Strasburg turns 21 next month and went undrafted out of high school, a late bloomer who is nothing at all like James. Just about everyone in the baseball industry has known about Harper for at least two years. To a man they describe him as an impact player with the skills, body and attitude—he says he models his game after those of Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose—perfectly suited for the sport. "If Bryce were in the draft this year," says one American League scouting director, "he'd go in the top five picks."
"Wrong," says a National League amateur scouting director. "He'd go higher than that."
Higher than top five?
"Top two," he says. "And that's taking nothing away from the guys in the draft this year. He's honestly that good. He is a once-in-a-generation talent."
• So good is Harper, and so bleak the prospect of his spending two more years with high school pitchers who can't (and won't) throw their sloppy 80-mph fastballs over the plate to him, that his parents—Ron, a steelworker, and Sheri, a paralegal—are looking for ways to make their son eligible for the draft next year rather than in 2011. One of their advisers is agent Scott Boras, who has a well-earned reputation for maximizing dollars and exploiting loopholes. "I heard one of the things they're considering is taking him to the Dominican Republic to make him a free agent," says one AL executive.
"No," Sheri says. "We are not taking our son out of the country."
What the Harpers are considering, however, is having Bryce earn a GED credential this summer and enroll in a junior college this fall, which would expose him to more challenging baseball competition as well as make him eligible for next June's draft, in which he would likely be the first pick in the country. Under that scenario, assuming the Nationals keep losing games at something close to their current rate (they have the worst record in baseball, and it isn't even close), Washington could wind up with Strasburg and Harper in the next 12 months—the baseball equivalent of the Cavaliers getting James and Dwight Howard in consecutive NBA drafts. Of course, in both cases the Nationals would have to negotiate with Boras, who represents Strasburg too. A combined outlay in the neighborhood of $100 million is entirely possible. Boras, according to league sources, will use the six-year, $52 million deal he negotiated with the Red Sox for Daisuke Matsuzaka in December 2006 as the benchmark for a Strasburg deal.
"It's not just about the draft," Ron Harper says while seated on metal bleachers and watching Las Vegas High win a mockery of a game, 31--1, in May. His son hit one line drive so hard that the second baseman jumped out of its way, as if dodging gunfire. The ball smacked against the rightfield fence for a triple. "It's to get him to play better baseball right now," Ron continues. "We have to do what's best for Bryce. He wants to play baseball. Always has. The Number 1 thing guiding us is to do what's right for Bryce and his future."
Says the NL scouting director, "He's not going to make any more money [by] playing two years of high school ball."
Bryce leaves no doubt about what he wants. At 16, an age at which he still leaves piles of empty bowls of Fruity Pebbles in his bedroom, he has a clear vision of who he is, where he wants to go and how his enormous capacity for work is even more valuable than his great talent. Asked when he expects to play in the majors, Harper says, "Hopefully as soon as 18 or 19. The fast track."