Quite the week in DC sports. Not to be outdone by the Redskins drafting their possible franchise QB or the unimpressive all year Capitals winning a playoff series in game 7 OT against the defending champions, the Nationals, desperate for offense, are calling up Bryce Harper to make his Major League debut on April 28. Good way to finish a great sports week! I’ve gotta say, I didn’t pick this date in the office pool, but I don’t think many others did. In fact, may reaction was sort like this
Not to worry about service time, though. Harper has played enough in the minors to be a Super 2. That mean he’ll remain under team control through 2018. And that is the most important thing, that they keep him when he is much closer to his peak. Of course, that means they’ll have to pay him in arbitration an extra year, but that could be avoided by a contract extension. Personally, I think it’s a bit early for his debut. And I’m certainly not the only one who feels this way. He is starting to hit better in AAA, but he’s still not doing particularly well there. There are probably a couple of other guys (like the aforementioned Brown or Moore) who have a chance to hit more than him.
And that’s the big question – how will he hit? He’s obviously a great player, and calling him a future All Star is probably underselling him. But as a 19 year old, he’d be in rare company to actually have what we’d call a “good” season. Here’s what I wrote about this in February:
He’ll be 19 this year, and 19 year old superstars aren’t usually great yet. ARod spent some of his 19 year old season in the minors, and hit .232/.264/.408 in his 149 Major League PAs that year. Justin Upton hit .221/.283/.364 in his 152 PAs in the Majors at age 19. Ken Griffey, Jr. hit .264/.329/.420 when he was 19, pretty decent, although not at all Griffey-like, but that was after TWO seasons in the minors.
The MLB Network mentioned the two players that had age 19 seasons that could actually be considered very good – Tony Conigliaro hit .290/.354/.530 in 1964 and Mel Ott hit .322/.397/.524 in 1928. That’s it, according to them. And it’s not surprising when you’ve seen what some other superstars have done. Ott, like Griffey, already had several years of pro ball under his belt. Conigliaro is probably a better comparison, as he only had 333 pro ABs (the year prior) before being called up to the Majors.
All that makes me think he won’t be any sort of great answer for the offensive struggles of this team. I don’t particularly expect him to hit like we think Bryce Harper will hit, at least not for the next few months. He’ll have trouble with lefties, and he’ll have trouble with offspeed pitches. I’m not surprised the made this announcement (certainly well after the decision was made) only hours before the Nats face one of the best LHPs in the game, because Harper would have probably sat against him if this matchup was next week or next month. Instead he’ll face a good righty who throws fastballs 69% of the time, a better matchup for sure.
Of course, all of this comes with the knowledge that the Left Field position has produced a whopping .097/.207/.125 for the Nationals. No matter what he ends up doing, it’s likely to be better than what they’ve gotten so far. I think there were more sensible answers for the moment, rather than taking a risk with Harper. The risk, of course, is that fans of a team that isn’t hitting is expecting to get a savior, and he isn’t likely to be one. If this burdens him in a way that affects his swing, there could be real damage. But I think the risk isn’t a huge one, and he seems to be cocky enough that it might not hurt him.
It’s very exciting, though, to see him come up. No matter how he does this month, or even this season, chances are he will be the best hitter on this team and possibly in the league at some point in the next few years. I don’t expect to see a star yet, but I do expect to see flashes of it, starting tomorrow. It won’t take long for a tape measure home run, or (especially with the way the rest of the offense is going) he is responsible for the game winning hit, run or RBI. So enjoy it, watch him grow, and remember that even if he isn’t going to hit like a star this month, this is just the first step on the way.