There’s some discussion going on surrounding Kevin Goldstein’s report on Bryce Harper’s makeup in his latest Future Shock. Here’s Goldstein’s take:
The Makeup: This should not be underrated. It’s impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn’t blown away by Harper’s ability on the field, but it’s equally difficult to find one who doesn’t genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he’s ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. “He’s just a bad, bad guy,” said one front-office official. “He’s basically the anti-Joe Mauer.” How this plays into the negotiation or future evaluation is yet to be determined, as history has shown us that the bigger talent a player is, the more makeup issues teams will deal with. Bench players can’t afford to be problems, but plenty of teams happily put up with difficult superstars.
With that, here are some notable takes.
The question is whether being a jerk effects a player’s potential work ethic. You could make a pretty strong case that the things that Delmon Young a bad dude are very similar to the things that have made Delmon Young a flop in the big leagues. There are hundreds of examples just like this. I don’t think its a question of how much you discount your offer to Harper, because there’s a number below which he won’t sign. So, the question is more “Harper and his issues at $10-ish million or Prospect B for $5 million”. If my scouting staff was concerned enough about Harper’s make-up that they thought it would affect his work ethic, I’d go for Prospect B and spend the extra money elsewhere.
What if Bryce Harper turns into the sweetest guy in the whole world… and then loses his edge? Isn’t that what the Kent Hrbek / Gary Gaetti thing was about, how one of them found Jesus, and the other guy said he lost his edge? This is just like people telling Vladimir Guerrero he should change his batting approach. Trying to reign in Ron Hextall. Trying to get Harper to change his attitude. Trying to get Martin Brodeur to a marriage counselor (and then he wins the Stanley Cup instead). We have no idea how a specific human being will respond, and trying to put in a “general regression” to that player will have a huge uncertainty level, so large that we are POSSIBLY better off not being amateur psychologist. Until we actually study the issue properly, everyhing we say on the issue is nothing more than summary opinions without evidence. And we know what that’s called.
The Pirates won three straight division titles with Barry Bonds in the lineup. When evaluating young baseball players, teams have to separate their desires into “need-to-haves” and “like-to-haves.” When you have the first pick in the draft, you need to have a great deal of confidence in a young player’s talent. You’d like to have someone with Joe Mauer’s personality. But how many Joe Mauers are there, really? …To me, “makeup” should include a healthy space for a player’s willingness and ability to work at becoming a better baseball player. Maybe Bryce Harper falls short there, too. But if I’m running a draft, I’m a lot more worried about how good a player he’ll be than how much fun he’ll be in the clubhouse.
I’ve seen a few pieces like that, one that called him a “terrible role model” … for one thing, he’s 17 years old. For another, the coaching staff at CSN seems to have no problem with him, and his behavior on the field – where it matters – has been fine. What you’re really seeing is a bad combination of the kill-your-idols school of writing and plain old contrarianism – take down the best guy. You heard it last year with unfounded criticisms of Strasburg’s arm action. So, to answer your question, I think it’s wrong, and I think it’s irrelevant.
I just don’t understand why most of this is important. If we even accept the contested premise that Harper is a bad guy, why does this matter? How will this manifest itself in terms of positive or negative consequences for the team that drafts him? Also, as Tango points out, maybe this competitive edge, characterized as “being a jerk,” is actually a driving force for him talent-wise. Point here is that this is probably way overblown already, and even if Harper pissed off some scouts, it won’t make a lick of difference in terms of what the Nationals decide to offer him monetarily.