Baseball's LeBron or Baseball's Felipe Lopez?

Bryce Harper is baseball's next big thing

Matt Wieters just made his debut, Stephen Strasburg is just about to get drafted and already Scott Boras has moved onto representing baseball's new big new thing. Bryce Hunter is a 16-year-old catcher from Las Vegas who can throw 96 miles per hour, hit a 502-foot home run at the Tropicana Dome in Tampa and landed on the cover of this week's Sports Illustrated.

The article reads like something out of fiction at times, as if Hunter were a modern-day Roy Hobbs, but the crazy stories (570-foot homers in HS games, he scores from second on wild pitches) are backed up by baseball scouts who are convinced of his greatness.

To a man they describe him as an impact player with the skills, body and attitude—he says he models his game after those of Mickey Mantle and Pete Rose—perfectly suited for the sport. "If Bryce were in the draft this year," says one American League scouting director, "he'd go in the top five picks."

"Wrong," says a National League amateur scouting director. "He'd go higher than that."

Higher than top five?

"Top two," he says. "And that's taking nothing away from the guys in the draft this year. He's honestly that good. He is a once-in-a-generation talent."

That kind of talent obviously makes it hard for opposing high schoolers to offer much competition. Hunter's parents are exploring ways to get him into the 2010 draft, when he'd only be finishing his junior year, by getting him a GED and enrolling in junior college.

Best of luck to Hunter, but we'd be remiss not to point out a few things. For one, during the home run hitting contest where he set the Trop's distance record Hunter couldn't hit a single home run with a wood bat. There's plenty of time to learn, obviously, but big jumps in opposing talent plus new technology has foiled many aluminum bat sluggers in the past. That's just one of many things that can go wrong between sophomore math class and the major leagues, of course.

And then there's Sports Illustrated, which has been guilty of some hyperbole in the past. There's the infamous cover of Felipe Lopez before he even played a game of college hoops, and, as Deadspin points out, they've hung the "Chosen One" moniker on 52 different athletes in the last quarter-century. The designation has worked -- LeBron James, Tiger Woods -- but you'll probably have to think hard to remember Livingstone Bramble, Santino Quaranta and many of the other (dis?)honored by SI's hype machine.

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