Bryce Harper has spent the past five months proving to almost everyone that he's more than just hype and deserving of the No. 1 overall pick in this year's First-Year Player Draft. The 17-year-old enters the final weekend of the regular season hitting .417/.507/.899 with 21 home runs, 16 doubles and a 31-31 BB/K ratio in 51 games. The Washington Nationals, owners of that prized selection, have all but said publicly that Harper will be the choice on June 7.
Is there anything left for him to prove? Can he actually improve his stock if he's already the odds-on favorite to be the top pick?
The answer to both questions is undoubtedly yes.
Every time a young talent puts on a uniform, he's auditioning. Until the player decides he doesn't wish to play anymore, he has something to prove. If that weren't the case, pitchers would never pitch to Albert Pujols, the best hitter in Major League Baseball. If that weren't the case, Pujols would simply be awarded a four-bagger every turn at the plate.
Harper may not be able to rise up the draft boards, but he can improve his "stock."
"It might be at the point where he's just either making money for himself or losing a little bit off the bonus," said one front office executive who spent more than a decade as one east coast club's chief contract negotiator. "Every little thing he does will be used to hike the number up as far as possible."
Performing in the postseason is the one thing he's yet to do this spring, but he'll get that chance next week as the 4-day Region 18 Tournament begins. The competition with be among the very best Harper has seen all season, challenging the teenage phenom once again.
"There's probably only so far down he can fall," the executive said. "I can't imagine that if they (Washington) feel he's their guy now -- (I can't imagine) that would change between now and draft day. Not based on his performance. So the only thing he can really do is help himself."
If Harper has a strong postseason to further highlight a tremendous year, he may break the record for a signing bonus set just last year by Nationals right-hander Stephen Strasburg and certainly will receive more than any other 17-year-old in the draft's 45-year history.
Finding the next Tony Sanchez and Matt Hobgood
We talked yesterday about how this year's Donovan Tate may be Harvard-Westlake OF Austin Wilson -- perhaps the best athlete in the class. But who might follow in the footsteps of Tony Sanchez and Matt Hobgood from last year's draft?
Sanchez was a surprise pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates at No. 4 overall last June and the Baltimore Orioles followed that up by tabbing right-hander Matt Hobgood. Sanchez ranked at No. 29 on Keith Law's Final Top 100 last year, and Hobgood was No. 18. Most clubs graded at least two or three other prep arms ahead of Hobgood and Sanchez wasn't in the Top 30 for others. But they were the choices anyway, for whatever reason -- money, signability or positional need.
With prep arms the strength in this year's class -- there are 11 high school pitchers in the Top 50 and 28 in the Top 100 -- there are possibilities for a Hobgood repeat.
With Dylan Covey, Karsten Whitson and Jameson Taillon appearing like Top 10 picks, and A.J. Cole perhaps having more upside than any of them, right-handers Aaron Sanchez (No. 17), Kevin Gausman (No. 34) or Tyrell Jenkins (No. 36) could be viewed similarly as Hobgood was a year ago, and become a mid-first round pick or better in the same manner.
DeAndre Smelter, who ranks at No. 38, could also fit the bill, as could Stetson Allie and Cam Bedrosian for various reasons that include having well-known names in the scouting community and have famous fathers.
As for a possible Tony Sanchez, the closest match maybe Miami's Yasmani Grandal, whom we have already communicated as being on the radar of the Kansas City Royals at No. 4. Grandal, however, ranks at No. 11 on the Top 100, making such a selection much less of a surprise than was Sanchez.
Cook County High School SS/RHP Kaleb Cowart may be the best two-way prospect in the class and is already expected to be taken in the first round. He could offer a club picking in the Top 10 two chances at a pretty good player.