Washington Nationals Expected to Lose Remaining 100 Games: Bryce Harper to Skip Final Two Years of High School

Based on his raw talent, Harper might have gone #1 in this year's draft.

Based on his raw talent, Harper might have gone #1 in this year's draft.

Just about a week after being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated, phenom Bryce Harper drastically altered the 2009 baseball season without so much as picking up a bat or throwing a ball. On Sunday, Harper’s father made an announcement that Bryce would be forgoing his final two years of high school to enter the 2010 MLB Draft. In order to be eligible, Harper plans on attaining a GED and then enrolling at a community college (somewhere in Ohio, Lebron James wonders why he didn’t come up with the same idea). Harper would conceivably be the number one pick of the Washington Nationals, who at 16-45, are the worst team in baseball by nearly 10 games. That would give the Nationals back-to-back number one picks after selecting Stephen Strasburg in last week’s draft, and might finally give Washington baseball fans something to get excited about (other than waiting for the inevitable Elijah Dukes implosion). But with this recent development, and Harper’s once in a generation talent, it might not be long before teams start throwing games like the Cleveland Cavaliers in 2002-03. If any team signs Jose Lima or Denny Neagle as starting pitchers, the battle for inferiority could get ugly.

After reading Tom Verducci’s article in the June 8th Sports Illustrated, it became clear that Harper had little left to prove at the high school levelAs a sophomore Harper hit .626 with 14 HRs, 55 RBI and stole 36 bases; numbers most people would struggle to post in a season of Wiffle Ball against the cast of The Biggest Loser.  At only 16 he already looks like a major leaguer, standing at 6’3″ and weighing 205 lbs, in addition to throwing 96 miles-an-hour and hitting 500+ foot longballs. He draws rave reviews for his defense at catcher and his speed and strength are unheralded for a player his age. Against top international talent in the 16U Pan Am Championships last year, Harper was named MVP after hitting .571 and slugging 1.214. To put it quite simply, Harper is ready for a new challenge.

At only 16, Harper's bat speed has been measured at over 100 mph.

Harper's bat speed has been measured at over 100 mph.

Although he will probably receive criticism for his decision to skip high school, Harper won’t be the first player under 18 to ever sign with a major league team. The majority of these players have been foreign born, so Bryce will be breaking new ground in a sense, but what motivation does he have to play two more years of high school? Talented players from Latin America can sign as soon as they turn 16, the same age that Miguel Cabrera was when the Marlins signed him for over $1 million. Of course that contract will look like a bargain compared to what Harper will receive after being drafted in 2010; his agent is the hellspawn infamous Scott Boras. Harper has nothing to gain by staying in high school, risking injury or plateauing as a player by continuing to compete against inferior talent. His stock will likely never rise higher than it is now, and with Boras asking around $50 million for Strasburg, the question becomes: what ungodly sum of money will Harper receive from the Nationals in 2010? $75 million? $100 million? By making himself eligible for next year’s draft, Bryce Harper puts himself in a position to be set for life…at the age of 17.

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Baseball’s Creamy Centers: The Surprise Players of 2009

Adam Jones is the nougat in a Baby Ruth.

Adam Jones is like the nougat in a Baby Ruth.

We’ve all had the experience before. You grab a chocolate and expect just that, chocolate, nothing more and nothing less. Yet when you bite into that delicious little piece of heaven an unsuspected but more than welcome guest is waiting there for you. Is it caramel? Peanut butter? Coconut? Nougat? Who cares? Either way, it’s a wonderful addition to something you already love. Much like strawberry filling in a chocolate, the following players will make the 2009 MLB season just that much sweeter. These soon to be studs are flying under the radar now but as the heat of summer increases their milk chocolate shells will disappear, leaving these surprising players in higher demand than one of Wonka’s golden tickets.

Adam Jones–CF–Baltimore Orioles: Unlike his football counterpart who shares the same name, this Adam Jones prefers hitting homeruns to hitting bodyguards and would much rather make the playoffs than make it rain. Jones came to Baltimore last year and started for the Orioles in centerfield as part of the historically bad trade that sent Erik Bedard to Seattle (*Bill Bavasi slaps forehead*). After struggling early in the season Jones came on strong in the second half and showed the exciting combination of speed and power that will make him a cornerstone of Baltimore teams for years to come. He plays centerfield with aplomb and a 20HR-20SB season is not out of the question for Jones in 2009; this kid’s upside is through the roof.

Ian Stewart-2B-Colorado Rockies: Stewart won’t be able to hide out in the shadows of the Rocky Mountains for much longer; this middle-infielder is a legitimate 30-HR threat. One of the Rockies top prospects last year, Stewart justified that title by bashing 10 HRs and driving in 41 runs in only 266 ABs during the 2008 season. Although he still strikes out at an astonishing rate, his power potential and ability to play any spot in the infield make him one to watch in 2009.

Shin-Soo's choo-ey caramel center may surprise you.

Shin-Soo's choo-ey caramel center may surprise you.

Shin-Soo Choo–OF–Cleveland Indians: Not surprisingly, Choo is a former Mariner prospect who flourished once he left Seattle. Choo absolutely tore the cover off the ball once he started getting at-bats last season, hitting .343 after the All-Star break. The South Korean Sultan of Swat should continue his assault on AL pitching in 2009 and coupled with Grady Sizemore give the Indians a potent offense. Look for Choo to hit around .300 with 20-25 HRs and 85-90 RBIs, not bad numbers for a guy that couldn’t stick in the Mariners’ outfield.

Chris Davis–1B-Texas Rangers: Chris “Crush” Davis earned his nickname in the minors because of his repeated tattooing of baseballs; he did nothing to change that reputation after his call-up last season. In just under 300 ABs Davis drilled 17 HRs, 23 2Bs and had 55 RBIs and 51 runs. Playing a full season in the bandbox that is the Ballpark at Arlington gives him a legitimate shot at 40 HRs, no small feat in the post steroid era (only 2 players hit more than 40 HRs last year, Adam Dunn and Ryan Howard). AL West pitchers, handle with caution.

Elijah Dukes–OF-Washington Nationals: Sure he’s got more bats in his belfry than Charles Manson, but this guy knows how to hit a baseball. After being castoff from Tampa Bay for repeated bad behaivor, Dukes found a place to play that has no trouble turning a blind eye to criminals: Washington D.C.! He was an instant asset to the Nationals on both sides of the ball and if he can stay out of trouble, could contend for the coveted position of the one player that the team gets has to send to the All-Star game (sorry Dmitri Young). Dukes has the potential to hit 25 HRs and steal 20 cars bases in 2009.

Matt Cain is the peanut butter in baseball's Reese's.

Matt Cain is the peanut butter in baseball's Reese's.

Matt Cain-SP-San Francisco Giants: Matt Cain has looked ready to break out for the past couple of seasons only to struggle with control issues and poor run support. Last season, he went 8-14 despite a 3.78 ERA and 186 Ks, mainly due to an anemic Giants’ offense that batted Bengie Molina in the cleanup spot (that’s like having a “Best of the ’80s” concert headlined by Banarama). The Giants have made significant strides during the offseason, and if Cain can cut down on his walks he should increase his win total and get some of the recognition that’s given to San Fran’s other ace, Tim Lincecum.

Johnny Cueto–SP–Cincinnati Reds: Although the words “Cincinnati Reds” and “quality pitcher” generally go together about as well as “Mark McGwire” and “honest”, the team has actually managed to assemble a stable of young, talented hurlers. Cueto struggled at times during his rookie year, and was overshadowed by the stellar season of his teammate Edison Volquez, but has some of the best stuff of any pitcher in the NL. Cueto showed flashes of brilliance last season, including striking out nearly a batter an inning after the break, and he should improve considerably in his sophomore campaign. Still just 23-years-old, Cueto has the potential to win 10-12 games and post an ERA under 4.00 with tons of Ks in 2009; buy now while the price is low.