May 25, 2010

Would the Pirates Draft Bryce Harper?

PITTSBURGH, Pa. / May 25, 2010

One of the biggest days of the Pirates' season is just two weeks away. By virtue of their terrible finish to the '09 season, Pittsburgh edged out the Orioles, Royals, Indians (and Yankees) to pick second in the June 7 amateur draft. A team in the Pirates' position simply cannot afford to miss out on the chance to get an impact player with this pick.

Catcher Bryce Harper is the consensus #1 talent in the draft, drawing comparisons to LeBron James. After hitting .616 in his first two years of high school, Harper took the unprecedented step of getting his GED and enrolling in junior college at age 17 - all in order to be eligible for the draft a year earlier.

Bryce is hitting .417/.509/.917 in junior college with 71 runs scored, 23 home runs, and 68 RBIs in just 55 games. He hit four home runs in a playoff game over the weekend. Although it's true that junior college pitching leaves much to be desired (the final score of the 4 HR game was 25-11), there's also nothing more he could do.

Harper is expected to be picked first overall by the Washington Nationals - but don't be surprised if the Nationals pass on the pick. Harper is a Scott Boras client and is rumored to be demanding the highest bonus in the history of the draft. Moreover, under Boras's agency, if he pans out he's almost certain to leave whatever team develops him in favor of free agency at the first opportunity. With their MLB team reaching respectability this year, the Nationals might reasonably prefer to spend their money on free agents while drafting a cheaper player - especially when they already spent $15.1 million on a four year contract for Boras client Stephen Strasburg last year.

If the Nats do pass on Harper, the Pirates will be forced into a difficult decision. Boras's representation led to a near-disaster with the Pirates' 2008 #2 pick Pedro Alvarez when the agent claimed Alvarez's contract hadn't been signed by the August 15 deadline. "Regrettably, we are not surprised that Mr. Boras would attempt to raise a meritless legal claim in an effort to compel us to renegotiate Pedro's contract to one more to his liking," Pirates owner Frank Coonelly said at the time in a press release.

It was the culmination of many Coonelly-Boras battles beginning while Coonelly was counsel for the MLB commissioner's office. Boras was widely criticized for putting personal animosity ahead of the best interests of his client. Alvarez's contract was only honored after a protracted legal battle which delayed his development by forcing him to sit out the rest of the '08 minor league season.

The Alvarez battle was fresh in the Pirates' minds when they chose the eminently signable Tony Sanchez with the fourth overall pick in '09. Another year later, could Coonelly forgive and forget? And would it be a good idea? Alvarez, like Strasburg, had proven himself at the highest level of NCAA Divsion I competition. A 17-year-old catcher is quite a bit more risky.

Moreover, while positional scarcity shouldn't normally be a consideration for a first round pick, catcher is about the worst position for the Pirates to draft right now. In fact it's hard to imagine any team having less need for a catcher. Ryan Doumit, signed through 2011, is one of the two or three best hitters in the Pirates' lineup. Jason Jaramillo is one of the better backups in the majors. Their catcher of the future is Sanchez, who is hitting .290/.401/.441 at Bradenton. And out of the four catchers at Indianapolis and Altoona, Kris Watts has the lowest on base percentage at .397.

Taking all that into consideration, I would be shocked to see the Pirates draft Bryce Harper. Not only would Harper money ruin the club's draft strategy of overpaying for hard-to-sign picks later in the draft, but it wouldn't necessarily give them a better player than those already in the system. The safest thing to do with a top draft pick is to take a college pitcher and that's what I expect the Pirates to do.


  1. This is crazy talk. Pass on Harper and take a college pitcher? I think most fans are ok with the idea of not drafting Harper because he will already be gone, but to draft a college player over two of either Harper, Taillon or Machado would be horrible. As for the Pirate's system being flush with talented stoppers. . . well, I think Doumit's recent performance has made some forget about his history. Factoring in Domits injury history, Sanchez's level and we have an average group of catchers. So, if things happen that allow for the Buccos to draft Harper, and they pass, it will be because of money pure and simple.

  2. NO WAY we pass on Harper. If he falls to us in the June draft (good chance because Washington still thinks it's in the race, and goes all in this year) they we HAVE TO take him. And we HAVE TO sign him. Doumit becomes instant summer trade bait for pitching prospects. Worst case scenario is Harper is our 1B of the future. Catchers can usually move to first pretty easily.

  3. Well if we drafted him we wouldnt put him at Catcher. Ide see him being a corner ourfeilder or our firstbaseman of the future

  4. The hype on Bryce Harper is just starting. He is finally playing pro ball, and it seems like he has all the skills that made Josh Hamilton so highly regarded out of high school.