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Bryce Harper went 8-for-28 with two doubles and zero RBI this spring.
Though he impressed and occasionally dazzled with his athletic ability, hustle and mature attitude over the last month, in the end Harper wasn't deemed ready for prime time, so the Nationals today optioned their top prospect to Class AAA Syracuse.
Harper was one of four players cut from big-league camp following today's game. First baseman Tyler Moore and catcher Jhonatan Solano also were optioned to Syracuse, with infielder Mark Teahen re-assigned to minor-league camp.
Harper, who has only one season of professional experience and spent only 37 games at Class AA Harrisburg last summer, figured all along to need some more time in the minors. But his demotion today perhaps came a bit earlier than expected, with most believing the Nationals would wait until the final 7-10 days of camp before making the decision.
Harper, though, didn't help his cause on the field in recent days. After bursting out of the gates to five hits in his first 11 at-bats in Grapefruit League play, he missed a week with a mild calf strain and then struggled upon returning to the lineup.
Over the last five days, Harper produced just three hits in 17 at-bats, striking out nine times. The low point came this afternoon against the Tigers when he struck out his first four times at the plate before launching a double off the center-field wall in his final at-bat.
Overall, Harper hit .286 (8-for-28) with two doubles, zero RBI, two walks and eight strikeouts.
The top pick in the 2010 draft, Harper showed this spring he had made some significant strides in his conversion from catcher to the outfield, enough to convince the Nationals to give him considerable playing time in center field. In announcing the demotion today, manager Davey Johnson told reporters that Harper would continue to play center field at Syracuse, with some action also in right field.
Johnson also reiterated what he's maintained all along: Harper will get "quality at-bats" in the major leagues this season at 19. The question now becomes when the Nationals will make the move to bring up the prized prospect.
Though Rizzo's decision will be based primarily on performance, there are financial factors to consider. If the Nationals wait 21 days to promote Harper, they would ensure he could not become a free agent until after the 2018 season (he would achieve free agent status after the 2017 season if he spends fewer than 21 days in the minors this year).
Additionally, if the Nationals wait until roughly mid-to-late June to promote Harper, they would stand to save millions of dollars down the road, preventing the outfielder from achieving "Super 2" status and thus qualifying for salary arbitration after the 2013 season instead of the following winter.