Taking a long-awaited step in his progression from former No. 1 overall pick to the majors, Bryce Harper was promoted from low Single-A Hagerstown to Double-A Harrisburg on Monday.
Harper, who spent 72 games with the Suns, will made his Harrisburg debut Monday night and is expected to remain at Double-A for the rest of the season. He will then play in the Arizona Fall League.
"I think it's perfect," said Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who has known Harper since the prospect was 15 years old. "I think right about now he needs another challenge, and Double-A's the perfect spot.
"He's going to be challenged. He needs to be challenged."
The move culminates the first step in his first pro season after the Nationals took him No. 1 in the 2010 draft. He hit .318 with a .423 on-base percentage and .554 slugging percentage in Single-A, along with 14 home runs and 46 RBI. He dealt with a few "nagging" injuries that included a bone bruise in his left thumb that kept him out of several games before and after the South Atlantic League All-Star Game.
"We set a timetable for him, and I felt that when it was time for him to take the next step and to challenge him a little bit further we would make a smooth transition," said general manager Mike Rizzo. "After he went through a few little nagging injuries, [he] showed me he had enough at-bats at that level and succeeded enough where we could challenge him to the next level in the minor leagues. [We'll] see if he can handle the Double-A pitching up there in a good league with a bunch of prospects."
Harper, who played right field and some center, will mostly play left field in Double-A, a move Rizzo said is designed to increase his versatility. Harper had not played left field in Single-A.
Rizzo has said that he wants and expects Harper to experience all levels of the Nationals organization, and he felt that his time with Hagerstown satisfied the Class A requirement. Harper will be skipping high Single-A Potomac, prompting speculation that field issues at Pfitzner Stadium came into play when determining his next stop. Rizzo shot down that idea saying that the conditions had "absolutely" no effect on the decision.
"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. We feel that he's ready to take the next step to Double-A. Double-A, for Bryce, has been in my mind for a really long time."
The Nationals likely will get a good idea of Harper's capabilities at Double-A, a level that generally holds the best prospects and will allow him to see better pitching. Given the organization's desire for him to see every level of the minors before earning a promotion to the major leagues, that means Harper will most likely begin the 2012 season at Triple-A and not on the 25-man roster.
"Obviously [big-league camp] didn't intimidate him in spring training," Johnson said. "But I think the competition level at Double-A is right where he should be."
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