Baseball's amateur draft was shrouded in secrecy for decades, however publications like Baseball America and, of course, the internet have helped make the event more mainstream. If you've just started following the draft, you may have been spoiled by last year's top pick, righty Stephen Strasburg. Arguably the best amateur pitching prospect ever, he was far and away the best talent available, and it's very rare to see one player that far separated from the rest of the pack.
The top prospect for the 2010 draft is Bryce Harper, a catcher from Las Vegas. Harper should be a junior in high school right now, but he famously got his GED last year and is currently attending the College of Southern Nevada, a junior college that will allow him to become draft eligible this year instead of waiting until 2011. Through 16 games with the Coyotes, the 17-year-old Harper is hitting .356/.451/.712 with four homers and 11 doubles in 71 plate appearances. ESPN's Keith Law scouted Harper last month, and had this to say…
Harper brings two plus-plus tools to the table — huge raw power and an outstanding arm behind the plate. He has ridiculous leverage in his swing, even after mechanical changes made by CSN coach Tim Chambers, who has done a good job of quieting Harper's swing down and lessening some bad habits. He's not jumping as early as he used to, although he still gets his front side open a little too early and ends up hitting off his front foot, although his hand and wrist strength make that irrelevant from a power perspective. Behind the plate, he's good enough that few runners are going to try to steal on him at this level, and he's been clocked in the low 90s off the mound. On Thursday, he also received very well, with softer hands than he's shown me in the past and good agility behind the dish.
He also spoke to several people in the game, including one who had concerns about Harper's swing, "particularly the way he can drag his hands through the zone, and whether or not [he] could hit when facing above-average fastballs." In his chat this past Thursday, Law said the only draft eligible player he would consider taking over Harper is Texas high school righthander Jameson Taillon.
In today's blog post, ESPN's Buster Olney compared Harper to former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, perhaps the most polarizing figure in this year's NFL draft. On one hand you have those who praise Tebow's athleticism and leadership, but on the other hand you have those who doubt his ability to succeed as a pro because of poor throwing mechanics. Harper draws the same kind of responses, there are those that love his natural talent and those that doubt his ability to handle professional pitchers.
Whether the Nationals decide to draft Harper with their second consecutive first overall pick or not, they're going to be subject to massive amounts of second guessing. If they draft him and he flops, they'll get criticized for not doing a better job of scouting him. On the other hand, if they pass him up, they'll get criticized for not taking the best talent available.
As good as Harper is, there are certainly more doubts about his game than there were about Strasburg's last year, and possibly more than there were about Justin Upton when he was drafted in 2005.