Blog Entry

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

Posted on: January 22, 2012 11:51 am
Edited on: January 22, 2012 9:42 pm

By Matt Snyder

Pop quiz: Heading into the 2011 season, who were the top two prospects in all of baseball?

Hint: You're looking at them (above).

On the left we have Mike Trout of the Angels, a 20-year-old outfielder with all the potential in the world.

On the right we have Bryce Harper of the Nationals, a 19-year-old outfielder with even more potential, per most scouts.

We're living in a baseball world where some people freaked out about how much the Nationals gave up -- in prospects, mind you -- for Gio Gonzalez, a known quantity. Over 55 percent of our fans voted that they'd rather have six years of Eric Hosmer than two of Joey Votto. So, yeah, people make a habit of judging prospects they've never seen before. Why not do so here?

Let's take a look at the respective first rounders.

The case for Trout

He's a phenom. Trout hit .338/.422/.508 in his minor-league career. He hits with some power (18 doubles, 13 triples and 11 homers in 91 Triple-A games last season) and has great speed (33 steals in Triple-A). He has only scratched the surface of what he can do at the big-league level, as Trout got 135 plate appearances in the majors last season -- being promoted at the tender young age of 19. He showed flashes of being ready to perform at a star-like level already, like on August 30th when he hit two homers, drove home five runs and scored three times.

The Angels could head into the 2012 season with Trout slated as a starter. This isn't some small-market club either, as they just shelled out a king's ransom for Albert Pujols and C.J. Wilson. And, again, Trout is only 20. This should show how good he is. 

Would You Rather Have
Also, for now -- and what we have is an admittedly small amount of data due to lack of defensive metrics in the minors -- Trout appears to be the superior defender. He has lots of range, especially if he's used on the corners, and doesn't commit errors. In 527 minor-league chances, Trout has just three errors, good for a .994 fielding percentage. He also has 15 outfield assists. Harper, meanwhile, has a pretty poor, for a corner outfielder, .961 fielding percentage.

The case for Harper

When I spoke to a few baseball people about this entry into our series, I was told that Marlins slugger Mike Stanton would be a better "comparison" for Harper because Trout just can't measure up. Yeah, that's how highly regarded Harper is. Last season was his first in professional baseball, and he was only 18.

Harper hit .297/.392/.501 between Class A and Double-A with 17 homers, 24 doubles and 26 stolen bases. He had rough starts at both levels before figuring things out. Remember this when he's promoted to the bigs, in case he suffers a bad first two weeks.

In terms of defense, it should be noted Harper grew up a catcher, so he's still learning the outfield. Thus, improvement -- especially when you consider how good Harper is at doing everything else -- should be expected. He already has a cannon for an arm that passes the eye test and has yielded 13 outfield assists in just 108 minor-league games.

But the bottom line here is that Harper is said to be a Hall of Fame talent, especially in terms of power. It says a lot that the Nationals are thinking of playing Jayson Werth in center field, simply so they have a corner spot open for Harper before his 20th birthday.

Our call

I'm going Harper. Trout is going to be a stud who visits the All-Star Game perennially while gathering MVP votes, but Harper is going to be better.

Fan Vote:

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Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: January 30, 2012 4:40 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

Wimber, you might want to read the entire thread.  ANOTHER poster mentioned several guys who will be HoFers as example of how Harper isn't doing as well as "he should be".  All I did was break down the numbers of the guys HE mentioned and showed that Harper is doing very well.  The guy is obviously biased against Harper for non-baseball reasons and I simply demonstrated that between the lines there is no reason to lower expectations of Harper based on his early performance. 

You really shouldn't assume anything, especially when you don't know make the effort to find out what's going on.

Since: Apr 11, 2010
Posted on: January 28, 2012 12:58 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

"Regardless, it's interesting the best comparisons are a bunch of hall of famers."

Hawkman, I assume you ran the numbers against more than just the players you mnetioned after making such a broad statement regarding A ball numbers?  Harper does project to be the better player, no argument, but don't automtically anoint him a HOF'er.

Since: Feb 20, 2008
Posted on: January 24, 2012 1:16 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

How could anyone other than a baseball scout who has seen them both in person dozens of times offer an opinion.  I've seen Trout a few games on tv but have only seen harper on tv maybe three times and lots of highlights against lower lever I can't offer an opinion yet

Since: Mar 21, 2010
Posted on: January 23, 2012 11:20 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

While I agree that Trout could be a great player, Harper is not as bad as people percieve him to be. At his age, after dominating older age groups for years, Harper is bound to mature and have some sort of wake-up call on the way to the majors. Bradley on the other hand, not so much...I think Harper won't be nearly as much of a cancer as Milton was.

Since: Feb 7, 2010
Posted on: January 23, 2012 11:18 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

Why couldnt Tim Salmon hang on a few more years so we could have Trout and Salmon in the same outfield!!

Since: Nov 12, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:12 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

Yup, statistics matter.  Unfortunately, most wonks like yourself don't actually understand them and cherry-pick to support an opinion based on things other than facts.  If you'd paid attention, for instance, you'd have broken down the point of the article - Trout vs. Harper.  Harper's had just over 1/3 of the plate appearances Trout has had, and compares very favorably at the same stage of development.  He dominates Trout in power and was moved up to AA some 500 PAs earlier than Trout.  Predictably, he struggled initially at that level.  What matters is the adjustment - let him pound on low minor-level pitching for another 800 ABs like Trout has had done, because combining A and AA numbers is just dumb.

BTW, Harper's numbers compare nicely to Pujols, Rodriguez, Ramirez, and Griffey in A ball.  .318/.423/.554.  VERY nicely.  Ramirez was the most dominant, but he SHOULD have been.  19 years old in rookie ball is much different than 18 in A ball.  Based on age vs. level of competition, Rodriguez was the most impressive.  Regardless, it's interesting the best comparisons are a bunch of hall of famers.

And you have to recognize you lose all credibility when you mention college hitting statistics.  There's a reason Pete Incaviglia isn't in the hall of fame.  The alumininum bat makes college hitting stats a joke. 

In the end, its obvious that you have a personal bias, not a statistics-based prediction.  The stats "he should have" (based on your own decision) are already comparable with hall of fame hitters.  If you really put value in the stats, you'd make more of an effort to break them down the way the scouts and GMs do, stick to comparative levels, and put some emphasis on age vs. level of competition (VERY big predictor, Mr. Sabermatrician). 

Trout will probably hit for a higher average than Harper.  His ceiling just isn't what Harper's is, and Harper has done absolutely nothing at the plate to dampen the expectations of any knowledgeable baseball fan.  Now, if you want to talk about the non-hitting issues - defense, attitude, etc., I won't argue.  From what I've read in the media, he's a hard guy to like, so I understand the bias.  Just don't pretend it's based on baseball ability.

Since: Jun 17, 2009
Posted on: January 23, 2012 8:01 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

This was a waste of time, its not even a debate and I question anyone who thinks Trout will be better.

Since: Jan 17, 2012
Posted on: January 23, 2012 6:55 pm

With no Doubt, Trout

Catch the fish, please! Trout is a phenom. Sure, Harper is a year younger, but he has issues with his character and with his stability, mentally. One day, the hecklings going to overcome him. Trout, man, everyone loves him. He is the premier 5-tool hitter. I can see Trout replacing Pujols as the superstar of the Angels. Pujols can be cleanup, while Trout is 3rd. I can see much better chances than being with Harper. 

Since: Oct 11, 2009
Posted on: January 23, 2012 5:52 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

This shows absolutely no understanding of baseball.  Nobody that age destroys pitching at those levels.  Ken Griffey Jr. was 19 when he started in Seattle and didn't have anything close to the numbers you think he should have had"if he's so talented" in the minors prior to that.  That's why baseball professionals are paid to recognize talent by what they can do, not what some geek looking at stats thinks should a guy "should" have.
Thats quite a blanket statement. I'll match baseball wits with you any day. And I hate to tell you this b/c apparently you are stuck in some time warp, but baseball and baseball players are almost entirely analyzed and measured by statistics. Sabermetrics are a powerful tool. Ever read Bill James Prospectus? What do you think managers are gazing at in those notebooks during games? A list of the best sushi restaurants in town? No, its player tendencies, everything from propensity to swing or take the 1st pitch, to a batters individual success vs lefties or a particular, to the likeliness of a batter to go to the opposite field with two strikes. Watch a gamecast on Its all statistics. Situational splits are all over ESPN,, and most major sports sites.

As for the Griffey & Pujols arguments, check the numbers. These guys hit at low minors stops. At age 17 in A ball Griffey's line was .313/.445/604 in 182 AB. At age 18 in A+ ball his line was .338/.431/.575 in 219 AB. Pujols at age 20 hit .324/.389/.565 in 395 AB with 17 HR/85 RBI in A ball.  There are other examples. At age 19 Manny Ramirez hit .326/.426/.679 in 215 AB with 19 HR/63 RBI in Rookie Ball. At age 18 Robin Ventura, arguably the best college hitter ever, hit .469/.575/.846 in 241 AB with 21 HR/96 RBI as a freshman at Oklahoma State. At age 18 A-Rod hit .319/.379/.605 in 245 AB with 14 HR/55 RBI in A ball. Harper's line split between levels at age 18 was .297/.392/.501 in 387 AB with 17 HR/58 RBI. His Arizona Fall Lg numbers were more what one would expect for a #1 pick: .333/.400/.634 in 93 AB with 6 HR/26 RBI.


Since: Dec 30, 2006
Posted on: January 23, 2012 5:10 pm

Would You Rather Have: Trout or Harper?

You are so right, you left out Tim Salmon, Garrett Anderson, Jim Edmonds, The Molina brothers, Francisco Rodriguez, Jared Weaver, Mike Napoli, Jim Abbott, Peter Bourjas, John Lackey, Chone Figgins, Scot Shields, Mark Trumbo, Kendry Morales were among the other total bust that came up through their system. It must be your keen eye for talent that makes you so remarkable in evaluating players. I think I will take the occassional bust and if you know the Angels Brandon Wood was the only one who was called a phenom, McPherson got sick and everyone in so Cal knew he was not the answer. I also do not know one Angel fan who was fired up about Mathis, they supported him because he was the catcher but that does not mean he was the next Johnny Bench and I don't recall him being called a phenom.

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