-- You've heard of counting your chickens before they hatch? Well, putting Bryce Harper anywhere near the top 100 -- let alone at No. 85 -- is counting your chickens before the eggs are even laid.
Look, I get it. Harper's potential is huge. His ceiling is higher than the one in Yao Ming's bedroom. Last year, as a 22-year old, Harper put up one of the greatest offensive seasons for a player his age. I'm not going to regurgitate the numbers for you here because by now you've heard them plenty and seen them plenty. Suffice it to say, when you become the youngest unanimous MVP in the history of baseball, you've done OK.
But just because a guy has one good year at the office (OK, one really, really good year) doesn't mean he's going to keep doing it over and over again. Sure, if you look at the roster of players who won MVPs at a young age, you'll see lots of legendary names -- guys like Johnny Bench, Stan Musial, Cal Ripken, Willie Mays and Hank Aaron. As you'd expect, every one of those greats cracked the top 100, and with plenty of breathing room. But that same list of precocious players also contains names such as Don Mattingly and Fred Lynn, both very good players in their own right, but neither of whom even sniffed our rankings because their flames didn't burn eternal -- they weren't good enough for long enough.
I know what you're thinking (and by you, I mean our top-100 polling posse): Mattingly and Lynn weren't blue-chip prospects like Harper. Donnie Baseball was a 19th-rounder. And although Lynn was a second-rounder, it's still not the same thing as being the top overall pick, which Harper was in 2010. Combine the prime pedigree with the historic 2015 season, and presto, you've got a legend in the making. Or so it seemed.
(Sound of needle scratching on record.)
In case you haven't noticed, the legend of Harper isn't going according to plan in 2016. Oh, he started the season well enough in defense of his MVP crown. Sure, you could argue that he didn't deserve to be named National League Player of the Month for April (see: Arenado, Nolan). But you can't argue that Harper -- with his 9 home runs, 24 RBIs and 1.120 OPS during that first month -- didn't come out of the gate mashing. But that was then, and this is now.
Since April 27, Harper is hitting just .231 with a .378 slugging percentage. His average ranks 149th out of 159 qualified major leaguers over that time, and his slugging ranks 130th. Even when Harper isn't getting hits, his prolific plate discipline -- he set a franchise record with 124 walks last season and walked 45 times in his first 39 games this year -- has a huge impact on the game. But since May 19, he has drawn a relatively human 27 free passes in 50 games. During that time, his .347 on-base percentage puts him firmly in the middle of the pack (38th out of 82 NL players).
On one hand, maybe it's just a slump. A really extended, nearly half-season slump that's about to end. Maybe Harper's on the verge of busting out and going on a tear that will have his average north of .300 come October, and we'll all look back and say, "See, we knew it was just a matter of time."
On the other hand, maybe what we're seeing this year is the real Bryce Harper. Maybe the .270-something that he hit in each of his first three seasons is more like the rule, and last year's video game numbers were the exception. If that's the case, then the slash line we're seeing offensively from Harper in 2016 (.252/.394/.477) is roughly equivalent to what we can expect in the years to come. For the record, it's also roughly equivalent to what Joey Votto is doing this season. And with all due respect to Votto -- who, like Harper, is a former MVP -- his name doesn't appear anywhere on our top-100 list.
Just because Harper put up one monster year doesn't mean we should automatically grant him the keys to the kingdom. Slow your roll. Let him do it a few more times before we exalt him to "top 100 in the history of a sport that has been in existence for nearly two centuries" status.
After all, he's still only 23 years old -- well within the parameters of what's known in the poultry biz as a spring chicken. It's way too early to start counting him.