This is the inaugural ‘From the Bleachers’ column where we will provide a weekly editorial look at a relevant topic affecting the Baseball World. Today’s column focuses on the controversy surrounding last weekend’s announcement that 16yo Bryce Harper is leaving high school and enrolling in the College of Southern Nevada in order to make himself available for the 2010 draft.
Major League Baseball allows a player to be eligible for the draft in any of the following manners:
- High school players are eligible once they have completed high school and have not attended a college.
- Players at 4-year colleges are eligible after they have completed their Junior year or have reached their 21st birthday.
- Players attending a community college or junior college are eligible at any time.
The plan for Harper is to have him complete his GED this summer, attend community college for one year, and then be eligible for the June 2010 draft at age 17. A number of people have expressed dismay that a 16yo, especially one carrying a 3.5 GPA, would forgo his Senior year of high school to play professional baseball. They have used words like impatient, immature, foolish, wrongheaded, and impetuous to describe Harper’s decision. They talk about the social issues that will be created by a 17yo playing in a league where the average age is over 20yo and most of the players will be between 18yo - 23yo. And they castigate MLB, Scott Boras and the Harper family for ‘letting this happen.’
As a father of three children that are each the youngest in their respective grades, with one of them nearly 18 months younger than many of the students, I don’t want to brush aside what I feel to be some well-founded and well-meant, even if idealistic, concerns, but I would like to take the emotion out of the argument and look at this from a realistic point of view.
First and foremost, this is a Harper family decision. They have complied with the rules that are in place—not circumvented them, and regardless of what they decide in the end, all of the concerns that have been expressed can be either alleviated or, to some degree, mitigated by careful, proactive management. Second, one needs to truly answer the question of why one attends college, or finishes high school for that matter, in the first place. While secondary and tertiary types of learning takes place in these environs, ultimately we go to school to provide us with the basic skills required to earn a living and/or manage our lives. As the first pick in the 2010 draft, with all the hype surrounding him, he is likely in a position to receive a deal that will be similar to the deal that Stephen Strasburg ends up with this year. In earlier articles, I have pointed out that Strasburg is almost certainly to get a deal that is bigger than Mark Prior’s and Prior’s deal, adjusted for baseball bonus inflation, would be in the neighborhood of $14 million today. I think we can safely assume that the starting point will be in the $15 - $20 million range, and could likely be much higher. This is generational wealth we are talking about and clearly would signify the achievement of the primary goal of school .
Those that follow amateur baseball are familiar with Robert Stock. Stock was named, by Baseball America, Youth Player of the Year, as a 15yo, in 2005. He also scored a 1410 on his SAT, and bypassed his senior year in high school to enter USC early. Had he entered the draft following his senior year, he would have almost certainly been a top 10 pick—likely higher. Instead he had a very undistinguished career at USC and was fortunate to have been selected by the Cardinals in the second round last week. Nonetheless, in strict monetary terms, waiting to enter the draft likely cost Stock $2 - $3 million. A similar situation for Harper could mean $15 million or more.
The third thing that needs to be highlighted is that sports from tennis to women’s gymnastics to figure skating to junior hockey and to even baseball itself—for international players, routinely take kids at even younger ages and put them into the exact type of situation that Harper will find himself in. While it may not be ideal, it certainly can be managed.
Bryce Harper is a kid of exceptional talent. It is undoubtedly a unique situation and one doesn’t call for any rewriting of rules or setting of standards. But most importantly, it is a situation that needs to be worked out between the player and his family—not by the ‘do-gooders’ of society, that no matter how well intentioned, would be better served focusing their efforts on things with much more global impact.
Your comments are always welcome.