Why Baseball America’s No. 1 prospect Bryce Harper won’t start season with Nationals

Baseball America has released their annual Top 100 prospect list and the Nationals’ No. 1 prospect is also their No. 1 again, outfielder Bryce Harper.

It is an impressive list again, with Harper just ahead of top prospects Rays’ left-handed pitcher Matt Moore and Angels’ outfielder Mike Trout.

Baseball America executive editor Jim Callis said he spoke with 11 player personnel experts for another magazine feature, and they had Harper just ahead of Moore and Trout.

The main reason: unbelievable power at the plate.

“People have not seen that kind of power,” Callis said. “You have a 20 to 80 power scale and his power is probably an 85. I don’t know how Harper isn’t considered the best power-hitting prospect in draft history and maybe, baseball history. When you look at what he has done at his age, I don’t know that anybody has ever done those kind of things.”

Callis said to see the full scope of how incredible a story this past season was for Harper is to look at where a usual high school or college player would have ended up coming into this spring training.

“To show how amazing this has been, had Harper followed a normal path, he would be going to his first spring training (right now),” Callis said. “He would have been a high school senior last year, would have signed late, and would be making his pro debut (this) April. Or, he would have just played his first week of college baseball. Instead, he could be in the big leagues (this season). And it is all because he has ridiculous, ridiculous power. I don’t think we have ever seen the likes of it, really.”

Callis said Harper could make the Nationals’ opening day roster and would survive, but beginning the season at Double-A and then getting a promotion to Triple-A would be a more likely scenario for two main reasons.

“From a financial and free agent standpoint, it doesn’t make sense. But (even if he doesn’t start at Wrigley Field April 5), the guy is going to be in the big leagues in what would have been his freshman season of college baseball,” Callis said.

If you argue from a purely free agent scenario, and this season has 183 days of service time, the Nationals can control the rights to Harper for an additional season by making sure he doesn’t reach 170+ days of service time this year. Even if Harper begins the season with the Nationals and never plays in the minors again, the Nationals would have control of him for six years of major league service time, which would mean through the 2017 season.

So, if the Nationals wait and call Harper up in late April, the franchise would have control of Harper through the 2018 season instead of through the end of the 2017. If they wait to till the closer to the beginning of May, Harper would not reach the minimum of 180 days this season in order to be credited with a full season of major league service time.

But, do the Nationals believe that the first 30 days of this season will make the difference between a third place finish and a postseason berth (see 2009 Atlanta Braves) and could Harper make that much of a difference?

“If you send him to the minors for a month to delay his free agency, and then you miss the playoffs by a game at the end of the year, then you will feel a little stupid,” Callis said. “I can see if you think he is ready and you are planning on contending, then it is silly not to promote him. But regardless of the financial situation, I would just let him go ahead and tear up the minors for a month anyway (before promoting him to the Nationals).”

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