Throughout the years, numerous great athletes have sprouted from the world of sports. They have won championships and broken records, but more than anything, these athletes entertain. They charm fans with their charisma, mesmerize others with their confidence and, no matter the outcome, keep fans on the edge of their seat.
One of the most special moments in sports is when a single sport graces fans with two of these characters at one time, destined to be rivals. We have seen it before with the likes of Larry Bird and Magic Johnson, Sammy Sosa and Mark McGuire and Tom Brady and Peyton Manning. In every scenario, the fight for supremacy is can’t-miss-television.
The same is happening now, in baseball, even though many people might not even know it. Two young outfielders by the names of Mike Trout and Bryce Harper are taking over the baseball world and given their young age (Trout is 23 and Harper 22), they are not giving it up anytime soon.
The two players’ teams are hardly rivals. Trout’s Angels play on the west coast in the American League while Harper’s Nationals play on the east coast in the National League, but that’s irrelevant. The great part about player rivalries is that they don’t need to be head to head on the diamond. They can be playing on opposite sides of the country, like Trout and Harper typically do, but can still be connected by one simple question: Who is better?
If you asked a baseball fan six years ago who was better, Bryce Harper would have been the unanimous choice. At the age of 16, Harper had already graced the cover of the famed Sports Illustrated magazine. Scouts declared him the best baseball prospect since the days of Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr. He could hit the ball 500-plus feet and throw runners out from his knees as a catcher. Mike Trout, on the other hand, was an afterthought, considered a solid high school prospect out of New Jersey.
In the next year, Harper would skip his last two years of high school baseball to play in junior college in order to make himself eligible for the MLB Draft as a 17-year-old. Mike Trout would finish high school at 18 and get drafted number 25 by the Angels, a great accomplishment but minor compared to that of Harper.
Two years later though, Trout was the one making waves. At age 20, he posted a .326 batting average along with 30 home runs and a league-leading 49 stolen bases on his way to the Rookie of the Year award and a second place finish in MVP voting. He followed up his rookie campaign with another second place finish in the MVP voting, this time compiling a .323 average with 27 home runs and 33 stolen bases. And even as it seemed like he couldn’t get better, he did just that, finishing 2014 with 36 home runs, a league leading 111 RBIs and his first MVP trophy. Having just turned 22, Trout was the most accomplished young baseball player since the days of Ted Williams and Mickey Mantle.
Bryce Harper didn’t settle into the big leagues as easily. From 2012-2014, Harper never posted a batting average better than .274, hit more than 22 home runs or drove in more than 59 runs. The lesser-touted Trout was better in every aspect of the game.
That was until this year. Through 90 games, Trout and Harper are the best two players in baseball. Trout has had a great year, already posting a .307 average with 28 home runs and 57 RBIs, which has put him on pace for a career year, but he has been overshadowed by Harper’s emergence. Harper currently leads all of baseball in on-base percentage, slugging percentage and on-base plus slugging percentage. Additionally, he leads the National League in runs and home runs. He’s even posted a career high .334 batting average, which clearly surpasses Trout’s. He has been so good that the question is being asked: Who is better?
I would still have to say it is Mike Trout, since he’s been doing it longer, but Harper has turned his enormous potential into enormous talent and it is extremely exciting. No matter what, the combination of the two, who have already combined for 208 career home runs while most prospects their age are settling into AA, are set to dominate baseball for the next decade. Years from now, the two of them have the chance to be put in the same breath as the likes of Mantle and Mays and, as a fan, I suggest truly cherishing their current and future greatness.
Jake Foote is a rising sophomore in the College. The Hot Stove appears every Thursday.