Hype vs. Truth; Bryce Harper, Manny Machado and Who is REALLY the Better Player
The general population of casual baseball fans first became aware of Bryce Harper when, as a sixteen year old, he was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover and feature article written by Tom Verducci.
The article, filled with exploits of 570 foot homers, 96 mph fastballs, eyeblack art and bible verses on wristbands brought a mixed bag of opinions, from being further advanced at the same age than either Ken Griffey Jr. or Alex Rodriguez, to Verducci trying to create his own version of Sidd Finch.
Almost from the time the June 8, 2009 issue hit the newsstands, Harper’s name was either on the lips or in the mind of every scout, writer, general manager and agent.
Fast forward a year, to June, 2010 and the eve of the MLB Amateur Draft, Harper’s exploits were widely known; bypassing his senior year and obtaining his GED so he would be draft eligible a year sooner, national media interviews, and spending the season playing junior college baseball for a program, ironically, which played in and exclusively used wood bats.
At the same time of Harper’s whirlwind manipulation of the system and the media, was the much less publicized yet no less significant performance of Manny Machado.
A senior at Brito Private High School in Hialeah, Florida, a white collar suburb of Miami, Machado quietly went through his final high school year the same as every one else, he played baseball, he hung out with his friends, he mulled over the decision on who to ask to the prom.
Everything but be the subject of a flufff magazine article.
Machado, who is just four months older than Harper and almost his equal in size (both stand 6′3″, Harper has a twenty pound weight advantage), hit .639 with twelve homers his final season, and had accepted a full boat scholarship ride to nearby Florida International.
As the draft approached, two things became abundantly clear; the 2010 draft class was woefully thin, so much so that some people with many years of draft experience went so far to call it, potentially, one of the worst ever.
The second was that there were only three players, Harper, Machado, and Texas high school righthander Jameson Taillon, were so far above everyone else in the draft that teams such as Arizona and Houston, who held the sixth and eighth picks in the draft, didn’t even have scouts watching them during their respective school years, knowing full well they had no shot at drafting any of them.
The first three picks in the draft played out exactly to the scenario, Harper (Washington), Taillon (Pittsburgh) and Machado (Baltimore) went in the first three picks.
While all three signed before the August deadline, only Machado went on to make his professional debut before the end of the season. Splitting nine games between Rookie and Short Season, Machado posted a .306/1/3 split with an .813 OPS in forty one plate appearances.
After the first month of their respective minor league seasons, the gap between Harper and Machado isn’t quite as big as was initially thought. Playing together in South Atlantic League (with Taillon), both Harper and Machado have each been named league Player of the Week once and are at, or near, the top of the league’s offensive leaders.
Harper started slowly, but has hit at a .467 clip during his current thirteen game hitting streak, raising his average from .231 to .376, a mark which ties him for third in the league batting race.
Machado’s POW came during the week of April 25 through May first, a span of seven games which saw him hit .480 with five homers and 12 RBI.
Machado, who was placed on the DL on May sixth after tweaking his right knee running the bases, has played 25 games to date, with Harper having appeared in 29.
If you put them together, though, you’ll see the gap is, in fact, not as wide, and, when considering Harper is a corner outfielder and Machado a shortstop, there should be some room to consider on which one YOU would rather have.
Harper 29, Machado 25
Harper 101, Machado 90
Both with 20
Harper 38, Machado 30
Harper 18, Machado 13
Harper 7, Machado 5
Harper 24, Machado 21
Harper 70, Machado 55
Harper 16, Machado 19
Harper 24, Machado 14
Harper 1.155, Machado 1.062.
Adding to the equation is both their respective teams, Delmarva and Hagerstown, sit tied atop the Sally’s Northern Division with 20-11 records.
So, on one hand, we have a converted catcher playing right field with questionable character issues and a shortstop who spent the off-season working out with Alex Rodriguez, Melky Cabrera and other professional players, learning how to BE a professional; on AND off the field.
Those who know me understand I don’t pay ANY attention to what someone does in A ball, especially LOW A ball.
The differences between high school and junior college and the first year of pro ball is something every player has to deal with. The first month or so, the adrenaline is flowing and numbers get posted, but once spring turns to summer and thirty game high school seasons turn into one hundred and twenty game minor league seasons, things start to add up and take a toll.
Things we, and they, take for granted, sleeping in your own bed, Mommy’s home cooking, hanging with the bro’s on weekends, these things matter to eighteen year olds, and while actually getting a paycheck to play baseball is something we’d all love to experience, the drive and maturity needed to play everyday, even when sometimes you don’t fee like it, doesn’t happen overnight.
I’m not an owner of any Bryce Harper stock, a corner outfielder with a plus arm and power potential who projects to a lefthanded Mark Reynolds at the major league level isn’t going to give the same return as a solid shortstop defender with middle of the order potential.
And truth be told, my investment is in Taillon.
Several people close to, or involved in the Pirates’s draft process have said recently that if they had the number one pick last year Talllon would still have been their choice.
More advanced at the same age and with better stuff than Stephen Strasburg, Taillon is considered the best high school pitcher since Josh Beckett. It’s hard to throw all your eggs into a basket being carried by a guy who will only pitch once every five days, but in the Pirates’ situation the choice is easy, you don’t build a team around pitching.
You build an organization around pitching.