Mike Trout vs. Bryce Harper: Who’s the Better Keeper?

When the All-Star rosters were announced July 1, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim outfielder Mike Trout was named to the American League team as a reserve. This season’s other young phenom, Washington outfielder Bryce Harper, was one of the five candidates in the fans’ vote for the final National League spot. Harper did not win that race, but was ultimately added to the team when Giancarlo Stanton, another fine young player, got hurt.

Who is better for fantasy baseball?

While Harper was off to a great start for a 19-year-old, the 20-year-old Trout was already being hailed as an MVP candidate, leading the American League in batting average and steals as the All-Star break approached.  But while Trout can help your team more today, those in keeper leagues may be better off with Harper.

It’s not as if you will go wrong with either of these rising stars. Both have been projected to be stars for some time, beginning 2012 at or near the top of prospect lists.

Both are top phenoms

Trout, a first-round pick in the 2009 amateur draft, hit .342 with an OPS of .941 and 108 steals in 1312 minor-league plate appearances.  But when he first came up in July 2011, Trout struggled, hitting just .220 with a .672 OPS in 135 plate appearances.  As a result, Trout began 2012 in AAA Salt Lake City. But when he hit .403 in 93 plate appearances, the Angels brought him back, and this time, Trout was ready.

But as highly touted a prospect as Trout was, Harper has been seen as a once-in-a-generation talent.  On June 8, 2009, 16-year-old Harper, still a year away from being drafted by the Nationals, appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the headline “Baseball’s Chosen One: Bryce Harper is the most exciting prodigy since LeBron.”  Harper could hit a ball over 500 feet.  He could pitch a ball 96 miles per hour.  He could run. And at this point, he was a catcher.

Young and ready to go

The following year, the Nationals took Harper with the number one pick in the amateur draft. The previous year, the Nationals had taken pitcher Stephen Strasburg with the top pick. Strasburg was one of the most hyped picks in recent memory. But Harper came with a similar amount of hype.  He also came with the same agent as Strasburg – Scott Boras.  While superagent Boras is known for his nine-figure deals with veterans, he is always looking to bring young prodigies like Harper into the fold for nice paydays now (Harper signed with the Nationals for $9.9 million over five years) and mega paydays later.

It is scary to think of how young Harper and Trout are. Harper does not even turn 20 until October.  Trout turns 21 in August.  So far, Trout is ahead of Harper, but Trout is a year older and had 40 games of experience in 2011. Both are fantastic keepers, but as true power hitters become less common in MLB, Harper’s potential to become a big-time slugger could ultimately make him a better keeper than Trout.

Ben Hargrove writes for a variety of sports-related web sites, including Draft Street.