The Washington Times - May 12, 2011, 11:57AM

ATLANTA — Just in case anyone needed any more proof that Bryce Harper is a man among boys in the South Atlantic League, he decided to go 4-for-5 with a grand slam and five RBI Wednesday night to raise his numbers to a .396 average, . 472 on-base percentage, .712 slugging percentage and 1.184 OPS.

So I thought, is this the best performance at Low Class A ever? And I began looking at the numbers. Alex Rodriguez, who is the first 18-year-old comparison that comes to mind, tore up the minor leagues in his first professional season, spending time at Single-A, Double-A and Triple-A. In 278 plate appearances at Low-A, Rodriguez’s numbers were .312/.376/.577.

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Dave Cameron, at Fangraphs took the comparisons a few steps further:

Harper’s performance is blowing away what Rodriguez did in Appleton.

He’s not only showing more power than Rodriguez did at the same age, but is also showing a more disciplined approach at the plate – something you just don’t find in many teenagers. Harper’s walk rate is the 14th best in the league and most of the guys ahead of him are in their twenties. Additionally, Harper is showing no real platoon split, posting an OPS better than 1.000 against lefties and righties alike. Even the best left-handed hitting prospects usually have problems with southpaws early in their pro careers and have to adapt to facing quality stuff from that side, which isn’t common at the amateur level. Harper is just mashing LHPs as well.

So what about the other phenoms who came through the minor leagues at a young age? Chipper Jones? Andruw Jones? Adrian Beltre? Josh Hamilton? B.J. Upton? Ken Griffey Jr.?

Cameron laid it all out pretty well:

It’s not just A-Rod he’s showing up either – it’s basically every other prospect in recent history. Chipper Jones hit .326/.407/.519 in the same league back in 1991, but he was 19-years-old and had made his professional debut in rookie ball the year before. Andruw Jones played in the SAL at age 18, but hit a relatively modest .277/.377/.512 by comparison – his monster season would come the next year, when he climbed four levels and got to the majors after proving he was the game’s premier prospect.

Perhaps the most impressive young performance in the SAL over the last 20 years came from Adrian Beltre, who hit .307/.406/.586 in 288 plate appearances as a 17-year-old. That year, the average OPS in the league was just .672, so Beltre’s mark was over 300 points higher than the norm for the whole league; Harper’s current mark is over 400 points higher than the average hitter in the SAL this year.

Josh Hamilton? He didn’t make his full season debut until age 19, and then he hit .302/.348/.476. B.J. Upton? .302/.394/.445 in 453 plate appearances – Harper already has more home runs than Upton had in the SAL at the same age, though Upton spent almost the entire year at that level. His brother hit just .263/.343/.413 in full-season ball at this age.

Really, to find a similar performance at age 18, you probably have to go back to Ken Griffey Jr. in San Bernardino in 1988. In 58 games at the level, he hit .338/.431/.575 when the league average hitter was putting up a .256/.354/.351 line. 

The Nationals have said that they have no intention of rushing Harper through the minor leagues, and rightly so, but he’s keeping some pretty elite company right now. There’s no word on exactly when a promotion to Single-A Potomac could come but Harper continues to prove there’s not much else he will gain from continuing to play in the South Atlantic League.