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What we mean when we say 'makeup'

4/22/2010

Kevin Goldstein on the latest über-amateur:

    Coming into this spring, Bryce Harper was universally seen as the top player in the draft, but the chances of Washington taking him with the first pick were initially handicapped as a 50/50 proposition. Harper's performance so far at the College of Southern Nevada has changed those chances significantly, as he's basically given the Nationals no excuse to pass on him by batting .401/.494/.866 with wood bats in a junior college league at the age of 17. He's crushed 17 home runs (the team has just 45) in 142 at-bats, drawn 26 walks, and even stolen 13 bases in 15 attempts while playing catcher, third base, and some center field.

    Nats general manager Mike Rizzo has consummated numerous contracts in the past with super-agent Scott Boras, including Stephen Strasburg's record-breaking deal last August, so that's another non-factor. Still, while the chances of Washington selecting Harper slowly creep to "lock" status, there are still four questions remaining.

You should read the whole thing, as all four questions are relevant and worth asking. I want to focus on just the fourth, though:

    4. The Makeup: This should not be underrated. It's impossible to find any talent evaluator who isn't blown away by Harper's ability on the field, but it's equally difficult to find one who doesn't genuinely dislike the kid. One scout called him among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents. "He's just a bad, bad guy," said one front-office official. "He's basically the anti-Joe Mauer." How this plays into the negotiation or future evaluation is yet to be determined, as history has shown us that the bigger talent a player is, the more makeup issues teams will deal with. Bench players can't afford to be problems, but plenty of teams happily put up with difficult superstars.

Or maybe not happily. But willingly. The Pirates won three straight division titles with Barry Bonds in the lineup. When evaluating young baseball players, teams have to separate their desires into "need-to-haves" and "like-to-haves." When you have the first pick in the draft, you need to have a great deal of confidence in a young player's talent. You'd like to have someone with Joe Mauer's personality. But how many Joe Mauers are there, really?

And I think it's important to precisely define "makeup," which in this case seems to cover Harper's interactions with other human beings. I just started reading a novel about maybe the greatest player in major league history. In 12 seasons he wins seven MVP Awards, three Triple Crowns, etc. The guy has no (apparent) personality, though. Communicates mostly with stares and grunts. Doesn't seem to have any friends. Doesn't take any sort of instruction from his managers or coaches. Shows up at spring training early or late, depending on some sort of instinctual migration impulse.

That sort of behavior might qualify John Barr for the "bad makeup" tag. Throw a Milo on him. Except in those 12 seasons, his team (the Mets, actually) wins nine division titles and five World Series.

To me, "makeup" should include a healthy space for a player's willingness and ability to work at becoming a better baseball player. Maybe Bryce Harper falls short there, too. But if I'm running a draft, I'm a lot more worried about how good a player he'll be than how much fun he'll be in the clubhouse.