2011 Fantasy Baseball Keeper Conundrum: Washington Nationals’ Bryce Harper or Los Angeles Angels’ Mike Trout?

Last week I received an intriguing e-mail from an avid reader of the site. Essentially, he asked me to choose between Nationals’ right fielder Bryce Harper and Angels’ center fielder Mike Trout in a keeper/dynasty format.

My initial reaction was Harper, without question. After a few days of thought, however, my answer became much more complicated…

Mike Trout image taken from Google Images

Mike Trout was the Angels’ first round pick (25th overall) in 2009, signing for $1.215 million. He was the No. 1 ranked prospect in the Rookie-level Arizona League, posting a .360/.418/.506 triple-slash, stealing 13 bases in 15 attempts in 164 at-bats.

He advanced to to low Class A Cedar Rapids to start 2010, where he won the Midwest League’s batting (.362) and on-base (.454) titles. He was promoted to high Class A Rancho Cucamonga in mid-July and hit .306/.388/.434 in 196 at-bats. In total, Trout posted an eye-popping 106 runs, 10 HRs, 58 RBI, 56 steals (in 71 attempts, 81.7 percent), .341/.428/.490 in 508 at-bats at the tender age of 18 (he turned 19 in August).

Baseball America notes Trout “is a rare five-tool talent” with a “strong, compact stroke and impressive batting eye.” Scouts say his speed is a present and future 80 on the 20-80 scouting scale, while his bat and arm are graded as a 70. His bat speed and physicality suggest he’ll develop 20-HR power in the majors.

Peter Bourjos is currently blocking Trout in center field, but the New Jersey native won’t be ready for the majors until 2012 at the earliest. Trout could move to left field if needed, but he projects as a Gold Glove center fielder.

SCOTTSDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 20:  Washington Natio...

Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Bryce Harper has gotten all the hype he ever could have dreamed of, being dubbed “Baseball’s Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated at age 16.

In 2009, Harper earned the equivalency of a high school diploma, allowing him to skip his final two years at Las Vegas High and enroll at the JC of Southern Nevada. In a wood bat conference, Harper hit .443/.526/.987, while leading national juco players and shattering the previous school record (12) with 31 HRs. He also stole 20 bases in 24 attempts, and played right field, center field, third base and catcher.

He was the obvious No. 1 pick for the Washington Nationals’ in last June’s draft, signing a $9.9 million major league contract – the most ever awarded to a position player in the draft’s history.

Harper hit .343/.410/.629 in just 35 at-bats in the Arizona Fall League. There’s a chance he could jump straight to high Class A Potomac to start the 2011 season at the age of 18.

Harper, a left-handed hitter, is well known for the 502-feet HR hit at Tropicana Field in the 2009 Power Showcase. (Check out the YouTube video here and skip to 4:16 for the record-breaking moon shot.)

Harper’s power “rates as a legitimate 80 tool on the 20-80 scouting scale,” according to Baseball America; as one scout told me, “He could re-write the power scale.”

Some scouts question if he’ll hit for a high average in the majors because of his aggressive swing, but his bat rates as a 60.

His hand-eye coordination and work ethic are off the charts, and BA notes he possesses “slightly above-average speed.” The Nationals drafted Harper as a right fielder, and his 80 arm makes for an ideal fit. His realistic ETA is 2013, and he has “super-star potential.”

In comparing these two young phenoms for fantasy purposes only, I project Trout as having the more dynamic game. His ceiling is likely in the range of 20 HRs, 50 steals and a .320 batting average. How many players reached those totals last season, you ask? None. In fact, 20/50/.320 hasn’t been reached since Hanley Ramirez posted a redonkulous 29/51/.332 line in 2007.

Harper, on the other hand, has a 50-HR ceiling and will likely hit .300 consistently. The last time 50/.300 happened? Also 2007, when Alex Rodriguez hit 54 HRs with a .314 batting average. The last time a player who wasn’t juicing did it? Who knows.

Bottom line: Trout and Harper both have stud potential. Trout is probably the safer pick, but Harper has the higher ceiling. Trout is a year ahead of Harper, and thus will likely win the hearts of fantasy managers first. (No pressure, fellas.)

If you ask me, I’d take 20/50/.320 over 50/.300, but even that’s debatable.

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