September 20, 2019

Washington Nationals are ready for Bryce Harper; is he ready for them?

“Suffice it to say, this isn’t the coming out party for Bryce that we had in mind.” Mike Rizzo

Bryce Harper is on his way to the show.

The 19-year old super-prospect will most likely start in left field Saturday night against the Los Angeles Dodgers in Davey Johnson’s lineup, whether he’s really ready for it or not. No one knows if that is the case or not, yet. No one can know, until he’s inserted into live action against Major League pitchers.

But the men that get paid to make the baseball decisions for the Washington Nationals made a baseball decision Friday, and they decided that Harper was the best player that fit their needs and is equipped to handle the pressure, both baseball and otherwise.

Bryce Harper waiting to catch a ball from a fan at spring training (Photo by Cheryl Nichols)

Looking at the raw stats, it seems as if Harper could use more seasoning in the minor leagues. His .250/.333/.375 line with four doubles, a triple and a home run in 20 games and 82 plate appearances at Triple-A Syracuse is less than sparkling. It’s hard to look at those numbers and say, “He’s earned it.” Harper has a grand total of 229 plate appearances (57 games) above the single-A level. That ain’t much.

Harper still has had trouble with breaking balls, and lefties are eating him up at AAA.

Yet, Nats Gm Mike Rizzo told a group of reporters on a conference call Friday afternoon that the decision to promote Harper was “really a team decision.”

Rizzo continued, “It’s to support the major league club in really a time that we need an offensive player that can play corner outfield. It was a choice between a couple of players on the farm, Tyler Moore and Bryce Harper. Tyler Moore just didn’t have the experience to play left field at the major league level yet, he’s just started to play there several weeks ago.

We felt at this time, we still have a very good and committed developmental plan for Bryce in place. I still believe very passionately in the plan and I’m going to be very committed to it, but this was expedited by the circumstances, by two of our middle of the lineup guys going down, [Michael Morse] and Ryan Zimmerman, and we felt that we needed to bring in an impactful left-handed bat that can play the corner outfield.”

So, in one sentence Rizzo says it’s a baseball decision based on missing two of his key offensive players, then says he’s committed to the plan they had in place for Harper’s development. Hard to have it both ways.

In a perfect world, Morse and Zimmerman would not be injured. But it’s not a perfect world, regardless of the Nats’ 14-5 start to the season. That, itself, is a mitigating factor in the process. Rizzo didn’t take the bait in the press conference about taking into consideration the Nats quick start in his decision-making process. But in reality, it had to. There’s no way if this team was 10-9 that Bryce Harper would have been recalled before Memorial Day.

There’s no guarantee Harper will stay in the bigs after Zimmerman and/or Morse get back either.

“I just witnessed him playing the last three days in Rochester for the Syracuse club,” Rizzo continued, “He’s swinging the bat extremely well right now and looked very comfortable in left field. So with that said, we’re not going to vary from our developmental plan for Bryce. I’ve always had in mind that I would love him to get 300 to 350 at bats in the minor leagues and as time goes by and Zim comes off the disabled list, we’ll monitor the situation and we’ll make our decision at that time.”

Will that be next week? Next month? Every time the Zimmerman injury news is updated, it gets a little sketchier. But that’s subject for another column. Hopefully, all Zimmerman really needs is a full week off to do nothing and let the inflammation settle. All we can do is wait and see on it.

As Rizzo himself said, “Suffice it to say, this isn’t the coming out party for Bryce that we had in mind. This isn’t the optimal situation developmentally for Bryce.”

Hopefully Harper is ready to take on the responsibilities of playing left field in the Major Leagues, presumably hitting in a position in the order expected to drive in runs. There have been very few amateur players that have come into the bigs with such lofty expectations. Mickey Mantle. Ken Griffey Jr. Alex Rodriguez.

I don’t know if Harper’s ready or not. Mike Rizzo doesn’t really know either. As he said, this goes against the plan the team laid out for him this season. No one really knows until he gets out there. That’s how this works. The player develops in the minors and when the team feels he’s ready, and there’s a need at the Major League level, the kid gets his shot in the show.

It’ll be exciting regardless, and all of baseball will be watching. The last thing anyone wants is for this battlefield promotion to stunt Harper’s development in any way. So many things have gone right for the Nats so far this season. Let’s hope that trend continues.

About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press and is a copy editor for the Spokesman-Review newspaper in Spokane, WA. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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