The trail that Bryce Harper blazed once seemed odd. It wasn't that long ago that Harper bypassed his junior and senior years at Las Vegas High School so he could get a jump on his burgeoning professional career.
Some scratched their heads, the old-school types, wondering if it was too much too fast. Next thing you know, the old-schoolers scoffed, they're going to be starting them out in diapers.
No one is questioning Harper's move now.
What's more, he's become the pied piper of a growing movement among high school-aged baseball players forgoing their senior years in the hopes of making themselves more viable much sooner for Major League teams.
Look at them. They're a small, sprinkled army cropping up in various areas of the country. Like Ronnie Healy of Jupiter (Fla.), a left-handed power hitting catcher who played at the Elev8 Sports Institute, formerly known as the Bucky Dent Baseball Academy, in Delray Beach, Fla.
There's Jacob Brentz
, a lefty who's been clocked at 98 mph, from Parkway South (Manchester, Mo.), who played for an Iowa Spring Wood Bat Scout League this spring instead of playing high school baseball.
A teammate of Brentz's wood bat team was
, a 6-foot-7, 220-pound fireballing lefty who is reportedly skipping his senior season at Washington High (Cedar Rapids, Iowa) — and has already committed to Florida. Another is Brady Corless of Spanish Fork (Utah), a right-handed pitcher who skipped his senior season there to play at Salt Lake Community College
They're sprouting all over the place for one simple reason.
"You want to be a Major Leaguer as fast as you can," said Healy, who left Jupiter in December of his junior year to go to Elev8, received his GED a few weeks ago and will attend Broward College. "Baseball became the biggest thing to me and you're trying to live the dream.
"In my situation, I would say it was 100 percent the right move. I wouldn't suggest the move for everyone. The move had its ups and downs — one was the traveling part and being away from my family eight, nine hours a day and never seeing anyone that much. The way I looked at it is that it's only going to prepare me better and make it easier on me in the future. I know what the demands are and what I have to go through. You say I made a sacrifice, but I don't look at it like a sacrifice. I want to play in the majors. I want to get there as fast as I can."
Dave Healy, Ronnie's father, knows about sacrifice though. He's working two jobs to provide for Ronnie and the exorbitant traveling expenses, working overnights. Then he goes to a sales position right after that, possibly catching three, four hours of sleep a day.
"You don't consider it a sacrifice when it's your son or daughter involved," Dave said. "We've been thinking about this since Ronnie was about 9 years old. We moved down here to Florida from Maine about 11 years ago to create a better opportunity for all my kids.
"Ronnie is getting a lot of individual teaching. We know what Bryce Harper did, but to be honest, it didn't matter what Bryce Harper did — he was going to make it anyway. You're looking at an unbelievable talent. It's just that the high school thing wasn't Ronnie's thing. We're doing this mainly because we think Ronnie is worth it."
But has it helped Healy's draft status? One thing is certain, he's far, far better than he was this time last year — and he was among the best catchers in Palm Beach County then. But he's heading to Broward College, formerly Broward County Community College.
Healy may not have the leverage a move like this does for someone in Puk's case. Puk is projected to be picked in the third round or higher, but teams may balk at the signing price, since Puk has the leverage of his Florida commitment.
Frank Harvey knows the scenario. The father of Chris Harvey, who also bypassed his senior year of high school at Germantown Academy (Philadelphia), but to attend Vanderbilt early, knows the pratfalls and promises that begin spilling forward around draft time.
"Chris would have forgone a college education, especially a Vanderbilt education, if he received life-altering money on the table," Frank Harvey said. "Education to us is very valuable. In our mind, the defining factor for us was if Chris was going to get the kind of money that would have set him up for the rest of his life, you have to consider it.
"College, for us, was the right way to go. Chris's senior year was either going to be at Germantown Academy, or he was going to go to Vanderbilt. We weren't looking for the accelerated track to the majors. It's the exact opposite of what is happening with some of these young kids today. Everyone is different; different people prioritize different things. I'm not judging if it's right or wrong. It's what was best for Chris."
In 14 appearances, Corless led his Salt Lake Community College team with 61 strikeouts over a team-high 67 2/3 innings pitched, posting a 6-4 record with a 2.26 ERA.
"I'm happy I did it, I could go back to high school and throw up 15 strikeouts a game, but would it get me better?" Corless said. "This experience has made me better. As a player, you want to keep pushing yourself."
Pushing on the fast track to the majors.
"It kind of worked out for me. We'll see what it's done to my draft status," Ronnie Healy said. "I think of myself as a catcher and that's what some teams have told me. But overall, I'm better. That was the goal for making the move. To get better and get a job."