- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 27, 2014

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

Bryce Harper knows who his peers are. He knows how he will be measured, perhaps for the rest of his major league career.

The 21-year-old Washington Nationals outfielder let you know he recognizes his competitors in a February interview with Comcast Sportsnet, when he declared, “[Mike] Trout’s very good. [Manny] Machado’s really good.”


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Then he tried to tell you he’s not paying attention to the comparisons — while telling you what he believes separates him from the others. “I could care less what people think,” Harper said. “I’ve been to the NL East title. I won it. Nobody else can say that.”

Harper better get used to the comparisons — and he left one out: Yasiel Puig. He shouldn’t forget the Los Angeles Dodgers‘ Cuban phenom. He could be the one Harper winds up battling in the National League for individual honors.

Manny Machado
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Harper. Trout. Machado. Puig — they are the four kings of baseball, the new wave of young, talented players who have injected passion and interest in the game for a new generation of baseball fans.


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There have been stars who have come into the game together over the years who have been linked together through different circumstances. Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter and Nomar Garciaparra were three shortstops who were compared to one another because they all played the same position and came up together.

But as great as they were, the trio never seemed to ignite the flame that the four kings have so quickly in their careers. Adding to the spotlight are the stages they perform on — Trout with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, and Puig just 31 miles north with the Dodgers, and, on the East Coast, Harper in Washington and Machado up the road 39 miles away.

Harper seemed destined to be a king, featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated as “The Chosen One” in 2009 at the age of 16, who fast-tracked his career by leaving high school early with his GED, spending a year in junior college and then drafted No. 1 by the Nationals in 2010.

He was the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, batting .270 with 22 home runs, 59 RBI and 18 stolen bases in 139 games at the age of 19, and, despite struggling with injuries last year, seems poised for the sort of season he has been destined for.

Trout, 22, came as more of a surprise, passed over by 24 teams in the 2009 draft until the Angels selected him with their first-round selection. But by the time he arrived in the major leagues in 2011, great things were expected — and he exceeded those expectations.

Trout set the baseball world on fire in 2011, batting .326 with 30 home runs, 83 RBI, 129 runs scored and 49 stolen bases in 139 games. He has become a perennial MVP candidate, finishing second again last year with 27 home runs, 97 RBI, 109 runs scored, 33 stolen bases and a .323 average.

Machado, 21, entered baseball in the same draft as Harper, just two behind, selected by the Orioles with the third pick of the first round. The shortstop-turned-third baseman was called up to the major league club in August 2012 and became the spark that led the Orioles to a wild-card spot in the playoffs, the club’s first postseason appearance since 1997.

He led the league with 51 doubles in 2013, and finished sixth in hits with 189, while batting .283 with 14 home runs and 71 RBI. He is coming back from knee surgery in October and won’t be ready for Opening Day, but he is already considered the driving force in a powerful Orioles offense, and the key to the resurgence of the franchise.

Puig, 23, is the wild card, the Cuban star who defected in 2012 and signed a seven-year, $42 million contract with the Dodgers.

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