So who do you want to start a franchise with?
A top-of-the-order hitter with extraordinarily elite speed, plays Gold Glove defense, has a cannon for an arm, draws a lot of walks and has the ability to hit 25-30 home runs a season?
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Or do you want arguably the best prospect of all time? A baseball prodigy who doesn’t possess a weakness, expect maybe his ego. A brash 18-year-old who was blasting 500-foot home runs as a 16-year-old, bypassed his senior year of high school to enroll at a junior college and was the first pick in last year’s draft.
There may not be a wrong answer, just a matter of taste really. One is cocky, the other is as modest as a mouse. Both are ridiculously talented.
The Angels’ Mike Trout and the Nationals’ Bryce Harper were the top two prospects by almost everyone heading into this season; 1 and 1a, then the rest. Harper had the spotlight on him, just the way he wanted it, while Trout just went out and played baseball everyday.
Harper’s story is well-known by even the most casual fan. His dad tossed him sunflower seeds and red beans in the back yard as a child to improve his hand-eye coordination. As a 12-year-old, he went 12 for 12 with 11 home runs in a Super League tournament. He was the first sophomore named player of the year by Baseball America — hitting .626 with 15 home runs and 55 RBIs while hardly getting a pitch to hit. Bored with the competition, and not feeling challenged anymore in high school, he dropped out, got his GED and enrolled at Southern Nevada University, a junior community college that uses wooden bats.
He entered as a 17-year-old freshman, and left as the SWAC player of the year. He finished the season hitting .443 with 31 HRs, 98 RBIs, 20 stolen bases and a line of .526/.987/1.513. He led the team in nearly every offensive stat and broke the school’s home run record, which had been 12.
In three games in the Western District finals, Harper went 14 for 18 with three doubles, two triples, five home runs and 18 RBIs, including going 6 for 6 with four homers and 10 RBIs in the second game of a doubleheader.
If you had to build the perfect hitter, Harper would be it. At 6-3 and 225 pounds, the left-hander has “once in a generation” power, elite speed, an arm that has been clocked at 90 mph and an overall feel for the game not seen by players his age. Yet even with all of the talent bottled up in that body, his head tends to get the better of him sometimes.
At the junior college world series, he was ejected for arguing balls and strikes, causing him to miss the final two games, thus ending his college career. His team lost both games and was eliminated. Then there was the famed ‘kiss’ he blew to an opposing pitcher this season. That was followed by another ejection seen here for arguing balls and strikes again.
Call it passion, call it behavior brought on by being told you are the best your entire life. All I know is that if he hits his first major-league home run off Carlos Zambrano, then blows him a kiss as he is rounding third, ambulances will be on the field.
Harper started this season at class-A Hagerstown. In 72 games, he hit .318 with 14 home runs, 46 RBIs, 19 stolen bases (plus .423/.554/.977), proving the hype was for real. He struggled a little with his promotion to double-A Harrisburg, hitting .256, three HRs, 12 RBIs (.329/.395/.724) in 37 games before a hamstring injury ended his season. Still, the 18-year-old impressed in his first taste of professional ball, especially this walkoff bomb over the center-field wall on Aug. 12.
Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo has stated they aren’t going to rush the phenom, saying he still needs to work on his defense, and most likely his character. But with Stephen Strasburg coming back early from Tommy John surgery, it’s a good bet Harper will get a shot with the club next spring.
Trout’s story is a little different, and not that well-known. He played his high school ball in Millville, N.J., not exactly a hot bed for baseball players. The Northeast in general doesn’t get a lot of attention from scouts so Trout flew under the radar. The 6-1, 215-pound center fielder, who bares a striking resemblance to Mickey Mantle, also has a similar skill set to the Yankees great. Built like a linebacker, Trout has been clocked at 3.65 seconds to first base. The fleet-footed Ichiro Suzuki has been clocked at 3.7, and he’s left-handed. That speed allows him to cover more ground than anybody in center field. Combine that with his instincts and glove work, and you get plays like this one he made in his big-league debut.
He set a New Jersey state record with 18 home runs his senior year, showing the power is there, too. Strasburg was all the talk leading up to the 2009 draft, and for good reason. Trout still was considered a borderline first-rounder, and Angels manager Mike Scioscia was ecstatic when the kid he likened to Kirby Puckett fell in his lap at the 25th pick. Trout turned down an offer to play at East Carolina and headed to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit .360 with 25 RBIs and 13 stolen bases (.905 OPS) in 39 games as a 17-year-old, becoming the youngest recipient of the Topps minor-league player-of-the-year award and opening up eyes while making teams that passed on him palm their faces.
He hit .362 with 76 runs and 45 stolen bases in 81 games at single-A ball in 2010 before being promoted to double-A as an 18-year-old. He finished the season .341 with 106 runs, 28 doubles, nine triples, 10 HRs, 58 RBIs and 56 stolen bases (.428/.508/.930) and was vaulted into the top prospect conversation with Harper.
Trout started this season with double-A Arkansas as one of the youngest players in the league. Through his first 68 games, he hit .325 with 60 runs, nine HRs, 25 RBIs and 26 stolen bases while posting a .918 OPS from the leadoff spot. An injury to Angels center fielder Peter Bourjos prompted the organization to call up the 19-year-old, making him the youngest player in baseball. Trout admitted to having jitters his first go-round, which led to his hitting .163 (7 for 43) in his 14-game stint. Still, he showed glimpses of the player he will become with superb defense, and this bomb, his first career home run in front of friends and family in Baltimore.
Some questioned the Angels’ decision to bring up a 19-year-old knowing they were going to send him down when Bourjos was healthy. A player that young can quickly lose confidence in himself. Trout went out and hit .329 the next 23 games with an OPS of 1.018. On Wednesday, he was named minor-league player of the year.
The Angels recalled him Aug. 19, and with the jitters gone this time, he hit .406 in his first 11 games with 11 runs, four HRs, eight RBIs and a 1.316 OPS from the eight spot. He showed off his plate discipline by walking four times while only striking out twice in that stretch.
Harper has said he wants to be the best who ever played the game. He wants to hit .430 and be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He welcomes the spotlight and all that comes with it. He walks the thin line of cockiness/confidence, often acting as if success is owed to him and not always enjoying the game.
Trout is the humble kid who still seems in awe at the success he has earned by reaching the majors at such an early age. He is just a kid having fun while playing the game he loves.
Both couldn’t be further apart in personality, yet so similar in talent.
Who would you want on your team?