After losing 205 games the past two seasons, the Washington Nationals landed top pitching prospect Stephen Strasburg and now 17-year-old slugger Bryce Harper.
The Nationals took Harper with the top pick in Major League Baseball’s first-year player draft last night, one year after they made Strasburg the No. 1 selection.
Harper appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine as a high school sophomore under the headline “Baseball’s Chosen One” and has received almost as much media attention as Strasburg, who makes his debut for the Nationals today after racing through the minor leagues.
“He is mature beyond his years as far as performance on the field, tools development and even his social skills,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said of Harper. “This guy has had more hype and more publicity than most 25-year-olds have had already. He has handled it remarkably.”
Harper, a Las Vegas native, got his high school equivalency diploma two years early so he could face stiffer competition in junior college. At the College of Southern Nevada this past season, he hit 31 home runs while using a wooden bat for most games.
Although Harper played catcher at Southern Nevada, he’ll probably be moved to an outfield position when he joins the Nationals. Rizzo said playing the outfield would accelerate his development in the minors and extend his major league career.
“Anywhere they need me, I’m there,” Harper, the first junior college player to be drafted No. 1, said in a televised interview with the MLB Network. “I just want to make it.”
$10 Million Contract?
Jim Callis, the executive editor of Baseball America, said Harper is the best power-hitting prospect he’s seen and may get a guaranteed contract worth more than $10 million, breaking the record for a non-pitcher of $9.5 million that the Texas Rangers paid Mark Teixeira in 2001.
The Nationals signed Strasburg, a pitcher whose fastball can top 100 mph (161 kph), for a record $15.1 million last year, MLB.com said. Strasburg, 21, is set to make his major league debut today against the Pittsburgh Pirates after going 7-2 with a 1.30 earned run average in the minors.
Like Strasburg, Harper is represented by Scott Boras, who is also the agent for Alex Rodriguez, the sport’s highest-paid player. Rizzo said he’s confident the Nationals will sign the 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper before the Aug. 16 deadline.
“He is a guy that wants to get out and play,” Rizzo said of Harper. “He has a representative we have dealt with successfully in the past. We are going to give it our best effort on all sides.”
Two high school seniors followed Harper in the draft, as the Pittsburgh Pirates took pitcher Jameson Taillon from The Woodlands, Texas, and the Baltimore Orioles drafted Miami-area shortstop Manny Machado with the third overall pick.
The New York Mets used the seventh pick on University of North Carolina pitcher Matt Harvey. The New York Yankees, who had the final first-round pick after winning the World Series last season, drafted shortstop Cito Culver from Irondequoit High School in upstate New York.
Center fielder Delino DeShields Jr., the son of 1987 first-round pick Delino DeShields, was selected eighth overall by the Houston Astros. Pitcher Cam Bedrosian, the son of 1987 National League Cy Young Award winner Steve Bedrosian, was taken 29th by the Los Angeles Angels.
Both are high school seniors and older than Harper, who hit .443 with 31 homers, 98 runs batted in and 20 stolen bases in 66 junior college games this season.
During the 2009 International Power Showcase in Tampa, Florida, the left-handed hitting Harper blasted a 502-foot home run, the longest in Tropicana Field history. That year, as a sophomore at Las Vegas High School, he hit .626 with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs.
“He has great athletic skills and he’s going to be a big man when he grows into that body,” Rizzo said.