Nationals top prospect Bryce Harper made news this week when he blew a kiss to an opposing pitcher after hitting a home run. The incident drew a lot of buzz around sports shows and the blogosphere.
But the play of Harper at the plate and in the outfield continues to make headlines and begs the question of when he will make his next move up in the Nationals' farm system.
Better yet, when will Harper be in D.C. hitting home runs out of Nationals Park?
Jim Callis, executive editor for Baseball America, believes that day is becoming more clear with each passing extra base hit and spectacular throw. Callis said you can just look at the acceleration from season to season for the 18-year old Harper.
"The guy goes out and hits 31 homers in a junior college league with wood bats when he should have been a high school junior," Callis said. "Now, he is the most devastating hitter in a low class-A league when he should be a high school senior. I don't even know if the guy has a ceiling. I continue to call him the best power hitting prospect in the history of the draft."
Callis gets a lot of argument about that bold statement. His co-workers always counter with a player who also had early success, Bo Jackson.
"Jackson was 17-years old and was playing in an Alabama high school league," Callis said. "He wasn't hitting 31 home runs with a wood bat in JuCo. When Jackson was 18-years old, he wasn't tearing up the South Atlantic League. Jackson was an athlete. Harper is an athlete, but he is an athlete who is a tremendous hitter."
Now, Callis compares Harper to a veteran the Nationals are very familiar with in Adam Dunn.
"Not to pick on a guy, but Nationals fans saw Adam Dunn," Callis said. "Harper is not Adam Dunn. He is not just a big, slow guy who hits home runs and draws walks. Dunn is a good player. But, Bryce is an above average runner and he has a cannon for an arm. Unlike Dunn, Harper is not a huge liability (on defense), he is an asset in the outfield. I think you can imagine this guy doing almost anything."
So, how early could we see Harper in D.C.? Despite general manager Mike Rizzo's assertion that Harper would stay in the minor leagues all season, Callis thinks we could still see Harper in Washington for a September call-up. But what about on a permanent basis? Callis said how about 2012.
"If he keeps playing like this, by mid-season next year, I don't know if you can keep him in the minors. You are going to get into next year, you got the free agent and arbitration considerations, which are not to be taken lightly with a guy like Harper. But if you wait three weeks to call him up next year, then you keep him an extra year. If you wait two months, then you save a year of arbitration."
Callis said it is not out of the realm of possibility that Nationals fans will not have to wait until 2013 to see Harper play in the major leagues.
"Honestly, if you told me he was in the opening day lineup next year I would think that would probably be optimistic," Callis said. "But, I don't think you can rule anything out with Harper. He is just ridiculous. He is ridiculously talented."