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And With the Third Pick.... Part One: C Bryce Harper

With the magic of opening day in the majors behind us, there is still a day before the four full-season affiliates of the Orioles will take the field.  Soon, we'll have lots of news about the goings-on in the minors to talk about, but for right now, all there is to do is to rehash the prospect reviews from the offseason.  Sigh.

Or, we can talk about the draft!

The Orioles, sadly, possess the third overall pick in this years Rule IV draft, for amateur players from the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico.  While this reminder of our ineptitude in 2009 is unpleasant, it gives us a chance to select one of the best prospects in the nation to add to our roster of future potential stars.

We'll begin with the odds-on favorite to hear his name first overall on June 7th in Secaucus, N.J. (and what a magical place to hold the draft it is): Catcher Bryce Harper of the College of Southern Nevada.

Harper's hype has been in full swing for a while now.  Since appearing on the cover of Sports Illustrated last June, Harper got his GED a year early and enrolled at CSN, making him eligible for this year's draft at the tender age of 17. 

So what's he done since?

Against competition older by a year or more, playing for one of the top JuCo programs, Harper has lived up to the hype and then some.  His line so far: .426/.529/.852.  He has 12 home runs in a mere 115 at bats - better than one homer per ten at bats.  Better still - he's hit eight of his home runs since CSN switched to using wooden bats on March 5th.  His slugging with wood is 1.233. He has hit a home run with a wood bat every 5.38 at bats.

Want more?  Harper has more walks (25) than strikeouts (24).  He has 11 steals in 13 attempts.  He has 13 doubles, leading his team.  Finally, however, there is a flaw in his game - despite scouting reports of a rocket arm, he has only caught three out of twenty-one basestealers and has two errors behind the plate.

Still, Harper has shown everything and more you'd want to see from a very special offensive prospect.  There is no good reason why he should be available when the Orioles make the third pick.  But....

With any prospect this hyped, a backlash  will grow.  Jim Callis of Baseball America was an early adopter, theorizing in October 2009 that Harper could fall out of the first round due to the hype and reputed bonus demands of the Boras client.  Jonathan Mayo was another, ranking Harper fourth among his top prospects for the draft back in February.  Then numerous stories began surfacing quoting anonymous scouts as saying that Harper was not the #1 talent in the draft, and implying that he had troubling makeup.  Callis still has Harper on the top of his board as of his last ESPN chat, but continues to express words of warning about what it will cost to sign him.  And the Nationals, fresh off of the Stephen Strasburg signing last year, may balk at another record-setting outlay after having established themselves as willing to spend last season, particularly if they think they can dodge criticism due to the rumors.  The Pirates, owners of the second overall pick, are considered an unlikely landing place for Harper should he be passed on by the Nationals.  In fact, the Pirates are not reported to be in on the draft's consensus #2 talent, Jameson Taillon, due to concerns that Taillon will require a record-setting bonus for a prep arm, which makes them unlikely to jump at the even higher price tag Harper will command.

Which would leave the Orioles.  In my opinion, in the unlikely event Harper falls to us at third overall, he's an absolute no-brainer barring something unforeseen taking place between now and draft day.  Yes, we have a certain backstop who should not need any help for the next six to ten seasons already.  But Harper is a special, special bat which can play anywhere on the diamond, and has the defensive skills to contribute at right or third base easily.  It is my belief that you can't spend too much money in the draft (more on that in the future), but Harper would be a bargain at Aroldis Chapman's price.

Let's hope that the Nationals and Pirates disagree.