As the Nationals' offensive struggles continue and their numbers continue to languish, there seems to be a growing number of questions from all of you about the possibility of Bryce Harper coming to the majors in short order. So I just thought I'd address that question quickly: It's not happening.
I understand why you're getting anxious - the Nationals aren't hitting, they don't have many options to help their roster in the high levels of the minors (hi, Sharkadina people!) and their roster flexibility seems limited. There's going to be a high level of intrigue about Harper, and the way he's hitting (he's got a .429 average in his last 10 games at Single-A Hagerstown, and has hit four homers) makes it seem like he's ready for a move. I've even talked to a couple players in the Nationals' clubhouse who want to see Harper in the majors before the end of the year. But if a move comes, it will be to Woodbridge, not Washington.
First, there's a huge - make that cavernous - difference between the pitchers Harper is facing in the South Atlantic League and the ones he'd face in the majors. He'd see more skilled pitchers at Single-A Potomac, which is likely his next move, and even more capable arms at Double-A Harrisburg. He's 18, and even if he's uber-talented (which he is), the Nationals believe in their process. It's rare for 19-year-olds to play in the majors; it's almost unprecedented to do it at 18. As talented as Harper is, there's a learning curve that has to take place, and the Nationals respect it.
Second, don't forget Harper is learning a new position, and we don't see his progress there in the box scores. He hasn't played the outfield every day, and there's a chance he ends up in center field over the long haul. The Nationals love having Harper work with former major league outfielder Tony Tarasco at Hagerstown, and they want to develop him there.
And third, it doesn't make sense from an economic standpoint. Remember how the Nationals left Stephen Strasburg in the minors until June last year? Harper would need to be there for the same reason: the Nationals would save millions by delaying his arbitration eligibility by a year. There's a new collective bargaining agreement coming after this year, and the Super Two process is likely to be addressed. So why chance it by bringing him up now?
Like I said, I understand you want to see him. Several Nationals players I've talked to think he could help now, and when he was asked in spring training if Harper would fail in the majors now, general manager Mike Rizzo deflected the question, calling it too hypothetical to answer. The Nationals aren't going to keep him in the minors longer than they need to. But it doesn't make sense to rush him at age 18 after a month in low-A ball.
So what can we expect from Harper? Sources in the organization have said if he tears through the minors, Harrisburg would be a good landing point for him at the end of this year. Let's say he goes to Potomac in another month, reaches Harrisburg with a couple weeks to go in the season and finishes there. That's still an extremely accelerated development curve, and it would put Harper in position to spend a few months in the minors next year, miss the Super Two cutoff date (if it's still in place by then) and, in a best-case scenario, join the Nationals sometime in 2012.
There are a hundred things that could stall or divert that path, but it seems like a realistic one given how quickly Harper has come out of a slump to terrorize South Atlantic League pitching. It's not realistic, though, to expect him in Washington now.
You're free to keep dreaming about it, and if I'm wrong, you can tell me all about it. I'm just trying to save you some time worrying about the possibility. Call it a public service.
Now, if you'll excuse me, there's a cat in a tree somewhere I need to go rescue.