When you’re the next big thing, the world can be your oyster, or it can fizzle just like the next fad.
Bryce Harper has been written and talked about for nearly four years, which is astounding since he’s only 20-years-old, and hasn’t even begun to scratch the surface of his extraordinary talent.
For every Joe Charboneau, who won the American League Rookie of the Year in 1980 after swatting 23 homers with 87 runs batted in for the Cleveland Indians, but was washed up after three seasons and closed out his career with 29 homers and 114 RBIs.
Then there’s Bob Horner, who captured the National League Rookie of the Year trophy in 1978 with the Atlanta Braves after belting 23 homers with 63 RBI, but played 10 seasons and finished with 218 home runs and 685 RBIs.
Who knows how Harper’s career will end, but it doesn’t seem fair to compare him to someone like the New York Yankees’ all-time great Mickey Mantle.
A switch-hitter, Mantle also entered the big leagues at 19, and had the same ability to launch majestic home runs deep into the upper deck.
So it wasn’t too surprising that Harper, an outfielder with amazing foot speed, became the youngest position player to participate in an All-Star Game, and at the pace he’s on should make a second appearance when the New York Mets’ Citi Field hosts the event in July.
Even before Harper signed a big-league contract with the Washington Nationals, the club that drafted him No. 1 overall in 2010, he was well known.
While only 16, and playing for Las Vegas High, Sports Illustrated’s national baseball writer Tom Verducci profiled the left-handed hitting Harper with the splashy headline: “Baseball’s Chosen One.”
Verducci’s lengthy article raved about Harper crushing a baseball 570 feet, and throwing a fastball at 96 miles per hour.
It was other worldly, but these things actually happened, and once they became public every big-league scout was in Harper’s backyard.
Harper spent only 130 games in the minor leagues, socking 18 home runs with 61 RBIs before making his major league debut on April 28, 2012. In time, he became the NL Rookie of the Year after batting .270 with 22 homers, 59 RBIs and 98 runs scored.
So far, the 6-foot-2, 230-pound Harper is off to another splendid season. Though he sat out two of three games this past weekend against the visiting Chicago Cubs, Harper’s second in the Senior Circuit with 10 home runs, third in slugging percentage at .619, has driven in 21 runs, scored 22 runs, and is batting .297.
Beside Harper, the Nationals’ lineup is dotted with young stars like third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, pitchers Gio Gonzalez, Jordan Zimmerman and Stephen Strasburg, along with veteran talent such as outfielder Jayson Werth and pitcher Dan Haren.
The Nationals are 20-17 for second place in the NL East and one game behind the Braves, but were favored by many to claim the division.
In 2012, the Nationals made the playoffs, but were taken out in the Divisional Series by the St. Louis Cardinals in five games. With that you can bet Harper and crew want to exact some revenge.
Rick Assad has been a sportswriter for more than two decades. He has a political science degree from UCLA, a journalism degree from CSUN, is a staff writer for diamondboxing.com, and is a columnist for socalboxing.wordpress.com. You may e-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.