The deadline for amateur players to sign with the teams that drafted them is tonight at midnight. Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick to the Washington Nationals, remains unsigned.

Harper, only 17 years old, is to baseball what LeBron James once was to basketball and the city of Cleveland (he’s referred to as LeBryce in some circles). He’s young, he’s talented, and he can be a savior for an organization tired of losing.

The Player

At the age of 16, Harper appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Baseball’s Chosen One”. Inside, author Tom Verducci detailed Harper’s accomplishments.

At three years old, Harper was playing T-ball against six-year olds. As he grew older, his body filled out, reaching 6′ 3″ and 205 pounds. He played for travel and all-star teams across the country. At 15 years old he was the starting catcher for his Las Vegas High baseball team, hitting 570-foot bombs and pummeling opposing pitching.

Harper has been described as a “baseball rat”—someone who eats, breathes, and sleeps baseball. His talent is such that he could just show up and immediately be the best player on the field. But that’s not enough for him. His goals?

“Be in the Hall of Fame, definitely. Play in Yankee stadium. Play in the pinstripes. Be considered the greatest player who ever lived.”

Those are lofty goals, but Harper has the work ethic to make it possible. In between plane trips to another showcase game, Harper goes to the batting cages and works on his swing. There’s no such thing as “good enough”.

“I’m going to play against you the way Pete Rose did,” Harper said in the SI piece. “I’m going to try to rip your head off. That’s just the way I am.”

The Talent

Eager to get to the majors as fast as possible, Harper got his GED after his sophomore year and left his high school. This past year, he enrolled at Southern Nevada Junior College, a move that would make him eligible for the 2010 draft. Like everywhere else, Harper was above and beyond the competition.

He hit .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBIs en route to winning the Golden Spikes Award as the nation’s top amateur player. Yeah, he’s pretty good.

His bat speed has been compared to that of Manny Ramirez and Ken Griffey, Jr. His tools have scouts comparing him to former No. 1 picks Alex Rodriguez and Justin Upton. He’s fast (he stole 36 bases one season for his high school team), he’s strong (hit the longest homerun in the history of Tropicana Field) and he can pitch too; reportedly sporting a 96 mph fastball.

Is there anything he can’t do?

The Savior

The Washington Nationals currently sit in last place in the NL East, a position they have occupied for most of the decade (they finished fourth in 2007). For years there was very little Nationals fans could get excited about, accustomed to occupying the National League cellar. But then something amazing happened—the losing paid off.

Blessed with the worst record in baseball after the 2008 season, the Nationals were rewarded the No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 first-year player draft. They took none other than Stephen Strasburg.

Hailed as one of the most polished pitchers to come out in years, Stasburg immediately brought excitement and energy back to the fan base. It’s not often that players live up to the hype. But in Strasburg’s case, he actually was as good as advertised.

Between him, several other rising stars (Ian Desmond, Justin Maxwell, Drew Storen), and a loaded farm system, the Nationals seem poised to start making some noise in the next few years. The only thing they lack is a true leader.

Strasburg is phenomenal, but the problem is, he only pitches once a week. He can only do so much. The Nationals need somebody they can put in their everyday lineup. They need someone who can be a positive voice in the clubhouse and someone who other players can rely on to come through in a big spot. Bryce Harper is that man.

The Problem

The problem, as always, is Scott Boras. Boras, Harper’s agent, is seeking upwards of $10 million for his young slugger. He got Strasburg $15.1 million last year, and it’s hard to imagine the going price for Harper to be any lower than that. Negotiations have stalled and there are some indications that Harper is prepared to leave money on the table and return to school.

“If he doesn’t want to play here, then we don’t want him here,” said Strasburg over the weekend. 

Whether Strasburg is weary of sharing the limelight with Harper or just voicing the sentiments of Washington’s upper management, the truth is that the Nationals do want Harper there. They need him. And Harper needs them.

Harper may want to be the next Babe Ruth, but the chances of him ending up on the Yankees any time soon are virtually zero. If he wants to help lay the foundation for his Hall of Fame legacy, Washington is the place to do it. 

Like LeBron did for Cleveland, Harper can make the Nationals relevant again. He can make baseball in Washington important. He can revitalize sports in a city that has to endure the likes of Gilbert Arenas and Albert Haynesworth. Most of all, with a promising roster around him, Harper can win.



Read more MLB news on