An interesting development occurred before next week’s draft, as Bryce Harper was ejected from the Junior College World Series. Here is a video of Harper’s ejection. Harper—frustrated after taking a called third strike—drew a line in the dirt indicating his view of the strike zone. The combination of Harper’s reaction, and the fact he failed to consider the dirt was getting awfully close to the umpire, prompted a justifiable ejection.
The ejection should not—and will not—effect the Nationals’ decision to take Harper with the first overall pick. However, it brings to mind Kevin Goldstein’s profile of Harper in Baseball Prospectus raising questions regarding Harper’s makeup. The discussion of Harper’s makeup was harsh, stating:
“Makeup: This should not be underrated. It’s impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn’t blown away by Harper’s ability on the field, but it’s equally difficult to find one who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. “He’s just a bad, bad guy,” said one front-office official. “He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.” How this plays into the negotiation or future evaluation is yet to be determined, as history has shown us that the bigger talent a player is, the more makeup issues teams will deal with. Bench players can’t afford to be problems, but plenty of teams happily put up with difficult superstars.”
The profile is surprising because—if true—it raises concerns whether the Nationals should select Harper. I have no knowledge on the issue to offer a credible opinion, but my guess is Goldstein’s report is too hard on Harper based on a few events. The sources are anonymous, and if all the talent evaluators disliked Harper, you would think the concerns would show up in the tone of their reports. There are also no reported off-the-field incidents which would raise any concerns. But Goldstein is a good writer, so it is difficult to dismiss the report. Nobody disputes Harper does not lack confidence, even perhaps to a fault. For example, in the ESPN profile about Harper entitled “the Natural,” Harper’s discussion of Cooperstown, 600 foot home runs is off-putting, or at best, reflects a person placing exceptions on himself that could lead to problems.
Harper’s defenders have always said criticism of his makeup misinterprets his strong competitive desire for an attitude problem. While there is no doubt Harper’s camp would rather the ejection not have occurred, in a strange sense, the ejection can be viewed as positive about Harper’s makeup. It shows a strong competitive desire for a player with Harper’s future to immerse himself enough in the JUCO game to get ejected the week before the draft. At least he didn’t pull a Delmon Young.
It is normal for 17 year old dubbed “the chosen one” to perhaps get an overinflated ego. But baseball is a humbling game and Harper could find professional baseball will be tougher than expected. At that point, if Harper finds “fundamentals are a crutch for the talentless,” than the Nationals made a serious mistake. But when he faces a “bump,” I am reasonably certain he will make the adjustments necessary to be an elite player, which is why it is a no-brainer for the Nationals to select Harper with the first selection in next week’s draft.