Bryce Harper an Enigma, for Now
He's been a YouTube sensation, on the cover of Sports Illustrated, one of the most hyped No. 1 overall picks in major league history, and yet up until the moment Bud Selig called his name, everyone had him marked down as a catcher.
So much for that.
The Nationals announced Harper as an outfielder Monday night, a mild surprise, but a move the club said will allow him to focus on hitting for power, his best tool and the one that will speed up his ascent to the major leagues.
"We believe he could pull off being a major league catcher," explained Washington general manager Mike Rizzo, "but we think his bat is well ahead of where he is defensively as a catcher, and with the rigors of ... catching -- the squatting, the beating that they take -- we just think it will accelerate his development in the minor leagues and extend his career as a major leaguer."
What about his makeup?
A number of reports have called Harper's character into question, more specifically he's been tagged as cocky because he has showed up opposing pitchers and umpires at various points during this season with the College of Southern Nevada and, more recently, was ejected from the first game of the Junior College World Series for arguing balls and strikes.
No problems there either for the Nationals.
"This kid is a baseball rat. We've got a great foundation on where the kid is from," Rizzo said. "This kid gets after it like few amateur players have since I've been doing this. ...
"There are no concerns about this player's makeup. We are sold on him, the family, on the character of the player. He acts like a 17-year-old at times; I don't want to tell you what I did as a 17-year-old."
Echoed Nationals assistant general manager Roy Clark: "We think he's got a chance to be a special-type player on the field and a special person off the field."
OK, so there are sure to be plenty of skeptics on both fronts. Adviser Scott Boras engineered Harper's move to the outfield to give him more longevity and eventually more money in free agency, they'll say. Surely there must be something to all the arrogance talk, they'll add.
But maybe we should give Harper and the Nationals the benefit of the doubt. Rizzo and Co. have earned that at least by turning the direction of the team around as quickly as they have over the last year.
As far as his position goes, there have already been some eloquent arguments made for putting him in the outfield, like this one by Dave Cameron of FanGraphs.com.
Nationals scouting director Kris Kline compared his hitting style and approach to two other outfielders, J.D. Drew and Larry Walker.
"I think we feel this is the only bat in this draft that has the potential to be a 3-hole hitter, and of course hitting from the left side only adds to the value," Kline said. "He's very advanced for his age, very polished [as a hitter]."
If he's that special -- his power that prodigious -- there's plenty to be said, Boras' involvement notwithstanding, for maximizing his potential as a hitter, something much easier to accomplish in right field than behind the dish.
Think just of Matt Wieters' offensive struggles this year for the Orioles and the semi-routine injuries and near-constant talk of moving reigning AL MVP Joe Mauer to third base or the outfield as two timely points in the Nationals' favor on that front.
And Rizzo's point about being 17 is well taken. He also offered up another defense of Harper's character.
"Ask his teammates [about him]," the Washington GM challenged, describing how they paid tribute to him in the JCWS by wearing his distinctive "war paint" eye black after the ejection and subsequent suspension. (Rizzo, by the way, said Harper will not be wearing his "war paint" in the minors.)
Since that SI profile last year, Harper has not talked to the media, or to scouts, as reported by FanHouse's Tom Krasovic. The truth is, we just don't know much either way. All we've had to go on is grainy video, the words of the same scouts who he has stiff-armed and his jaw-dropping numbers (31 homers, 98 RBI, even 20 stolen bases), and that's not really enough to judge anyone, much less a teenager.
We may not get to know him much better anytime soon, either.
Said Rizzo, by now an expert in handling hype thanks to Stephen Strasburg: "We're going to protect the player. We're going to limit access if we feel that it interferes with what we're trying to do and we make no apologies for it."
The one thing we do know for certain about Harper. He's destined to be linked to Strasburg forevermore. Both are singular talents. Both are represented by Boras. Both have now been taken first overall by the Nationals. Strasburg will throw his first pitch in the majors some 24 hours after Harper was picked.
"I can't remember where in back-to-back years there have been two players who have separated themselves from the field the way Strasburg did in '09 and Harper did in '10, so in that respect it is very unique and it's a lucky time to have two No. 1 overall picks because there were such impact players and the decisions were so cut and dry very early in the process," Rizzo said.
Stephen Strasburg, Greg Maddux-Nolan Ryan hybrid? Bryce Harper, stud outfielder and all-around good guy?
If there is ever a time for D.C. fans to dream, this is certainly it.