Let me introduce you to the No. 1 pick in the 2011 amateur draft . . . Bryce Harper. I know, that particular draft won't take place for three more years. As such, how in the world could I make this type of a prediction now? Well, if you watched the 15-year-old, lefthanded-hitting catcher take batting practice, infield, and two plate appearances on Tuesday at the Area Code Games, as I did, then I have no doubt that you would be as enthusiastic about this phenom as I am.
Harper is one of only six athletes from the 2011 graduating class competing in the 22nd annual Area Code Baseball Games at Blair Field in Long Beach, California this week. Of the remaining 172 players, 19 will graduate in 2010 and 153 in 2009. Although I have only seen two games and four of the eight teams thus far, I would be surprised if there is a player who rivals Harper's talent. Yes, I believe Harper just may be the most outstanding prep in the country right now.
I'm not the only one who feels this way about the 6-foot-2, 197-pound sophomore-to-be from Las Vegas. I spoke to a handful of the more than 300 scouts in attendance on the first day of the tournament about Harper and the responses – from those who have followed him closely to others who had seen him for the first time that day – ranged from "wow" to shaking head in disbelief to "the best high school hitter I've ever seen."
Using a wood bat, Harper put on a hitting clinic toward the end of BP, blasting one shot after another. Several hours later, the prized prospect hit the two hardest balls during the opening day of the six-day tournament in which pitchers dominated the action. In his first at-bat, Harper, serving as the designated hitter for the Cincinnati Reds, lined out to center field. He hit the ball about as squarely as possible, directly up the middle but straight into the glove of Washingon Nationals center fielder Kyrell Hudson.
In Harper's second trip to the plate, he jacked a towering shot off the right-field wall for a stand-up triple to open the sixth inning. It is important to note that Blair Field is a pitcher-friendly ballpark played at seaside altitude with 348-ft dimensions down the lines that exceed those of every major-league stadium in existence. He scored the only run of the game on a subsequent ground out to short. Harper was replaced in the ninth, ending the night with one of the only two hits in the contest as seven Reds pitchers combined to no-hit the Nats.
Harper has a power bat and a plus throwing arm that "already grades out to 70 on the 20 to 80 scouting scale," according to Dave Perkin of Baseball America. During infield prior to the game, Harper, in full gear, rifled the ball out of a crouch to second and third base with precision. Upon seeing him in action, I marked down "+ + arm" next to his name in my program. Although the rap on him is that he's not all that fast, I thought he ran very well from home to third on that triple, especially considering his age, size, and power. The kid is nothing if not impressive.
Check out Harper's explosive swing in the cage during a recent batting practice session.
You can also see Harper going yard in an actual game in this video clip.
As shown, Harper employs a slightly open stance with the right heel off the ground and his hands held high. He uses his body well, gets into a good position at the point of contact, and goes after the ball in a very aggressive manner. Bryce doesn't use batting gloves and tends to lean over and grab a handful of dirt before each at-bat. The youngster displayed a good eye and a mature approach on Tuesday, waiting for his pitch and peppering the offerings that he can handle.
I am planning on catching some more games between now and Sunday and will report back on Monday with added commentary on Harper as well as a number of other standouts. The Area Code Games, long considered one of the top talent showcases in the country, has produced more than 300 major league players in just over two decades. There may be 15 or 20 participants who will eventually don big-league uniforms, and the best of the bunch just might be a kid who is still too young to drive. While Bryce Harper has a long ways to go (three more years of high school for the Las Vegas Wildcats and a few years in the minors) before reaching the Show, the June 2011 draft couldn't come any sooner for the MLB team lucky enough to select him.
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Area Code Teams
Chicago White Sox – Midwest (Oklahoma, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Missouri)
Cincinnati Reds – Southwest (Arizona, Colorado, Utah, Nevada)
Milwaukee Brewers (Blue) – Southern California
Milwaukee Brewers (Gray) – Northern California
New York Yankees – Northeast (New York, Maryland, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts)
Oakland Athletics – Southeast (Georgia, South Carolina, Tennessee, North Carolina, Florida)
Texas Rangers – Texas, Louisiana
Washington Nationals – Pacific Northwest (Washington, Oregon)
Tuesday, August 5:
8:00 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. – Player Evaluation (SPARQ Testing and Batting Practice)
3:45 p.m. – White Sox vs. Rangers (9)
7:15 p.m. – Reds vs. Nationals (9)
Wednesday, August 6:
8:30 a.m. – Rangers vs. Nationals (9)
12:00 p.m. – Brewers (Blue) vs. Athletics
3:00 p.m. – Brewers (Gray) vs. Yankees
6:30 p.m. – MLB Scout Symposium (Long Beach Marriott)
Thursday, August 7:
8:30 a.m. – Brewers (Gray) vs. Athletics
11:30 a.m. – Brewers (Blue) vs. Yankees
2:30 p.m. – Reds vs. Rangers
5:30 p.m. – Nationals vs. White Sox
Friday, August 8:
8:30 a.m. – Yankees vs. Nationals
11:30 a.m. – Athletics vs. Rangers
2:30 p.m. – Brewers (Blue) vs. White Sox
5:30 p.m. – Brewers (Gray) vs. Reds (9)
Saturday, August 9:
8:30 a.m. – Reds vs. Brewers (Blue)
11:30 a.m. – Nationals vs. Brewers (Gray)
2:30 p.m. – White Sox vs. Brewers (Gray)
5:30 p.m. – Athletics vs. Yankees (9)
Sunday, August 10:
8:30 a.m. – White Sox vs. Athletics
11:30 a.m. – Yankees vs. Reds
2:30 p.m. – Rangers vs. Brewers (Blue)