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Nationals phenom Harper appears to be better than advertised

They say major college baseball -- the teams you'll be seeing in the College World Series this June -- is the equivalent of Double-A ball. Well, we might be learning the NJCAA (National Junior College Athletic Association) is equivalent of low Class A, if you care.

Something tells us the only reason you have heard of the NJCAA before is because of one Bryce Harper. He made that level his personal bi... err, bride ... last spring. Now, he is doing the same to the South Atlantic League.

Harper, 18, widely considered the best position-player prospect since Alex Rodriguez almost two decades ago, was too good for the NJCAA, just like he is now proving to be too good for the Sally League. A promotion to high Class A might not be far behind, after all, the June draft season marks the end of extended spring training and tends to be the time of the year organizations shuffle their prospects up a level.

If only Harper's time just could come sooner ...

"He's just really relaxed," Harper's manager Brian Daubach told the Washington Post. "It was tough at the beginning of the year. There was a lot of pressure on him, a lot of media attention. That's died down a little bit. It's fun to watch right now."

Harper is slugging his way back in the national media spotlight, for better or for worse. Since a visit to the eye doctor to get outfitted with spiffy new contact lenses, the wunderkind has a 14-game hitting streak that has elevated his numbers to the expected ridiculous heights. Harper is hitting .377 with seven homers, 25 RBI, 20 runs, five steals, a .459 OBP and a .679 SLUG.

He is ostensibly the Barry Bonds of low Class A ball. It was always said, at the height of his career, Bonds belonged in a higher league.

Harper has gone 29-for-66 (.439) with six home runs since getting the new contacts and earning one scout's "most glowing report since A-Rod."

"He had some problems," Daubach said. "Whatever happened, that's something, too, that was maybe in the back of his mind -- check that problem off the list. Since he went and got his eyes checked, he's swung much better."

Even if the low level hasn't really challenged Harper statistically, the kids in the Sally League have tried to make things tough on him. For one, teams are loading up with lefties against him -- and two, those pitchers are bringing their nasty stuff and competitive nature. A Harper strikeout even touched off a bench-clearing incident earlier this season.

Apparently striking out the next major-league superstar has a jacked-up teenager feeling pretty good about himself, enough to bark at Harper as the phenom walked back to the dugout.

"He didn't say anything," Daubach told the Post, recalling the incident. "The kid said something to him. They're pitching him like it's the seventh game of the World Series. Everybody is really coming after him.

"Some of these kids, it'll be the highlight of their career. You hate to say it, but it's true. An 18-year-old kid was excited about striking out Bryce Harper. That's all it was."

Those strikeouts are becoming fewer and farther between since getting contacts, too. He had struck out 17 times in his first 59 at-bats. He now has just 26 strikeouts in 106.

Harper's aggressive nature out of the gate doesn't bother Daubach as much as it might have some sabermetricians and fantasy seamheads.

"It is so much better to bring a guy in from being overaggressive than try to get him to be aggressive, like a passive player," Daubach told the paper. "That is all I have really worked on with him. Nobody needs to work on his swing. It is about his timing with hitting, just relaxing a little bit. His swing will take care of everything else."

Daubach is an interesting first manager for Harper, because the lefty had the typical prospect struggles against left-handed pitching. Daubach hit .050 points lower against lefties in his relatively disappointing career (.216). His on-base percentage was almost .060 points lower and his slugging percentage was over .100 points lower.

Under Daubach, Harper is facing, and passing, the test against left-handers.

"It seems like he is facing a lot of lefties," Daubach said. "A lot of other teams [are] bringing the lefties when he is coming up. Probably to see what their guy can do, but also a challenge for Bryce. He is seeing a lot of different lefties and a lot of different breaking balls."

Six of Harper's homer have come against righties, but he is batting .395 off southpaws (43 at-bats) and .365 off right-handers (63 at-bats).

Daubach told MASN.com "the level of talent Harper is facing in the South Atlantic League is a far cry from what he experienced at the College of Southern Nevada." If that is really the case, Harper just might be even better than everyone's ridiculous expectations.

It could be nearing the time (read: June) for a new challenge.

Last week, we got you caught up on the most-owned minor-league pitchers, and a few days later our cover-boy, Julio Teheran (now the most-owned minor-league pitcher), got a one-start call to the major leagues. It won't happen with Harper, the third-most-owned hitter in the minors, but it could with one of these bats -- particularly the first one:

Brown was removed from the DL and sent to Triple-A last week, making him the most-owned minor-leaguer in fantasy. His quick stats warrant that lofty status.

Brown is hitting a combined .367-4-10-11-1 (.429-.673) through 49 at-bats in the minor leagues. It is generally that many at-bats that makes up a full spring training, which is what Brown needed to be the Phillies' opening-day right fielder in place of departed free agent Jayson Werth. Instead, a broken hamate bone cost him 6-to-8 weeks.

"I want him knocking the cover off the ball up here," Phillies manager Charlie Manuel told the Wilmington News Journal. "That's how I review it. What he does down there isn't helping me here."

The struggles of fill-in Ben Francisco have been curiously timed, too. Francisco was doing well out of the gate, hitting over .300 initially, but he has hit rock bottom in May (2-for-20, .100). Manuel might be anxious to go back to the pre-spring plan to hand the right-field job to Brown.

"I'm not here to baby sit, cut corners or nothing," Manuel told the paper. "I want the best team we can possibly out on the field.

"The way he's playing, he'll earn his way into the big leagues. And it's up to him to keep himself in the lineup."

Add Brown immediately in the some 40 percent of leagues he is available.

Belt, 23, is the cautionary tale for wistful Eric Hosmer owners. It is tough to get immediate fantasy value at the stud first-base position. A Triple-A move to the outfield can change the value of Belt, though.

His bat has already made its revival. Belt has gone .389-2-13-14-3 (.514-.593) since his demotion. He is now learning the outfield exclusively down on the farm. He will return a more valuable fantasy player -- say, around June 1 -- with his added outfield eligibility.

His story is detailed above, but it is interesting to see someone that is no better than a September call-up owned this commonly in fantasy.

The LegendofSamFuld.com has become the League of the Fall, not Fuld. The Rays left fielder has gone 3-for-50 since late May. Oh, Jennings just happens to be scorching (.414 in May).

Jennings, like Brown above, was a candidate to be a starter on Opening Day. With Manny Ramirez out of the mix, Jennings is a candidate to arrive soon after Brown -- if not before out of necessity.

Jennings has gone .297-3-12-26-8 (.417-.449) in Triple-A, adding walks and homers to his Carl Crawford-like speed game. He is going to be an instant impact player in Rotisserie formats.

It is easy to forget Snider is still just 23, younger than either Brown or Jennings. His struggles in the majors (.184 this season and .246 career) should be forgiven at this stage.

Even though Adam Lind (back) might land on the DL, the Blue Jays say Snider (.395-0-5-11-3, .490-.488) won't be the one recalled.

"Honestly, I had a great conversation with Travis," Blue Jays GM Alex Anthopoulos said. "He knew he wasn't right. I think what he understands is we could've had him up here to be a seven-, eight-, nine-hole bat, but we see him as a middle of the order three, four, five. He knew he wasn't there.

"At the end of the day, it's about the results, but he knew his swing wasn't where it needed to be for us. Even though he could survive because he's so talented, ultimately, the debate of calling guys up comes down to can they come up and survive, but are they doing it the right way?"

Snider will be back in the majors and in mixed-league fantasy lineups by this summer.

It shouldn't be a real surprise Hosmer's call-up has been met with a market correction for Moustakas after a hot start. Moustakas is looking far more fit for a June 1 call now.

His season numbers are just .261-6-26-22-1 (.341-.462), but most of the damage has come of late. Moustakas has gone .333-2-10-7-1 (.438-.564) in his past 10 games. A legit scorch is coming, followed by a Royals debut.

Montero has cooled some after a torrid start, but his season's numbers and catcher-ness still make him one of the best fantasy prospects around. Montero sits (crouches?) at .333-1-7-9-0 (.355-.410).

The question the Yankees will be answering the next couple of months before the trade deadline will be whether Montero is their catcher in the second half. If Montero doesn't project to be a catcher long term, will the Yankees stick with veteran Russell Martin, who is on a .258-29-98-68-9 (.358-.500) pace?

Montero could demand a huge piece via trade. It is more likely he becomes a Buster Posey-like fantasy inject in the second half.

Ackley was off to a terrible start in April (.211), but he, too, has turned it around with a vengeance in May. A .300-3-9 stretch has lifted his season's numbers to a far more acceptable .237-5-16-19-6 (.362-.393).

The best part of his numbers are his 27 walks to 22 strikeouts. The 23-year-old lefty swinger could be building up to a Chase Utley-like career. That's some big-time praise, although Utley didn't arrive as a fantasy star until his mid-20s. Ackley is going to be here before then.

Similar to Snider, Trout had a slim hope of an early call-up because of injury. Vernon Wells (groin) landed on the DL, but Trout was "passed up" for a call-up.

Trout, 19, won't be moving because of a need in the majors. He is going to move at his own schedule. His ability to handle Double-A (.327-6-16-23-5, .415-.614) has been very impressive for a teenager.

It will be interesting to see if Trout can make the majors before his 20th birthday (this Aug. 7).

This one is cheating a little; we list Lawrie as 10b because the actual 10th most-owned minor-leaguer is Kila Ka'aihue (18 percent). The Hawaiian Punch has punched his ticket to fantasy obscurity, failing to hold off Hosmer, though.

Lawrie, a former Brewers catching prospect, is far more intriguing as an infield prospect. The 21-year-old has moved from second to third and could impact the Blue Jays this season.

He looks like a June 1 candidate right now at .340-6-23-25-8 (.375-.576). His issue is not anyone who is above him at third with the Blue Jays, but a problematic strikeout-to-walk rate of 28-to-5. The 2008 first-rounder (16th overall) is looking like a future fantasy gem, regardless.

Eric Mack chimes in on potential impact rookies and prospects every Wednesday at SI.com. If you have a prospect you want to see highlighted, let him know. As always, you can mock him, rip him and (doubtful) praise him before asking him for fantasy advice on Twitter @EricMackFantasy. Hit him up. He honestly has nothing better to do with his free time.

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