Bryce Harper has had some semblance of a national spotlight on him ever since Sports Illustrated dubbed him “the most exciting prodigy since LeBron” in 2009. In an effort to expedite his draft eligibility, Harper earned his GED after 10th grade at Las Vegas High School, making him eligible for the MLB Draft in June of 2010. For the 2010 college season, the 17-year-old Harper played for the College of Southern Nevada, a junior college in the Scenic West Athletic Conference just outside of his hometown Las Vegas. The SWAC is distinguished in that they use wood bats in conference play. Despite the wood bats and being several years younger than both his teammates and rivals, Harper demolished the older competition to the tune of .443/.526/.987 and a record-smashing 31 home runs in 66 games. Less than two years and 500 minor league at-bats later, Harper was in the big leagues as a 19-year-old with the Washington Nationals, mashing dingers against pitchers who made their big league debuts when he was in elementary school.
“Harper’s youth relative to performance has gotten plenty of print and airspace, but it’s nearly impossible to overstate. When Harper was on a rehab assignment in Potomac last June after tearing a ligament in his thumb, he was still nearly two years younger than the average player in the High-A Carolina League. The Twitter fun facts are nearly endless. In fact, the next time Harper faces a pitcher younger than him in a professional game will be the first.”
– Bret Sayre, Baseball Prospectus
That’s a fun fact alright. Harper has never faced a pitcher in pro ball that has been younger than him. Based on his previous experiences playing in JuCo as a 17-year-old, and perhaps never facing a pitcher younger than him during his two years at Las Vegas High, it’s unclear when Harper last faced a pitcher younger than him in a competitive game. What we know for sure is that through Harper’s first 496 professional games and 2,058 professional plate appearances, he has yet to face a pitcher younger than him. Having turned 22 in October, Harper is about to enter his fourth full MLB season and is still the youngest player on the Nationals 40-man roster.
So, how long can this fun fact survive? Can Harper go another full season without facing a pitcher younger than him? If not, who’s gonna be the first lucky pitcher born after October 19th, 1992 to face this generational talent?
To answer these questions, I’ve identified 44 talented pitchers who are, a) younger than Harper; and b) have any sort of chance to face Harper in 2015. I’ve categorized these pitchers into six groups, ranging from least likely to face Harper to most likely. A few notes before we begin…
There are ten pitchers who have already made their MLB debuts that are less than a year older than Harper, but older nonetheless. They are (from oldest to youngest): Dominic Leone, Corey Knebel, Kyle Crockett, Alex Claudio, Marco Gonzales, Edwin Escobar, Wei-Chung Wang, Aaron Sanchez, Jose Fernandez, and Taijuan Walker.
Here are a bunch of notable pitching prospects that might come to your head (as they did to mine) when trying to think of pitchers younger than Harper. Unfortunately, these guys are all older than Harper: Noah Syndergaard, Jon Gray, Archie Bradley, Jameson Taillon, A.J. Cole, Braden Shipley, Aaron Blair, Matt Wisler, Michael Lorenzen, Chi Chi Gonzalez, Henry Owens, C.J. Edwards, Jake Stinnett, Nick Kingham, Vincent Velasquez, and Sean Manaea.
This exercise assumes that Harper stays both with the Nationals and at the big league level for the entire season. I’m not really accounting for rehab stints either. There is a decent chance Harper runs head-on into the right-field wall at Nationals Park and hits the DL for a while, potentially prompting a rehab stint in Low-A Hagerstown where Harper faces some 19-year-old Dominican kid making his stateside debut…but I’m ignoring that possibility. Even if that does happen, the fun fact will simply reincarnate with the modified “at the major league level”, as opposed to “in pro ball”.
Younger than Harper, but their team doesn’t play the Nationals in 2015
This group consists of prospects at all levels, but they all share one trait: the team the play for isn’t facing Harper this year. Thus, barring a trade to the right team — which would be nearly impossible to assume would happen for any of these young arms — none of these guys are gonna have the chance to face Harper in 2015 at the big league level.
- LHP Carlos Rodon, White Sox; finished 2014 at Triple-A; 2 months younger
- RHP Nick Burdi, Twins; finished 2014 at High-A; 3 months younger
- RHP Francellis Montas, White Sox; finished 2014 at High-A; 5 months younger
- LHP Brandon Finnegan, Royals; finished 2014 at MLB; 6 months younger
- RHP Miguel Almonte, Royals; finished 2014 at High-A; 6 months younger
- LHP Sean Newcomb, Angels; finished 2014 at Low-A; 8 months younger
- RHP Lance McCullers Jr., Astros; finished 2014 at High-A; 12 months younger
- RHP Jake Thompson, Rangers; finished 2014 at Double-A; 15 months younger
- RHP Jose Berrios, Twins; finished 2014 at Double-A; 19 months younger
- RHP Tyler Danish, White Sox; finished 2014 at High-A; 23 months younger
- RHP Kohl Stewart, Twins; finished 2014 at Low-A; 24 months younger
- LHP Lewis Thorpe, Twins; finished 2014 at Low-A; 37 months younger
- RHP Spencer Adams, White Sox; finished 2014 in AZL; 42 months younger
Younger than Harper, but they play for the Nationals
- RHP Erick Fedde; Tommy John; 4 months younger
- RHP Joe Ross; finished 2014 at Double-A; 7 months younger
- RHP Reynaldo Lopez; finished 2014 at Low-A; 15 months younger
- RHP Lucas Giolito; finished 2014 at Low-A; 21 months younger
These four guys are all very legitimate prospects, but none can assume to be traded any time soon. Fedde had Tommy John surgery less than a week before the Nationals drafted him 18th overall in the 2014 Draft, so he’s still rehabbing and has yet to throw a professional inning. Ross, whose older brother Tyson had a pretty good year for the Padres in 2014, came over from San Diego this winter in the three-way trade with Tampa Bay. Lopez burst onto the scene in 2014 with a 1.08 ERA in 16 starts for Low-A Hagerstown, hitting 100 MPH on several occasions and skyrocketing up industry prospect lists this winter. Giolito is the best pitching prospect in baseball by a comfortable margin. None of these guys are getting moved.
Something crazy would have to happen
These ten guys are all very talented young pitchers whose teams do play the Nats at least once this year. However, something extremely unusual would have to happen to get any of these guys to the big league level in 2015.
- LHP Max Fried, Braves; finished 2014 at Low-A; 15 months younger
- RHP Lucas Sims, Braves; finished 2014 at High-A; 19 months younger
- RHP Duane Underwood, Cubs; finished 2014 at Low-A; 21 months younger
- RHP Alex Reyes, Cardinals; finished 2014 at Low-A; 22 months younger
- LHP Rob Kaminsky, Cardinals; finished 2014 at Low-A; 23 months younger
- RHP Hunter Harvey, Orioles; finished 2014 at Low-A; 26 months younger
- RHP Roberto Osuna, Blue Jays; finished 2014 at High-A; 28 months younger
- RHP Marcos Molina, Mets; finished 2014 at Short-Season; 29 months younger
- RHP Tyler Kolek, Marlins; finished 2014 in GCL; 38 months younger
- RHP Grant Holmes, Dodgers; finished 2014 in AZL; 41 months younger
The only one in this group that stands out is Blue Jays right-hander Roberto Osuna, who has pitched very well this spring with the big league club and has some people pushing for him to the make the team out of camp. Osuna had Tommy John in the middle of the 2013 season. He returned towards the end of last year and started seven games at High-A with poor results. Even with his performance this spring, I have a hard time believing Toronto will start him anywhere higher than Double-A to start the year, and see if he can even hold up for a whole season. After all, he’s only started 29 games over four professional seasons. Osuna’s definitely a guy to watch, but his MLB debut ain’t gonna happen this year.
RHP Jeff Hoffman, Blue Jays; Tommy John; 3 months younger
Hoffman had Tommy John at the end of his junior year at East Carolina, but the Jays still took him 9th overall in last year’s draft; Hoffman was considered a legitimate candidate to go #1 overall before he got hurt. Hoffman has apparently returned pretty quickly, but I have to imagine the Jays are gonna be careful with him in his first year back. Once fully healthy, Hoffman could fly through the minors, but I don’t expect him to be at the MLB level anytime soon.
RHP Robert Stephenson, Reds; finished 2014 at Double-A; 4 months younger
Arguably Cincinnati’s best prospect, Stephenson struggled in a full season at Double-A in 2014 despite striking out more than a batter per inning. I could see him getting a September call-up if pitches really well, but the latest the Reds play Washington is in July when Stephenson will probably still be in Triple-A, perhaps even still in Double-A.
RHP Nick Howard, Reds; finished 2014 at Low-A; 6 months younger
Cincinnati drafted Howard 19th overall last year out of the University of Virginia, where he was the closer during his junior season. If he was still in the bullpen, I could see him getting the big leagues pretty quickly. But it looks like the Reds are gonna try Howard as a starter, so it’s gonna take a bit longer for him to develop.
LHP Kyle Freeland, Rockies; finished 2014 at Low-A; 7 months younger
Another 2014 first rounder, Freeland started 10 games towards the end of the year and absolutely dominated, allowing only five earned runs over 39 innings across two lower levels. The Rockies have no reason to rush him through, and he should start the year at High-A. Even if he continues to perform at a high level, I’d imagine the earliest we see him in Colorado would be late 2016.
RHP Tyler Beede, Giants; finished 2014 in Short-Season; 7 months younger
You guessed it: another 2014 first rounder. Beede’s a very talented pitcher, but a whole lot would have to come together for him to ascend through the minors quickly enough in time for the Giants’ home series against the Nationals in mid-August.
LHP Adalberto Mejia, Giants; finished 2014 at Double-A; 8 months younger
Mejia pitched a full season at Double-A last year with middling results. Unfortunately, he tested positive for a banned substance this winter and is suspended for the first 50 games of 2015, delaying his development and all but ensuring he’ll need to stay in the minors for the remainder of the year making up for lost time.
RHP Tyler Glasnow, Pirates; finished 2014 at High-A; 10 months younger
Building off a fantastic full-season debut in 2013, Glasnow was somehow even better in 2014 in a full year at High-A Bradenton. The 6″7′ right-hander was one of the best pitchers in all of minor league baseball, posting a 1.74 ERA and striking out 157 batters in 124.1 innings pitched. He’s now a consensus Top 30 prospect in all of baseball and arguably the Pirates best prospect, even in a strong system. However, with Pittsburgh’s pitching depth at the upper levels, I don’t see why they would rush Glasnow to the big league level any faster than they have to. Plus, the latest Pittsburgh plays Washington is late July.
RHP Miguel Castro, Blue Jays; finished 2014 at Low-A; 26 months younger
Having only just turned 20 in December, Castro has turned a lot of heads, including Russell Martin’s, with his stellar performance out of the bullpen this spring. There is a decent chance he breaks camp with the big league club, which is INSANE when you consider he only has 30 career innings above rookie-ball. But here’s the thing: even if he makes the Opening Day bullpen and is still with the team for the Jays’ series in Washington in early June, there is virtually no way John Gibbons would let Castro, a right-hander, face the lefty-swinging Harper late in a game. Castro very well may be present when Harper hits a walk-off bomb during that series; I just highly doubt he’ll be the one serving it up.
RHP Sam Tuivailala, Cardinals; finished 2014 at MLB; three days younger
“Tui” got a September call-up from St. Louis last year but only pitched in two games. Tuivailala doesn’t have a lot of time in the upper-minors, but he’s a surefire reliever who sits in the upper-90’s with his fastball, hitting 100 MPH fairly regularly. The Cardinals have a decent amount of bullpen depth, but I could see Tuivailala being up in time for the August 31st-September 2nd home series against the Nats. Maybe he’ll even get another September call-up in the middle of the series. He does face the same roadblock to defeating this fun fact as Miguel Castro, though: I’m not sure why Mike Matheny would want him, a right-hander, facing Harper late in a game.
RHP Dylan Bundy, Orioles; finished 2014 at High-A; 1 month younger
The 4th overall pick in 2011, Bundy put up completely ludicrous numbers in the minors in 2012 before getting a September call-up as a 19-year-old. About a year after getting Tommy John in June of 2013, Bundy returned to action in the New York-Penn League before getting a few starts at High-A to finish the year. I’d still bet the O’s are cautious with him this year, but I also wouldn’t be shocked if we saw him with the big league club at some point in 2015. The O’s do play the Nats in mid-September. Maybe!
RHP Kyle Crick, Giants; finished 2014 at Double-A; 1 month younger
Many people tabbed the hard-throwing Crick as the Giants closer of the future, but San Francisco seems keen on letting him start until he shows otherwise. Crick was pretty good in a full season at Double-A last year, and it’s not crazy to envision him getting some MLB time this year if he performs well at Triple-A. I’m just not sure it’ll be in time for the Giants’ mid-August series against Washington.
LHP Eduardo Rodriguez, Red Sox; finished 2014 at Double-A; 6 months younger
Rodriguez pitched pretty well at Double-A for Baltimore before being traded to Boston in the Andrew Miller deal. Both his stuff and performance spiked once he got to Boston, as Rodriguez posted a 0.96 ERA in six starts for Double-A Portland. Rodriguez should begin the year at Triple-A and, considering Boston’s lack of pitching depth, has a pretty good chance to get a few starts with the Red Sox at some point during the year. The issue here is Boston’s only series against Washington is in mid-April when Rodriguez will almost certainly still be in the minors.
RHP Luis Severino, Yankees; finished 2014 at Double-A; 16 months younger
Severino’s breakout 2014 included stops at three different levels, as he posted a 2.47 ERA over 113 innings pitched with a 10.1 K/9. He’s a bit of an enigma, as some scouts are doubtful he can stick as a starter with the mechanics he has, but the Yankees seem committed to letting him start. He’ll probably start the year in Double-A, so it seems unlikely that he’d be with the big league club when they take on Harper and the Nationals in mid-May or early June.
LHP Julio Urias, Dodgers; finished 2014 at High-A; 46 months younger
Urias’ incredible story matches his incredible performance thus far as a professional. Pitching most of 2014 as a 17-year-old, Urias was spectacular in 87.2 innings in the California League, the most hitter-friendly league in affiliated baseball. The Fernando Valenzuela comparisons are impossible to ignore, so Dodger fans are eager to see Urias in Los Angeles as soon as possible. It’s just a matter of when the Dodgers want to start his service clock, as he could probably already hold his own at the big league level right now. The Dodgers play the Nationals in mid-July and mid-August, so I’m not super confident Urias is up by then. It could happen though! Also, once he’s up, Urias will probably have his own fun fact very similar to this one. Until then, here’s an Urias age-related fun fact: Julio Urias is younger than Pokemon!
LHP Jacob Lindgren, Yankees; finished 2014 at Double-A; 5 months younger
One of the three founding members of the Bench Mobb, Lindgren was a 2nd round pick last year out of Mississippi State University. Lindgren, a power lefty, got into 19 games across four levels, striking out nearly two (!) batters per inning with a 2.19 ERA. FanGraphs’ Kiley McDaniel tabbed him as the Yankees’ 4th best prospect and arguably “the best relief prospect in the game“. After Andrew Miller and Dellin Betances, the Yankees don’t have a ton of bullpen depth, especially from the left side. Lindgren is almost certainly already MLB ready, so it’s just a matter of time before he’s up pitching in high-leverage situations for New York. He’ll probably start the year in Triple-A with an outside shot to break camp with the big league club, but I can definitely see him up pretty early in the season. Add in that Lindgren is left-handed and perhaps New York’s best left-handed reliever after Miller, and I can definitely see Lindgren coming in to face Harper. The Yankees play two two-game sets against the Nationals this year, one in mid-May and one in mid-June. It’s no sure thing, but Lindgren has to be considered a favorite.
LHP Daniel Norris, Blue Jays; finished 2014 at MLB; 6 months younger
Norris earned some attention off the field this off-season for LITERALLY LIVING IN HIS VAN. On the field, though, he’s a damn good pitcher. Norris pitched well at the upper levels before earning a September call-up at the end of 2014. With the unfortunate injury to Marcus Stroman, Norris has a great chance of breaking camp in the Jays rotation. Even if he begins the year in Triple-A, it’s not hard to envision a scenario where the Jays need him in the rotation early in the year. Norris would also have to line up to start during Toronto’s three-game set in Washington in the first week of June for him to face Harper…but it’s not out of the question. Norris has a solid chance.
RHP Aaron Nola, Phillies; finished 2014 at Double-A; 8 months younger
After a fantastic junior season at LSU, Nola was taken by the Phillies 7th overall in last year’s draft. After he signed, Nola went straight to the Florida State League and didn’t have much trouble in six starts against High-A hitters. He finished the year with five stellar starts for Double-A Reading. When discussing this piece with a few other people, Nola seemed to be the popular pick to bring an end to this Harper fact. He’s an extremely polished college arm, he’s already shown some success in the upper levels, and he’s in the NL East. With Cliff Lee out, Nola very well might already be the Phillies’ second best starting pitcher behind Cole Hamels. He’s close to if not already MLB ready, but the Phillies have absolutely no reason to bring him up before they have to. Nola’s good, but he’s obviously not gonna be what takes the Phillies from a potential 65-win team to a contender. Nola will probably start in Triple-A, but I have to assume we’ll see him with Philadelphia at some point this summer. The Phillies don’t play the Nats in July or August, but they have two series against them in September. If the fun fact hasn’t died by then, Nola has a great chance to be the guy during one of those September series.
LHP Jacob Lindgren
With Norris, it’s tough to bet on him getting one of those three starts against the Nationals in early June. With Nola, I just have a hard time believing the Phillies will bring him up before the All-Star break, if not September. I just feel much better about Lindgren’s ability to get to the majors early in the season, and the fact that he is exactly the kind of pitcher the Yankees would want to bring in to face Harper in the right situation. It’s very, very close, but I’m going with Lindgren, aka BIG CHUNK.
Perhaps the best part about this fun fact is that there is a nonzero chance it survives Harper’s fifth professional season. If that ends up being the case, check back next year around this time when I will inevitably attempt this ridiculous exercise all over again!