Bryce Harper’s makeup

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.

Dave Cameron:

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.

Tom Tango:

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.

Rob Neyer:

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.

Keith Law:

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.

Pat Andriola is an Analyst at Bloomberg Sports who formerly worked in Major League Baseball's Labor Relations Department. You can contact him at or follow him on Twitter @tuftspat
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
12 years ago

I think it is important.  It matters in case Tango or Cameron are right and his makeup prevents him from realizing his talent somehow.  The problem is it’s impossible to know how it is important.

Maybe Cameron’s right and he’s so arrogant as to refuse to take advice or work hard to improve (“Uncoachable”).  If that’s the case, he better be a once in a century talent to have a succesful big league career.  There are very few players who were stars at 18 and far fewer who didn’t work hard to get better.

Maybe Tango’s right and he’ll become a nice guy, lose his edge and never even make the big leagues.

Maybe Neyer’s right and he’s a jerk in person, but he will dedicate himself to baseball, work hard and become Babe Ruth or Ty Cobb.  Neither of them were nice people.

Maybe Law is right and it’s all been overblown.

How can you know?  Even a psychologist probably would have trouble knowing the future of his mindset and how it will affect his physical development.

12 years ago

One thing is for sure, the Ryan Leaf personality should be avoided.  If a player has too much of a sense of entitlement, he isn’t going to work as hard to improve.

David Cameron
12 years ago

For what its worth, I am not advocating any position regarding Bryce Harper’s personality.  Don’t know him, have never had a conversation with anyone about his personality, and generally have no knowledge of his situation at all. 

I was just disagreeing with Tom’s take that it doesn’t matter.  If there’s evidence that Harper might have some of the same qualities as Delmon Young or Yuniesky Betancourt, who have refused to work on their deficiencies and even created new ones, then there are a lot of reasons to think that he may not be worth the money he’ll demand.

Gordon Gay
12 years ago

Sounds like Dustin Pedroia to me.  Big deal.

Mark Ahrens
12 years ago

I am a Washington Nationals fan and this guys scares the heck out of me with all this “personality” talk.  The Nationals need quality guys to help rebuild and cannot afford to blunder away this opportunity.

I am hoping that Pat is correct and this is alot of hooey and contrarianism.


12 years ago

I haven’t seen anybody suggesting there’s a better alternative to Harper even if he is a jerk.  He seems to be in the Griffey/A-Rod stratosphere of undeniable talent and within the article sited it’s mentioned that he is far and away the top prospect in the draft.  He’s 17yo, a decent organization (do the Nats really have that right now?  I do not knowO should be able to help shape his personality in a pretty significant way.  Even if he’s a Bonds-level jerk, he’s 5 years younger than Bonds was coming in.  And he’s got at least 2 years in the minors to knock him down a few pegs, too.  If the Nats pass on him it’s probably a bigger mistake than it would have been to pass on Strasburg last year.  Hope he falls to #3 for the O’s to take him but this whole issue is an unnecessary story at this point.