The Nationals' decision to promote Bryce Harper from Single-A Hagerstown to Double-A Harrisburg didn't come as a major surprise; there had been rumblings in the organization for a while that Harper might skip Single-A Potomac. But when the Nationals finally made the move this morning, the rationale they gave was, more than anything, a reminder of what makes Harper special: his ability to hunt down challenges.
There's no question the Nationals are miffed with the ownership group at Potomac for the condition of the field at Pfitzner Stadium, but at least publicly, general manager Mike Rizzo said that wasn't a consideration in the promotion. With Harper, this has always been about more than a couple levels of the minor leagues; the Nationals know they have a special talent on their hands, and in pushing Harper to Harrisburg early, they've got another chance to refine him against competition several years beyond his age.
"(Big league camp) didn't intimidate him in spring training," Johnson said. "The competition level at Double-A is about where he should be. He's going to be challenged, and I think he needs to be challenged."
Rizzo has said in the past that Harper "needs to touch every level of the minors." In his mind, though, Harper had done enough at Single-A not to need another stop there. He hit .318/.423/.544 at Hagerstown, slugging 14 homers and driving in 46 runs. He's an advanced enough player that the Nationals want him to get a couple months at Harrisburg while he's 18. Rizzo said Harper will play every day in the Arizona Fall League this year, where he was a taxi squad player last year. And if everything goes well, it's reasonable to think Harper could start the 2012 season at Triple-A Syracuse before coming to the majors sometime next season.
He'll play primarily in left field for the Senators, getting some experience at a position where the Nationals are still unsettled in the future. Rizzo said he thinks Harper can be an above-average defender at all three outfield positions, and wants to expose him to all of them in the minors. He played 51 games in right field and 20 in center field at Hagerstown.
He'll get his chance tonight when he makes his debut when the Senators take on the Erie Seawolves.
"This is a developmental issue," Rizzo said. "We're happy that he progressed as much as he did in that league and showed us that he could handle top-flight velocity and breaking pitches and that type of thing. We feel he's ready to take the next step. This was a plan I had in my mind for a long, long time."