The Week Ahead: Bryce Harper countdown begins

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Let the Bryce Harper countdown begin.

Harper, the 16-year-old Las Vegas high school star who was christened as the “Chosen One” by Sports Illustrated, is planning to skip his final two seasons of high school in an attempt to be eligible for the 2010 draft.

According to Harper’s father Ron, the phenom has registered at College
of Southern Nevada and will play for the junior college next season in
what would have been his junior year of high school.

Harper plans to earn his GED (high school equivalency) in the fall.

Harper, a 6-foot-3-inch catcher, hit .626 with 14 home runs and 55
RBIs for the Wildcats this season. He also had 36 stolen bases.

With his combination of power and speed, Harper is projected to be
the top pick in the major league draft when he’s eligible. That should
be next June.

The No. 1 pick a 17-year-old from Vegas? It’s possible. In the SI
story, an NL scouting director said Harper would have challenged
Stephen Strasburg for the No. 1 pick this year, at only age 16.

“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.”

So let the race for Bryce Harper begin. Leading the way, once again,
are your Washington Nationals. At 16-45, the Nats have a healthy 8½
game lead over the next-worst team, the Arizona Diamondbacks (27-37).

FIVE SERIES TO WATCH


  • Brewers at Indians, June 15-17: The teams meet for just the
    second time since 2001 and Harry Doyle (aka Bob Eucker) will throw out
    the first pitch on Monday night. It’s “Major League” night after all. Don’t forget to pick up your Rick Vaughn bobblehead. I’m not kidding.
  • White Sox at Cubs, June 16-18:
    It’s the battle for the Windy City. And judging by the standings at
    this point, most of the wind is being generated by wild hacks and Ozzie
    Guillen.
  • Tigers at Cardinals, June 16-18: Not only is this a rematch of the 2006 World Series, but both teams are currently in playoff contention.
  • Braves at Red Sox, June 19-21:
    The Red Sox don’t know if John Smoltz will return to the majors this
    week. I suppose it would be too much to ask for the veteran to take the
    mound against his former team over the weekend. Even if it doesn’t
    happen this week, Atlanta writers are anticipating a possible start at Turner Field on June 28.
  • Dodgers at Angels, June 19-21: It’s the Freeway Series, which is
    sort of a laid-back, West Coast version of the Subway Series. Don’t
    expect to hear Ramon Troncoso complaining about Brian Fuentes’ “tired
    act.”

    ON THE TUBE

    Monday, 7:05 p.m. ET: Brewers at Indians (ESPN)
    Wednesday, 7:05 p.m.: Blue Jays at Phillies (ESPN)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Brewers at Tigers (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Cardinals at Royals (FOX)
    *Saturday, 4:10 p.m.: Rays at Mets (FOX)
    Sunday, 1:30 p.m.: Braves at Red Sox (TBS)
    Sunday, 8:05 p.m.: Dodgers at Angels (ESPN)
    *Check local listings

    And finally, for some fantasy tips for this week, click here.

  • Michael Bourn opts out of his minor league deal with the Orioles

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    Outfielder Michael Bourn was traded by the Diamondbacks to the Orioles late last season and hit a solid .283/.358/.435 in 55 plate appearances with them through the end of the season. While that’s not enough to outweigh the miserable season he had in Arizona, it was enough to get the O’s to give him a look in spring training with a minor league deal. They signed him to one in late February.

    Then, a couple of days later, Bourn broke his finger while playing catch with a football. Unable to play, the O’s cut him. In early April, once Bourn healed, the O’s signed him again. He played 11 games for their Triple-A affiliate and went 9-for-41 with ten walks in 51 plate appearances. While that makes for a decent OBP, his lack of any sort of pop or good contact suggests that if someone throws him strikes, he can’t do much with the ball.

    As such, the O’s had not called him up to Baltimore. And as a result of that, Bourn exercised his opt-out rights and became a free agent.

    Someone may take a look at him given that his batting eye seems to be intact and given that, in an admittedly small sample size, he still performed last season. But if he does get a look, it’ll likely be back at the minor league level.

    Rob Manfred talks about playing regular season games in Mexico

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    The new Collective Bargaining Agreement commits the players and the league to regular season games on foreign soil. Most of the focus of this has been on games in London, for which there has been a lot of activity and discussion.

    Yesterday before the Astros-Tigers game in Houston, however, Commissioner Rob Manfred talked about playing games in Mexico. And not as just a one-off, but as a foot-in-the-water towards possible expansion:

    Commissioner Rob Manfred said Tuesday that the time had come to play regular-season games in Mexico City as Major League Baseball weighs international expansion.

    “We think it’s time to move past exhibition games and play real live ‘they-count’ games in Mexico,” Manfred said. “That is the kind of experiment that puts you in better position to make a judgement as to whether you have a market that could sustain an 81-game season and a Major League team.”

    A team in Mexico could make some geographic sense and some marketing sense, though it’s not clear if there is a city that would be appropriate for that right now. Mexico City is huge but it has plenty of its own sports teams and is far away from the parts of the country where baseball is popular (mostly the border states and areas along the Pacific coast). At 7,382 feet, its elevation would make games at Coors Field look like the Deadball Era.

    Monterrey has been talked about — games have been played there and it’s certainly closer — but it’s somewhat unknown territory demographically speaking. It’s not as big as Mexico City, obviously. Income stratification is greater there and most of the rest of Mexico than it is in the United States too, making projections of how much discretionary income people may spend on an expensive entertainment product like Major League Baseball uncertain. Especially when they have other sports they’ve been following for decades.

    Interesting, though. It’s something Manfred has talked about many times over the years, so unlike so many other things he says he’s “considering” or “hasn’t ruled out,” Major League Baseball in Mexico is something worth keeping our eyes on.