Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo told ESPN 980 yesterday that mega-prospect Bryce Harper would not play in the major leagues this year, despite the fact that he is currently playing well above the level of the league he is currently in. Through 37 games, Harper is hitting .366/.448/.657 with nine home runs and 31 RBI,s which leads all Nationals minor leaguers in just about every important offensive category.
Still, Rizzo remains steadfast in his assertion that Harper, under no circumstances, will see any time in Washington this year.
"We certainly don't want to push him to a level where he's overmatched and struggles even for a short period of time," Rizzo said. "We're just not going to put him in a place where he has a chance to fail until we feel he's 100 percent ready for that level. When he is, we will certainly bring him up because, you know, we want to win as bad as anybody else. There's nobody that wants to win worse than I do.
"Believe me, if I felt he was ready to hit in the big leagues right now and perform in the big leagues right now, he would be up in the big leagues. If he gave us the best chance to win, he'd be up there and trying to help us win."
Rizzo understandably has to temper expectations of the Nationals fan base. The worst thing that could happen would be the city getting Harpermania the way fans did with Stephen Strasburg last summer, only to have Harper stall in Double-A or Triple-A and not have the wherewithal to handle the pressure. At just 18, it's smart to put as little pressure on his shoulders as you can, because there have been many stories of top young athletes who have flamed out.
Still, it seems odd that the Nationals wouldn't even consider the possibility, especially when you think of the boost it would give the franchise both in terms of attendance and energy. Anyone who was in Washington last summer knows how exciting Nats games were once Strasburg was around; with Harper playing every day in the outfield, it would be even more momentous. If he does continue to progress at this speed through all levels of the minors, then I don't see how he wouldn't be able to contribute in August or September.
A late-season appearance by Harper would also end a message to the rest of the division, and the rest of baseball, that the Nationals would be ready to compete in 2012. Respect is something that can't be undervalued. Respect sets the tone for a competitive season, and can put the team in a winning mindset. Respect, most importantly, attracts the best talent in free agency because players will want to joint he franchise that has Ryan Zimmerman, Strasburg and Harper.
Of course, none of this matters if Harper will not be ready by the end of the season, which is what Rizzo believes. It is clear Harper has mastered low Single-A at this point and is ready for advanced Single-A Potomac. One would think, if he dominates that level at the same pace he did this one, and then Double-A, and then Triple-A, that would put him in a very good position around September. While he could stumble in one of those settings, all signs point to the same pattern. Harper gets to a new level, takes a week to get his bearings and then destroys everything he touches. He did it in high school, did it at College of Southern Nevada, did it in the Arizona Fall League, in spring training, and now in Hagerstown.
Rizzo says that the decision is also based on the fact that he wants Harper to be 100 percent comfortable at every level so he doesn't have to deal with struggling anywhere, which is commendable. One of the best things Rizzo has done is add depth to the organization so players do not need to play above their head. Harper very well could benefit from more minor league time, but come September, if he is hitting .366/.448/.657 through 30-plus games at Triple-A Syracuse, I don't think it would hurt anything to call him up.
My only hope is that Rizzo is pulling a book from Phil Jackson here. One thing we've seen that motivates Harper more than anything is someone telling him he is unable to so something. Hopefully, Rizzo knows that by taking Washington off the table this year, it will motivate Harper to force Rizzo's hand. Isn't that a position that any general manager would want to be in?
Will Yoder blogs about the Nationals for The Nats Blog, and offers his viewpoints this week as part of MASNsports.com's season-long initiative of welcoming guest bloggers to our little corner of cyberspace. All opinions expressed are those of the guest bloggers, who are not employed by MASNsports.com but are just as passionate about their baseball as our roster of writers.