Sunday, May 23, 2010

Are You Sure You Want to Invest in Bryce Harper Cards?

With the 2010 Major League Baseball Amateur Draft only two weeks away, we will (once again) begin hearing the hype surrounding the Washington Nationals and the #1 overall pick. It is presumed by most fans that 17 year-old phenom Bryce Harper will be the guy whose name is called first, although as recently as a few weeks ago the Nationals were denying that they had made up their minds.

I'm sure most collectors and baseball fans know all about the hype-machine of Harper, so I won't regurgitate all you've heard. What I will say is this: before you start chasing down all the over-priced Harper Chrome cards, Autographed this and that cards, and Relic cards, please join me in a stroll down memory lane.

1990 Topps #564- Tyler Houston

If you were a Braves fan back before the bandwagon started up, you might remember the name Tyler Houston. The year was 1989, and the Braves owned the second-overall pick in that June's amateur draft. With the first pick of the draft Baltimore took RHP Ben McDonald, who was as highly touted (if not more highly touted) as last year's number one pick, Stephen Strasburg. Had McDonald not been draft-elgible, then Tyler Houston would have easily gone number one overall. Houston, like Harper, was a phenom catcher who came from the Las Vegas area. As a senior, he had led his high school team to a 31-5 record on their way to the Nevada State Championship. He was also named the 1989 High School Player of the Year by USA Today. Known for his prodigous power (hitting bombs that were estimated at nearly 500 ft), Tyler's senior year stats were very "Harper-esque", 131 AB, 50 R, 61 H, 8 2B, 4 3B, 13 HR, 66 RBI, 23 SB, .885 SLG, 18 BB, 7K, .466 AVG. Not only that, but at 6'1 and 205 lbs. Tyler was a pretty awesome speciman. He WAS Bryce Harper before the College of Southern Nevada star was even born!

So, as providence would have it, Houston was taken by the Braves with the number two overall pick in '89. The Braves, who had scouted Houston for three years (!), thought they had drafted a catcher who would become a future All-Star. Scouting Director Paul Snyder, Jr. was asked if Tyler was a lock to make the majors, and he responded by saying you can't project a lock, but that "probably the safest draft pick you can make is to choose a catcher who is an above average receiver and an above average thrower." Houston fit that description, and then some. Bobby Cox, who was GM for the Braves at the time, said "it shouldn't take him long to go to the top of his class in his profession." They paid the kid a then N.L. record $241,500 signing bonus and sent him to Idaho Falls to play in the Pioneer League. While there, the opposing teams would welcome him at the plate with Pink Floyd's "Money". So goes the life of a "Bonus Baby".

Yogi Berra was once quoted as saying "it's tough to make predictions-especially about the future." But from listening to those within the Braves organization and around baseball, Houston was going to be an All-Star. Problem was, Tyler got off the bus somewhere on the road to the hall-of-fame. He kicked around the minors for a number of years before finally making his big league debut in 1996. Twenty-Five games into his major league debut-season, he was traded to the Cubs and then went on to play for four more organizations, never fulfilling the stardom that his immense talent promised.

Looking back in hind sight, it is easy to say that the Braves blew it when they passed on local Georgian and future Hall-of-Fame first baseman Frank Thomas (#7 to the White Sox) and a future All-Star catcher Charles Johnson (#10 to Expos). Scouting a player is not an exact science, however, and at the time Houston seemed to be the logical choice. Tyler Houston did make the majors and played eight seasons in the show, two of which were fairly productive. Bryce Harper might well be "all-world" and be worth every penny that Scott Boras will suck from whomever it is that picks Harper this June. I just wouldn't invest much money in his cardboard.

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