Now batting for the New York Yankees…#34…Bryce Harper…#34
There were numerous story lines heading into tonight’s Washington National and New York Yankee game. Both the Yankees and Nationals were leading their respective divisions. Each team was riding a 6 game winning streak heading into the series , as both teams have completed back to back interleague sweeps. In fact, the Yankees and Nationals greatly assisted each other as all four swept series were against the other teams’ division opponents. Tonight’s game marks the first time in interleague history that two teams squared off riding a 6 game winning streak. While the current success of each team provides many stories of interest, I believe the most fascinating story line is the beginning of rookie phenom Bryce Harper’s relationship with the New York Yankees, which I believe will be consummated in 2019.
Bryce Harper has taken the major leagues by storm since he has been called up on April 28. The 19-year-old outfielder has hit .302, while lacing 7 HR’s and driving in 19 RBI’s. Harper was the #1 prospect in the minor leagues in 2011 and 2012, and he has lived up to the billing. In the NBA and NFL, the team that drafts in the #1 position usually knows the type of player they are receiving. College and high school baseball players are often hard to project, as “can’t miss” players don’t come around very often. However, Bryce Harper is absolutely as advertised, and the Nationals knew exactly the type of baseball player they were going to have the opportunity to build around.
Even when teams have an opportunity to draft the rare talent that Harper possesses, it’s always hard to figure how they will carry themselves professionally off the field. When Tampa Bay drafted Josh Hamilton, they obviously didn’t expect all of the demons he had to battle to exist, as his relationship with drugs and booze almost cost him his career. Thankfully for Hamilton, he was able to conquer some of his issues and has done an unbelievable job prospering in Texas, but it must be hard for him to think about the potential that was unfulfilled due to his addictions. Another can’t miss prospect on Harper’s level was current Yankee third baseman Alex Rodriguez. In fact, when Harper came up to the plate tonight, he was the first teenager to have an at-bat against the Yankees since A-Rod faced them back in 1995 as a member of the Seattle Mariners. Unlike Josh Hamilton, A-Rod has performed and exceeded all expectations that baseball insiders pinned on him as a prospect. Though he has suffered off the field embarrassments, and has admitted to tampering with some sort of PEDs, it is still hard to say that 639 HR’s, 1,922 RBI’s, 2,837 hits and a career .301 batting average is anything but amazing. For Bryce’s sake, lets hope he follows the path of Alex instead of Hamilton. All early indications of Harper’s demeanor is he is heading in the right direction.
Now why do I think Harper’s relationship with the Yankees is only beginning tonight, and will be completed in 2019? The Nationals played their cards right this year, calling Harper up a month into the season because this year won’t count as one of the six before he becomes a free agent. Therefore, the Nationals will hold his rights through the 2018 year. Though the Nationals will absolutely attempt to lock him up, Harper’s agent is the famous Scott Boras and there is no chance Boras will allow Harper to not test the free agency waters. Now normally, any hot free agent will always be on the Yankees radar. By the time 2018 rolls around, Harper’s celebrity might be at a level that we can’t even imagine at this point in time, and the Yankees historically have always made splashes by signing the marquee player. If you couple the Yankees ability to sign any player they want, with the fact that Bryce Harper grew up as a Yankee fan, it makes no sense to assume that Harper will not sign with the Yanks. In 2019 Alex Rodriguez’s contract will be finished, and the Yankees will absolutely hand all the money they are currently paying him directly to Harper. Just thinking about how Harper’s numbers will project as he swings for the short right field porch at Yankee Stadium gets me extremely aroused.
Last year, even though Harper was a member of the Washington organization, he was openly rooting for the Yankees on Twitter. When asked earlier today about tonight’s game against the Yanks, Harper said it was a dream come true to play on the field with them and that he couldn’t wait to watch them play. Harper also stated that he might talk to some of the Yankee players, but wasn’t positive because he didn’t want to “bother them”. Harper was born in 1992, so he literally grew up as a fan of the great Yankee teams of the late 1990’s. Like they were for me, Derek Jeter, Mariano Rivera, Andy Pettitte and the other great Yankees of that era were idols to Bryce. Tonight, he actually gets to play against a few of them and in seven years he will have the chance to take over and carry on the Yankee tradition for them. I know that as a Yankee fan, if I was talented like Bryce Harper, there is no other place I’d want to resume my career than in the Bronx wearing the pinstripes. I guarantee that after the Yankees beat the Nationals tonight, Harper was admiring the Yankees as they went into their handshake line for the 7th straight game. Though he may have been somewhat frustrated over his teams’ loss, I know somewhere in his mind he was envisioning his participation in future Yankee celebrations, and all of the accolades he will be showered in as a member of the greatest organization in professional sports.