Ready or not, here he comes

Happy Harpmas.

Is that what we’re going with? Anyone got a better idea for a Bryce Harper-themed holiday name?

This is certainly an exciting day in NatsTown, one which will see Stephen Strasburg on the mound and Harper in left field. It’s a day Nationals fans (and many baseball fans everywhere) had been waiting for, although it comes a bit earlier than most of us had expected.

When the Nationals optioned Harper to Triple-A Syracuse back in spring training, they said part of their rationale for the decision was that they didn’t want to rush their top prospect to the majors and open him up to constant criticism if he struggled out of the gate.

They had a plan in place. They wanted Harper to get comfortable at Triple-A, get acclimated to hitting a tougher level of pitching than he’d faced before and earn his promotion to the big leagues. Most of all, they said the circumstances with the major league club would not impact Harper, and the top pick in the 2010 draft wouldn’t be called up until he was ready.

And yet, here he comes, after playing just 20 games and getting 72 at-bats with Syracuse.

The Nationals admittedly are changing their course by calling up Harper today and having him make his major league debut tonight against the Dodgers. General manager Mike Rizzo said yesterday this wasn’t “the coming out party for Bryce we had in mind.” He certainly didn’t expect to be bringing up his top prospect when he was hitting just .250 with one home run and three RBIs at the Triple-A level.

If you include his time at Double-A Harrisburg, Harper has a combined line of just .254/.330/.388 above the low-A level, and he hit just .190/.261/.238 against left-handed pitching at Syracuse. Those are not let’s-get-this-guy-to-the-majors-immediately type numbers.

But with the Nationals having trouble scoring runs, help was needed. The Nats considered calling up Tyler Moore, whose Triple-A numbers (.278, six home runs, 16 RBIs) are far superior to Harper’s, but decided Moore didn’t have enough experience playing left field. That made Harper the guy.

There’s obviously some risk that comes along with this move. Harper will have all eyes of the baseball world on him, and if he starts slowly, fans and critics will bring up his mediocre minor league numbers and shout that he isn’t ready for the big leagues. With every strikeout, every baserunning mistake, every pop out against a lefty, Harper will hear criticism, and hear it exponentially louder than he has at the minor league level.

If he struggles, there’s a chance Harper will be sent back down to the minors, something which could disrupt his development and possibly set back his all-but-certain rise to stardom.

But none of that concerns the Nationals. They feel Harper is talented enough, will find success hitting lefties, and has the mental makeup necessary to deal with the next few months, however they pan out.

“With Bryce’s makeup and his attitude and his confidence level, I don’t have many reservations,” Rizzo said yesterday. “I know this guy is a very confident person, and we expect him to perform well in the major leagues. And if he doesn’t, he’s not the type of guy that it’s going to derail his developmental plan whatsoever. He’s the type of guy who will handle anything that’s thrown at him and be better off for it.”

Given what the Nats are currently getting out of their left field rotation, there’s no doubt Harper will help the big league club. He’ll bring intensity, aggressiveness and certainly offers more at the plate than the Xavier Nady/Roger Bernadina/Mark DeRosa trio, which is now hitting a paltry .093 on the season when playing in left.

Still, this is a somewhat risky move by the Nationals, and one they certainly didn’t plan on making so soon into the 2012 season. But ready or not, here comes Harper, bound for the big leagues.

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