection of the 1997 draft. In his senior year of high school, Ankiel went 11-1 with an ERA of 0.47, accruing 162 strikeouts in just 74 innings. You read that correctly; he struck out more than two batters an inning, good for an insane 19.7 K/9 rate.
Before reaching the majors, Ankiel went 25-9 with a 2.44 ERA in two minor league seasons. Batters simply couldn't touch his 97-mph fastball, 12-6 curve, and wicked sinker, as evidenced by his 13.3 K/9 rate.
He and Drew comprised the most hyped unproven prospect combo in MLB draft history, until...
Technically, Bryce Harper isn't a Washington National yet, even if the team has already decided to take him with the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. But since he's the consensus best player available and the Nats get first dibs, I'm going to go ahead and assume that his future is in D.C.
It's not just that Harper has a mighty swing, as seen from his 1.510 OPS this year, or the 500-foot home runs he has reportedly mashed. There's also his raw athleticism and cannon arm. Heck, he's even been known to throw 96-mph fastballs.
And the other guy, Stephen Strasburg—he's only the most sensational prospect in the history of Major League Baseball. There are simply not enough words in the English language to describe either his talent or the hype surrounding it.
Put it this way: last year's No. 2 draft pick, Dustin Ackley, would have been at least mentioned as a possible No. 1 guy in any other year. But no one thought for a second that the Nats would let Strasburg go.
Unless something goes wrong, Strasburg will never play in the minor leagues at the same time as Harper. But if you can look past that technicality, there is no question that these two make up the most hyped unproven prospect combination in baseball history.