Baseball's two premier young players, Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper and Los Angeles Angels outfielder Mike Trout, will meet April 21-23 at Nationals Park, and those three games won't sway who's currently better -- Trout.
The outfielders each won their league's 2012 Rookie of the Year Award. They're always compared with each other, if not to the game's immortals, such as Mickey Mantle. They will meet April 21 for the first time. Trout is better than not just Harper, but perhaps any young player in the game right now.
It would be OK for Harper to run second to Trout if he were posting big numbers, but so far, Harper is still not quite living up to the superstar status projected when Washington selected him first overall in 2010. He's still the youngest player in MLB, but also immature at times. Manager Matt Williams benched Harper April 19 after he didn't run out a grounder to the pitcher during a 4-3 loss to the Cardinals.
Superstars never let down. Harper did.
Maybe Harper's gaffe was a good thing. Slap him into reality now, at a young age. Teach the phenom how to be a real pro. The lesson can last another 20 years to help Harper reach Cooperstown, N.Y.
But all Harper and Nats fans need do for three games is watch how Trout does it. Since arriving in the majors in 2011, Trout has steadily grown his on-base plus slugging percentage to .987 currently. Harper's rose from .817 in 2012 to .854 in 2013. It has dropped to .767 this season versus Trout's .987.
Trout is batting .307 and has five home runs, after averaging .326 in 2012 and .323 in 2013. Harper is batting .292 currently, with only one home run. Still, his average betters last season's disappointing .274.
One poll of MLB players earlier this season called Harper the game's most overrated player. He's certainly showing that's nonsense, not running out the grounder aside. But if Harper wants to improve, he should watch Trout, too.
Both have a muscular build, but Harper has better speed and arm. Trout seems to maximize his hitting tools, and doesn't fall into slumps and mental funks. He also appears to have a better feel for what's around him in the outfield.
In 20 years, when their careers are over, Harper may have the better numbers. He's already becoming a more disciplined hitter, especially against curveballs. But Harper needs some of Trout's mental steadiness. It comes with age. Trout is 14 months older than Harper, and also has 324 more major league at bats entering the series. It's a slight edge. Trout also hasn't been saddled with the high expectations that have followed Harper since age 14.
There's not a lot separating the two, and it will be interesting to see the rare indirect matchup during three nights. See whether either is the hero or goat. Chances are if one is pressing, it will be Harper. He needs to become more comfortable with himself, as Trout seems to be.
Anytime you can see a modern matchup of Willie Mays versus Henry Aaron, the remote doesn't channel surf.