Thursday, October 14, 2010

What is Bryce Harper's timeline?

Photo courtesy Bill Scheuerman
Bryce Harper will continue to learn how to play right field while at the Arizona Fall League.
The news yesterday of Bryce Harper's imminent assignment to the Arizona Fall League surely had many of you wondering if this is a sign the No. 1 draft pick's path to the majors might have just been sped up a bit.

The short answer: Probably not.

The decision to send Harper to Arizona has less to do with his current ability level and more to do with his need to be playing baseball somewhere right now. Had he simply stayed home in Las Vegas, he'd be working out on his own, with some old friends from high school. And he'd show up in Viera in February -- at big-league camp, remember -- with three weeks of instructional ball as his only experience at the professional level.

That wasn't going to do anyone any good. So Mike Rizzo decided to have Harper play in the AFL. As a member of the Scottsdale Scorpions' taxi squad, he'll only be able to play on Wednesdays and Saturdays (unless a teammate gets hurt) but he'll be participating in pregame drills every day with top professional prospects who are several years older than he.

"I just felt we weren't doing him justice by sending him home and working out with a high school team and lifting weights on his own," Rizzo said yesterday. "This an opportunity for us to have this guy immersed into baseball for two more months at an accelerated rate with great players around him, for a lot of that stuff to rub off on him and really learn the professional game at probably its highest level [other than] the big leagues."

Make no mistake, Harper (who turns 18 on Saturday) isn't ready to face the kind of competition he's going to see in Arizona. He'll be the second-youngest player in AFL history, and he'll be playing against competition that for the most part has several years of minor-league experience ... or at least several years of major college experience (as opposed to his one season at the College of Southern Nevada).

The average age of Harper's Scottsdale teammates will be 23.4. That's 5 1/2 years older than he. The closest teammate in age will be fellow outfielder Xavier Avery, an Orioles prospect who turns 21 in January and already has 2 1/2 seasons of minor-league experience under his belt.

Yes, Harper has always played with and against kids older than he. But not this much older.

Which isn't to say this can't still be a positive experience for Harper. He may draw the most attention in Arizona this fall, but he won't be the best player. This is probably the first time in his life he can claim that. For a kid who has always played with a level of cockiness that has rubbed some people the wrong way, a little failure and a little humility wouldn't be such a bad thing.

Whether Harper thrives, fails or is merely average in Arizona, his career path from here probably doesn't change. Asked yesterday where Harper is likely to open his minor-league career next season, Rizzo didn't hesitate to respond.

"I would expect to see him where you expect to see every other 18-year-old," the GM said. "He's going to start his career at the lowest level, in A-ball, and work his way up from there."

So look for Harper to spend some quality time at Hagerstown and/or Potomac in 2011. After that, his performance will dictate his pace of advancement. At best, he opens 2012 at Class AA Harrisburg and perhaps finds his way to Washington before season's end. A 2013 big-league debut still seems more plausible.

"I don't know," Rizzo said when asked if he thinks Harper can reach the big leagues in short order. "I don't have a crystal ball of what that is. We've got examples of guys who played at that level relatively quickly. We've got examples of guys who it took longer.

"Suffice it to say, we believe he's a big-league player. When he gets to the big leagues, he's going to be a terrific major-league player. Once he gets there, hopefully he's at a point in his developmental where he never has to go back. He's going to be a big leaguer for the Nationals for a long, long time."

29 comments:

Anonymous said...

Man, this is a great blog. Wish other blogs were as lucid, concise, accurate and fair.

court said...

The kid looks huge in the picture above... and he's probably not done growing yet. I think if he holds his own in the AFL, he starts in Potomac instead of H-town. Then he could potentially get a late-season promotion to AA (making him eligible full-time for the AFL in '11). Start '12 in AA, and then follow the Desmond-Espinosa route thru SYR to DC by 9/2012. He then opens the '12 season as the everyday RF.

That, of course, would be best case scenerio. Hopefully he plays the bulk of next year in Potomac so us locals can get a look at him.

Slidell said...

Given the tremendous investment (monetarily and otherwise), sending Harper to Arizona is a no-brainer. I also would think that the Nats would be providing him with a structured regimen for the time period between the AFL and Spring Training. Even though he seems to be extremely focused for an 18-year old, he is still an 18-year old.

Wally said...

When I first heard that he was going to AFL, I thought that it was a gigantic reach on the Nats part, but your explanation makes sense.

JD said...

Court;

What you say is possible (ALA Heyward) but not really likely. Potomac could be quite a struggle for an 18 year old.

Feel Wood said...

Who has to get hurt in order to allow Harper to play more than twice a week - any of his teammates, or just the teammates who are Nats affiliates?

Barney said...

"Who has to get hurt ...?" Those kids down there are the Nat's future. Best case scenario: no one gets hurt and Bryce moves along at his own pace!

court said...

JD,

I agree the Sally League could be tough for him, but he held his own during instrux which probably has a talent level at least that of a high-A. His AFL stint will also make A ball seem a bit easier.

But I understand this is a best-case-scenario and by no means probable. A guy can dream can't he?

NatsJack in Florida said...

Slidell.... No... he won't turn 18 tll Saturday.

Tcostant said...

Mark -

Is winter ball an option too?

Nats Jack in Florida said...

No. Winter ball is not an option.

This will take him to the week before Thanksgiving, then he's home for about 7 weeks and you can believe he'll be in Viera early, like the last week in January or Feb. 1, 2011 at the latest.

Anonymous said...

A seven week break seems awfully long for him ... hopefully the Nats have found ways to instruct him during that period as well.

JaneB said...

And we can believe that you'll be there early to tell us what you see, Nats Jack! Hurrah for that!

Anonymous said...

When is the last year the Nats can option him to the minors? Having signed a Major League contract, the number of options is already set. I'm not sure if they had to use one this year or not. This number will be the latest he sees the Majors. I just am not sure what that number is.

LES in NC said...

Mark, you said in your CSN piece that Harper had a decent stat line of ".319 (15-for-47) with four homers, 12 RBI and seven walks."
Where does that put him in relation to the rest of the squad? Also, being scheduled to play Wednesdays and Saturdays, how many PA's is Harper expected to get this fall? And I don't want to see anyone get hurt, but like Barney I am interested to know who needs to get hurt for Bryce to get more playing time.

Sunderland said...

Winter ball? No chance. You do not send an 18 yer old to the Dominican Republic. (Trust me on this one.) Especially a kid who has lived with Mom and Dad his whole life. And who is a Mormon. And who has a nearly bottomless wallet.

Who has to get hurt? This sounds like a joke but it's a legit question. Since the team is made up of players from several clubs, is it a Nat that has to go down or can we root for a minor oblique strain to someone else?

Mark Zuckerman said...

LES in NC said...
Mark, you said in your CSN piece that Harper had a decent stat line of ".319 (15-for-47) with four homers, 12 RBI and seven walks."

Where does that put him in relation to the rest of the squad? Also, being scheduled to play Wednesdays and Saturdays, how many PA's is Harper expected to get this fall? And I don't want to see anyone get hurt, but like Barney I am interested to know who needs to get hurt for Bryce to get more playing time.


According to the Nats, Harper led the instructional league team in homers, RBI and walks.

As for the injury question, my understanding is that if any position player on the Scottsdale roster was unable to play on a given day, Harper would be eligible to replace them.

Anonymous said...

I think you are right Mar, this does not accelerate his initial timetable, starting at A ball (I believe Potomac because they got to miss out on Stras-mania despite marketing it so this a is a bone to them) but I think he will be in AA by the middle of next year and in the majors in 2012, maybe even opening day. He is going to crush the ball at every level he plays always has, always will, sure he will have days where he goes 0-3 but everyone has those days. Bryce is like nothing we have ever seen before, he is bigger, faster, stronger and still growing and maturing. He is physically where most 25 year old players wish they were as far as conditioning and physique, he will be one of these guys who is a grizzled veteran by the time he is 25, not a rookie like so many Nats of the past!

Sunshine_Bobby_Carpenter_Is_Too_Pessimistic_for_Me said...

@sunderland: If Bryce is LDS, does that mean he's due for a two-year Mormon mission when he turns 19? If so, that throws the Nats timetable back two years. I know a few LDS members, and the requirement for a two-year mission for males at age 19 is pretty hard and fast.

Anonymous said...

I misread the title: "What is Bryce Harper's bedtime?"

Then I realized: it's a legitimate question for a 17 year old!

Anonymous said...

Dale Murphy was LDS and, if memory serves, didn't do a mission. The LDS folks have become more flexible about that (as did for instance the service academies on active service after graduation). Everybody is equal. It's just that some folks are more equal than others. Fact of life...

Anonymous said...

Back again... Just a "for instance" on the LDS issue. Halladay is a Mormon and went from high school to the minors and worked his way up to the majors wiothout stopping for a mission. My guess is that Harper will receive some sort of exemption.

Anonymous said...

Not sure about the statement that he will be a National for a long, long time. When his contract runs out I'm not sure the Nats will be able to re-sign him should he become the player he is projected to be. I hope this statement is false, but my confidence level that he will remain loyal to this team is sketchy at best.

NatsJack in Florida said...

Will Peric ever lose his pesimism?

Big Cat said...

Wow.....look at the shoulders on this kid. Slim waist.....sleek.....powerful.....man o man. Looks like Joe Hardy

David said...

Bryce said in an interview he's not doing a mission. Being a famous baseball player and bringing positive attention to his church will be his "mission."

Anonymous said...

So if baseball is his mission, will he be showing up at spring training on a bike, wearing a white shirt, black tie and black pants, and with another similarly attired guy traveling with him? (I always figured they travel in pairs so that one of them can't escape.)

And can Zuckerman, Kilgore or one of the other guys with clubhouse access please find out once and for all if the myth of the special Mormon underwear is really true?

citizen16 said...

I'm a frequent reader of this blog and an infrequent poster, but I am Mormon (LDS) so I'll chime in a little on the issue of Mormon missions and Harper.

It is NOT a hard and fast rule that every Mormon must go on a mission when he turns 19. There is no need for an exemption, and it is a personal choice whether or not someone wants to go on a mission. A mission is strongly encouraged and there is often a lot of cultural/social pressure to go, but no one will be in bad standing in the church for choosing not to go on a mission.

Harper is not going on a mission. I believe he has said that already. I have 2 close friends who played baseball their freshman in college, had some interest from pro scouts and then went on missions. Both of them knew that going on a mission would probably end any chance at making it to the major leagues. According to them, because the two years from 19-21 are such critical developmental years for baseball players, staying away from baseball for that period of time sets players back so far that most can never catch back up again. So most Mormon kids with any thought of making in the major leagues would very likely not go on a mission. Both of my friends came back and had nice college careers, but the interest from pro scouts never came back.

There are some exceptions out there-Jeremy Guthrie and Matt Lindstrom both are Mormon and went on missions.

Most prominent Mormon baseball players didn't go on missions: Dale Murphy, Jack Morris, Bruce Hurst.

And I'm not here to debate religion, so I'll kindly ignore Anonymous at 9:32am.

Anonymous said...

They'll probably all convert to Scientology anyway? ~wicked grin~

Rizzo's "plan" which on the surface seems more than a bit different from JimBo's toolsy cheap guys who can't play plan ... says that Harper needs competition to get him to play better. He'll find in the AFL that's for certain. But within the Nats system? They now have THREE catchers competing for jobs in Ramos, Flores, Norris with more just a tier or two below ...

Rizzo needs to create some competition in center and right fields. Burgess is one guy who will compete with Harper. But my guess is you need and that Rizzo wants more. Center field (with the exception of Eury Perez) looks pretty barren?

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