As you've probably heard, Bryce Harper, the Nationals' number one pick and the number one pick in the country, signed today with the Nationals for just under $10 million. The total is the highest ever for a non-pitcher and is more than Mark Teixeira received all those years ago. The Teixeira deal worked out and now we'll have to see it all turns out. There is one major difference though. Bryce Harper has painted himself into such a position that he'll either be a big star or a monumental bust. The difference? His own hype machine.
There has never been a story like Bryce Harper in baseball. The only time the Fan can recall a similar situation was when Bo Jackson signed to play baseball and when Bob Horner signed with the Braves. This is that kind of deal. Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16. He quit high school two years early to go to junior college and get a head start on getting drafted. Every move has been plotted and scripted. Scott Boras has been a willing participant in the making of Harper's image. Now all Harper has to do is live up to the hype.
But that won't be as easy as it was for Stephen Strasburg. Strasburg only has to throw the ball in such a way so the batter can't hit it. Strasburg has done that most of the time. He was low key in his approach. The build up was media painted and not self-painted. Harper is nothing like that. The young man has built this day for several years. Now all he has to do is deliver.
The thing about Strasburg and his debut is that nobody knew how it would all work out. Strasburg said all the right things. He just wanted to fit in. He just wanted to contribute. When he pitched against the Pirates and struck out 14 batters, it was an event that won't be soon forgotten. Harper won't get the ball every fifth day like Strasburg. He won't be overly protected with pitch counts and Joba-like rules. Once Harper gets his chance, he'll be in there every day and will have to grind it out as an every day player and he'll either sink or swim. He doesn't have any other options.
But first he has to prove himself in the minors. He will have to prove he can be given a shot. Harper isn't anything until he produces. That's the difference between the star-making machine in basketball and other sports where a guy gets drafted, goes right to the pros and he's quickly a part of a team. In baseball, you have to prove you belong by doing well in the minors before you'll even get a chance to shine in the majors. That's one part of the Harper hype machine that can't be scripted away. Well, it can be, but he has to perform and prove he's the player the Nationals think he is.
$10 million is a lot of money. It's especially a lot of money for a player who hasn't proven a thing. It's a huge gamble. But if it pays off, Harper could be worth every penny.