Teenybopper: Harper Is Latest (and Greatest?) Teenager to Face the Yankees

VIERA, FL - FEBRUARY 28: Bryce Harper #34 of the Washington Nationals poses during photo day at Space Coast Stadium on February 28, 2012 in Viera, Florida. (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images)

Bryce Harper didn’t need the Yankees’ stamp of approval, but the Nationals' rookie sensation got one anyway. It wasn’t too long ago that Harper was rooting for the Bronx Bombers, so the endorsement of veterans like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez had to thrill the 19-year old. Although the two future Hall of Famers probably aren’t ready to pass the torch just yet, they probably can’t help but see a little of themselves in Harper’s early success.

I love big talent, I love unique talent. Just seeing a 19-year old doing some of the things he’s doing is pretty darn special. I’m excited to see him." – Alex Rodriguez, discussing Bryce Harper, quoted by MASN

If anyone knows about unique talent, it’s probably Arod, who debuted as an 18-year old in 1994. Although it took Rodriguez two seasons to stick in the majors, simply taking the field at such a young age was an accomplishment. Since Rodriguez’ debut, Harper is only the seventh teenage position player to break into the big leagues, which illustrates how rare such an early promotion has become.

Teenage Position Player Debuts, Since 1901

Teendebuts_medium

Source: baseball-reference.com

When Harper flied out to center in his first at bat, it was the first time since the mid-1990s that the Yankees faced a teenage hitter, and, as luck would have it, both players were in the Bronx Bombers starting lineup. In 1996, a 19-year old Andruw Jones starred for the Braves against the Yankees in the World Series, while in the regular season, Arod face the Yankees just before his 20th birthday one year earlier. Does that mean Harper is also destined to wear pinstripes? That's probably a question best left for another day.

Teenage Plate Appearances vs. the Yankees, Since 1918

Teenpasvsyanks_medium

Source: baseball-reference.com

Since 1918, 92 teenagers, including Harper, have taken at least one at bat against the Yankees in either the regular season or the playoffs, but that list can be whittled down to 60 by excluding pitchers. Although not composed entirely of All Stars, that more select group includes such immortal names as Al Kaline, Brooks Robinson, Hank Greenberg, Jimmie Foxx, and more recently Robin Yount, Ken Griffey Jr., and Ivan Rodriguez. Will Harper's name become a natural extension of that list? The Nationals sure hope so.

With two more games to play, Harper still has time to make an even better impression on the Yankees. However, history suggests he is more likely to struggle. Of the 37 teenagers with 10 or more plate appearances versus the Yankees since 1918, only nine posted an OPS above .660. Of course, it will be up to Ivan Nova and Andy Pettitte to make sure Harper doesn't join that list.

Top Teenagers vs. the Yankees, Since 1918
Teeanagevsyanks_medium

Note: Minimum 10 plate appearances.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Regardless of what Harper does in the final two games of the weekend series against the Yankees, he has already made his presence known in the major leagues. Although he still has 100 more games as a teenager left to play, Harper currently holds the highest OPS of any player before turning 20. Granted, many of the other players on the list had more plate appearances than Harper, but the Nationals have to love the company he is keeping.

Top Career OPS by Teenagers, Since 1918
Topteens_medium

Note: Regular Season only. Minimum 150 plate appearances.
Source: baseball-reference.com

Maybe the league will finally catch-on to the rookie, but all the early indications suggest a standout career. Instead of getting too caught up trying to figure out what Harper will become, however, it's probably better to just sit back and enjoy what he has already accomplished. After all, it could be quite some time before another player like Harper breaks into the majors with such early success.

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