The Washington Nationals have signed “Baseball’s Lebron.”
Bryce Harper, the 17-year-old phenom, signed a $9.9 million contract with the Nationals just 77 seconds prior to the midnight deadline last night. The Nationals must have felt a bit of deja vu as Mike Rizzo and super agent Scott Boras battled it down to the wire for the second consecutive year (remember a guy named Strasburg signed last year with a minute to go before the deadline).
Harper will receive an extra million if he makes the MLB by 2014 and that seems like a sure thing given that the Nationals have said that he will be “fast-tracked” to the Majors. That’s a $6.25 million signing bonus and a commitment for five years. Strasburg, older and more mature, received $15.1 million in his deal last year.
Put the Washington Nationals hype machine in overdrive. Harper is so good that he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16. He took his GED after his sophomore season so that he could enter Junior College at the College of Southern Nevada where they play in a wood bat league. This also enabled Harper to come out for the MLB draft a year earlier. All Harper did at the University of Southern Nevada is belt 31 home runs and establish a new collegiate record for the university (the old record was 12).
Harper also took home the Golden Spikes Award given to the best player in college baseball. It’s the first time that a JUCO has received the coveted award. Think of it as a fullback from Wisconsin-Whitewater beating out Mark Ingram of Alabama for the Heisman Trophy last year.
To enable a quicker move to the Majors, Harper will switch from catcher to outfield. He’ll begin in the Florida Instructional League as soon as he deposits his bonus check. Expect him to play in the Arizona Fall League and then start his meteoric rise through the Nationals farm system over the next two years. A possible call up in September, 2012, is likely the earliest you’ll see him in Washington alongside of Strasburg.
In the middle of the press conference announcing the signing of Harper, Rizzo was pelted with a shaving cream pie to celebrate the signing.
“It stings,” Rizzo said after wiping most of it off his face.
Champagne stings too. Wait until you get that in three years.