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Bryce Harper immature? A little, but humble and worth every penny.

Bryce Harper's $9.9 million contract is turning out to be a boon for the Washington Nationals' farm team, even with all the attention to the Bryce Harper 'kiss.'

By Correspondent / June 7, 2011

This May 25, 2011, file photo shows Hagerstown Suns center fielder and Washington Nationals top draft pick Bryce Harper, warming up before a minor league baseball game in Hagerstown, Md. He's got a major-league arm, a powerful swing and is very competitive. Everything else is a work in progress for an 18-year-old who, in another world, would right now be rehashing tales from his senior prom.

Timothy Jacobsen/AP/File

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[Editor's note: This story was updated.]

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Washington Nationals prospect Bryce Harper blew a kiss to an opposing pitcher after homering in the sixth inning of a minor league game Monday evening, sending scores of baseball elder statesmen rushing to microphones across the country to chide Harper’s temerity. Hall of Fame third basement Mike Schmidt groused to ESPN, for example, that Harper would have set off a bench-clearing brawl with the same antics in a Major League game.

With a $9.9 million contract and nicknames from “The Natural” (as in Robert Redford’s divinely talented 1984 silver screen hero) to “LeBryce” (in the vein of fellow athletic wunderkind LeBron James), it’s easy to see how the 18-year-old slugger has pressure to act out. But with the way Harper has been punishing minor league pitching and the effect he’s had on the Hagerstown Suns organization, it points strongly toward one conclusion: the kid from Las Vegas is worth every dime.

First, while Harper has shown bouts of immaturity, many have noted his humility and willingness to be an absolute team player.

Suns owner Bruce Quinn noted that in terms of “off-the-field behavior and demeanor, he’s learning, he’s a young kid. But I get kind of get aggravated when I hear people say things like: 'He’s not signing autographs. I haven’t seen him walk past a kid [looking for a signature] – ever. That’s the reality.”

As ESPN’s Jerry Crasnick recently reported, Harper takes pains to sign plenty of autographs and has made himself at home on the roster even with his clear fast track to the big leagues. That’s not to mention the ribbing Harper gets at every stop: At a recent game in New Jersey, fans got a 20 percent voucher for the local International House of Pancakes if Harper went down on strikes. And that’s the kind part -- the part that doesn’t involve being the only recognizable player in minor league ballparks where the jeers from the cheap seats can be easily heard.

What kind of production is that $10 million buying the Nationals? Simply put, Harper is punishing Class A pitching. He’s tied for the South Atlantic League (SAL) lead in homeruns with 14 despite nearly 20 fewer plate appearances than fellow slugger Adam Duvall of the Augusta GreenJackets. He’s also sixth in the league in average at .342, tied for third in RBIswith 42, and fourth in slugging percentage at .623. While Harper isn’t facing major league pitching, consider that the Chicago Cubs are paying second baseman/outfielder Alfonso Soriano $19 million this year for his 12 home runs and .271 average.

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