- The Washington Times - Monday, April 30, 2012

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

“Suffice it to say, this isn’t the coming-out party for Bryce that we had in mind. This isn’t the optimal situation developmentally for Bryce.”

That was Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo during Friday’s conference call, announcing Bryce Harper’s promotion. Rizzo would’ve preferred more Triple-A seasoning for the phenom before his much-anticipated arrival — presumably for a series at Nationals Park — but Washington’s combination of injuries and anemic offense forced a change of plans.

Harper flew from upstate New York to Los Angeles for two weekend games against the Dodgers. He landed with a mere .250 batting average in 72 at-bats for the Syracuse Chiefs, and just 129 minor league games overall. A self-described “scouting and player development guy at heart,” Rizzo would never agree that April 28 was the right time for Harper’s major league debut.


Perhaps it wasn’t the best timing.

But based on what we know about the 19-year-old prodigy, it might be perfect timing.

The only absolute no-no in my mind had just passed. Harper spent barely enough time in the minors to delay his free agency through the 2018 season. There wouldn’t be one complaint from this space if the Nats brought him up as soon as those rights were secured, period.

He’s a notoriously slow starter when he jumps to the next level, so there’s no real concern if he doesn’t produce immediately. The only fear is protracted struggles damaging a youngster’s psyche, but Harper seems impervious to lingering self-doubt.

Even if he’s sent back down this season, he won’t question his ability very much. In that sense, the sooner he sees major league pitching and begins adjusting, the further along he’ll be in June or July — when most observers figured he’d get the call.

Opening on the road wasn’t a bad turn of events, either. Dodgers fans dusted off the ol’ Barry Bonds treatment Saturday when Harper strode to the plate, his ears ringing with a chorus of loud boos. Since he’s going to be Public Enemy No. 1 at every stadium except Nationals Park, it doesn’t hurt to experience such scorn right away.

That will make the reception even sweeter when he takes the field Tuesday for his home debut. As a bonus, he won’t have the added pressure of adoring fans looking on as he checks off a list of firsts. He already notched his first hit and first RBI, and would’ve earned his first assist on a laser-beam throw from left if catcher Wilson Ramos held on.

Right time or wrong time, debuts don’t come much better (unless we’re talking about Stephen Strasburg). Harper’s first hit was a scorched line drive to the base of the center-field wall. He flipped off his batting helmet — apparently stuck on his “pompadour-hawk” hairdo — on the way to second base, turning the historic moment into instant-classic video.

Two innings after showing off his rocket arm, Harper lifted a pitch to the opposite field for his first sacrifice fly. It was old-school savvy from a cyber-age player in throwback stirrups, and would’ve been his first game-winning RBI if not for Henry Rodriguez’s blown save.

Harper got his first start in center Sunday, delivering another 1-for-3 performance at the plate and a splendid catch in the field. Crashing into the fence and providing a scare for the Nats and their fans everywhere only added to his dramatic coming-out weekend.

History suggests that Harper will enjoy only modest success in 2012, if any at all. Most teenagers who debut in the majors don’t post eye-popping numbers. But it doesn’t matter right now whether Harper stays long or re-joins his former teammates in Syracuse.

Story Continues →