Fantasy Baseball Prospect Watch: Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals

Rick MillemanCorrespondent IJanuary 13, 2011

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 23:  Washington Nationals prospect Bryce Harper #34 playing for the Scottsdale Scorpions hits a single against the Phoenix Desert Dogs during the AZ Fall League game at Scottsdale Stadium on October 23, 2010 in Scottsdale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
Christian Petersen/Getty Images

The hot stove is starting to cool as we ready for spring training. I know we are still six weeks away, but I can dream. So let’s stoke that fire a bit with more prospect talk. This series on prospects will cover a wide range of players as well as positions. We’ll cover sleepers as well as some of the more obvious stars of the future.

The next prospect in the series was the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft. Bryce Harper was selected by the Washington Nationals with the intention of turning him into a power-hitting corner outfielder. His power was never in question, but he’d end up sitting once or twice a week if he continued as a catcher, not to mention the constant wear on his body.

The 6’3” Las Vegas native weighs in at 205 pounds. He’s just 18 years old and seems to have a very bright future ahead of him. But will he realize that potential?

Harper followed an unconventional path to the pros by earning a GED after his sophomore year of high school and then enrolling at College of Southern Nevada for a season. At CSN, Harper posted a slash line of .443/31 HR/98 RBI/20 SB in 66 games. After he dominated lesser competition, the Nationals invested in Harper and made him the offensive face of the franchise.

His first professional action was in the 2010 Arizona Fall League. There, he posted a .343/1 HR/7 RBI/6 R/1 SB line in just 35 at-bats. He is likely to start 2011 in Single-A, and if all goes well, finish in Double-A Harrisburg.

By leaving high school so early, Harper showed a willingness to challenge himself and his skills. His youth and brashness are perceived by many as arrogance and entitlement. Many see him as the kind of guy who could be a negative entity in the clubhouse. But his baseball skills are unquestionable.

As a high school freshman, Harper hit .599/11/67 and as a sophomore he hit .626/14/55. After his sophomore season, Harper was the first-ever sophomore named Baseball America’s High School Player of the Year award and Sports Illustrated called him, “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron James.” Then, after dominating JUCO, Sports Illustrated dubbed him “baseball’s chosen one.”

That’s the kind of stuff that makes any teenager get a big head.

By trading away two years of high school for a chance to fly to the top of the draft board, Harper gave up the chance to grow up under normal circumstances, which could explain why he lacks the social skills to be a good teammate. Many professional scouts see this as a serious flaw in his makeup. Some call him a bad guy and others call him a jerk. These aren’t just a few stray opinions; they are founded in the fact that he taunts opponents on the field and shows a serious heir of entitlement.

The makeup issue is one that makes you wonder if Harper has the work ethic to succeed at the major league level. Others have fallen by the wayside as players who were just too arrogant and have flopped as pros.

But does a player have to be a good guy or a clubhouse leader to be successful on the ball field? The stories of Ty Cobb’s antics still live on almost 100 years after his retirement, Albert Belle was considered the scariest guy of his era, and Manny Ramirez has been called a cancer by almost every team he played with—but they are all considered to be amongst the elite of their day.

The issue also comes up about the personality trait that drives him. As long as he has that edge, he will likely continue to push himself to be better. But what happens if he becomes a nice guy and a clubhouse leader? Will that drive still push him? As long as he has the willingness and ability to work at becoming a better ball player, his personality will likely not come into consideration.

Another question to ponder is whether he will flame out early. With such a drive at an early age and groomed by his father to be superstar baseball player, will he burn out before reaching his full potential, a la Todd Marinovich?

Bryce Harper is a teenager with a ton of talent and an attitude to match. Can he use that attitude to make himself better like his hero Pete Rose, or will he let it consume him? The Southern Nevada coaching staff had no problems with his behavior on the field, so his fantasy outlook should be fine, but he may in time turn out to be another Manny Ramirez and wear out his welcome long before his talents do.