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.