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February 1, 2012

The BP First Take

Wednesday, February 1

by Daniel Rathman

The first time I began to feel old was when players younger than me started reaching the majors last season. Jordan Lyles, Arodys Vizcaino, Julio Teheran, Jacob Turner, and Mike Trout were the culprits in 2011. According to Jon Heyman, if Nationals manager Davey Johnson has his way, Bryce Harper will join that club on Opening Day of the 2012 campaign.

Harper, who is arguably the top prospect in baseball, hit .297/.392/.501 across two minor-league levels last year, though his Double-A batting line was a relatively mediocre .256/.329/.395. That triple-slash looks markedly better when you consider that Harper was just 18 years old—two years the junior of the Eastern League’s youngest pitcher, 20-year-old Yankees prospect Manny Banuelos—but it nonetheless suggests that he could use some more seasoning in the upper minors.

General manager Mike Rizzo said back in December that Harper would be given a fair chance to prove he belongs in Washington during spring training. Once Harper is ready, the Nationals could clear his path to playing time by trading first baseman Adam LaRoche, moving Mike Morse from left field to first, and inserting Harper at either corner-outfield spot, with the other being occupied by Jayson Werth. There are no significant on-field obstacles to prevent him from breaking camp with the big-league squad, though service-time implications could play a role.

Johnson and Rizzo will need to calculate the Nationals’ chances of surging toward a playoff berth, and balance Harper’s potential contributions to such a run with the additional costs that would be incurred if he becomes eligible for arbitration as a Super Two player in 2014.  The skipper is likely to campaign for Harper if he performs well in Florida; the folks upstairs may have second thoughts.

Most importantly, though, the mere presence of these debates is a sign that things are finally looking up in NatsTown. With Stephen Strasburg ready to return and Harper and 2011 draftee Anthony Rendon on the way, the team’s competitive window is fast approaching. 

Daniel Rathman is an author of Baseball Prospectus. 
Click here to see Daniel's other articles. You can contact Daniel by clicking here

10 comments have been left for this article. (Click to hide comments)

BP Comment Quick Links

NYYanks826

The NL East as a whole should be an extremely exciting division this year. The Nationals are probably still a year or so away, but if things go their way, they could contend for a Wild Card spot as soon as this season.

Poor Mets.

Feb 01, 2012 00:19 AM
rating: 0
 
marshaja

There are still 2 players hanging around on minor league contracts that were still around the first year I watched baseball to prevent me from feeling too old. Bless you Jamie Moyer and Omar Vizquel.

Feb 01, 2012 04:01 AM
rating: 1
 
JimmyJack

Yes, I think these are the only players left from the '80's, and the only ones older than me!

Feb 01, 2012 12:21 PM
rating: 0
 
comish4lif

Looking at who the Nationals have in camp, it looks to me that they are counting on Harper coming north - if not right out of Spring training - but very early on.

They'll have Michael Morse and Jayson Werth at 2 of the OF spots. There are no other 1st division starters on the roster. Mark DeRosa, Mike Cameron, Roger Bernadina, Jason Michaels... meh.

Feb 01, 2012 07:40 AM
rating: 0
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

That's true. Of course, unless they go with Bernadina or Cameron, there also isn't anyone to play center field.

Feb 01, 2012 09:55 AM
 
69wildcat

Daniel, when you really start to feel old is when the last player older than you retires. For me it was either Chargin' Charlie Hough or Dave Winfield. I have clothes older than you :-)

Feb 01, 2012 09:48 AM
rating: 1
 
BP staff member Daniel Rathman
BP staff

Heh, I know. But it was quite a shock at the time.

Feb 01, 2012 09:54 AM
 
prs130

Harper's done a good job so far of demonstrating his immaturity with his mouth. He's in the news around here for publicly pledging fealty to the Yankees and Cowboys. *slaps forehead*

(http://www.csnwashington.com/sportsnetWashington/search/v/51423566/sportstalk-live-bryce-harper-s-tweets-1-31.htm)

He also named his dog "Swag" so there's mounting evidence that Harper might be... a bonehead. If only Jonny Gomes were still around to set a good example...

Feb 01, 2012 11:42 AM
rating: -1
 
BrewersTT

I've seen a lot of 18-year-old boneheads who matured, though. Of course, if it doesn't come fast enough, maybe he could somehow undermine his career in the majors at an age when his peers are in Rookie leagues. Then again, there are mouthy, brash, insufferable guys in the Hall of Fame.

Feb 02, 2012 06:52 AM
rating: 0
 
Behemoth

Why do they think he is in any way ready to play in the bigs, if he can't yet deal with AA pitching? Surely giving him most of the season in the minors and not rushing him for no good reason would be a much better plan, especially when he's not yet going to be a huge upgrade.

Feb 02, 2012 06:21 AM
rating: 0
 
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Premium Article Prospects Will Break Y... (01/31)
<< Previous Column
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The BP First Take: Thu... (02/02)
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