Arguably, the most impressive part about Bryce Harper's career up to this point has been his ability to consistently exceed expectations despite being among the most hyped prospects in the history of the game.
Tales of his achievements across the high school diamonds of Las Vegas were already the stuff of legend when he cut his prep career short by two years in order to play a season of junior college baseball in preparation for the 2010 draft. Entering the spring as the overwhelming favorite to be the top pick, scouts would have been impressed if Harper merely held his own in a good conference that uses wooden bats. Instead, he rewrote the College Of Southern Nevada record book, hitting .443 and slugging 31 home runs to eclipse the school record by a mere 19.
Just 17 years old when signed to a record deal by the Washington Nationals, Harper began his professional career in the Arizona Fall League, playing against and with upper-level prospects, many of whom have already reached the big leagues. After slugging .639 in limited play, one scout said, "He's a child and he not only belonged on the field with those guys, he stood out."
His official career got off to a slow start in April, but a pair of contact lenses got him back on track, and heading into Thursday night's action he was batting a whopping .340/.425/.615 for Low-A Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League. He's been intentionally walked five times in his past 23 games. That's nearly unheard of at this level, as last year's season leader had six.
There is no statistical or scouting evidence to say Harper is not good, or even not very good. But just how good can he be? To find out, let's go through the traditional five tools and walk through the ranges a number of scouts projected for him as a big leaguer on the 20-80 scale (with 50 being major league average) based on early season looks.