Bryce Harper was one of the most intriguing story lines of spring training.
The Nationals announced after today’s game — an 11-7 loss to the Tigers — that Harper was being sent to Triple A so he can work on becoming the team’s center fielder. That means he won’t start the season in the major leagues, as many of us expected he would.
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said “the timing wasn’t right” for Harper to play in the majors, but that “he’s close.” Here are other comments Johnson made to MLB.com:
“He knows how much I love his talent. He is a special player. He needs to go down there and do the same thing he is doing. He doesn’t need to change anything for me. He just needs to go play.
“I basically said to him, ‘If I had you up here and you were 1-for-10, I would probably have people (saying we rushed you).’ I don’t want that hanging over us.”
Harper, 19, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 Major League Baseball draft, entered spring camp with a very good shot at making the club — especially considering how inept the Nationals offense was last season, and how dull it figures to be again in 2012.
He has done nothing to hurt his case to play in The Show. Last season, in his first year of professional ball, he hit .297 with a .392 on-base percentage, 17 home runs, 58 RBIs and 27 stolen bases splitting his time between Single A and Double A.
This spring, he’s hit .286 but hasn’t walked much and hasn’t homered at all. In 28 spring at-bats, Harper has struck out 11 times, four of those coming in Sunday’s loss to the Tigers. He then doubled in his final at-bat before being optioned to Triple A.
Jayson Werth will start the year as the Nationals center fielder, but he’s a corner outfielder by trade and he’s 32. The ballclub believes he’s a better long-term fit on the corners, with Harper and his younger legs the better option for center field.
Harper, for what it’s worth, says center field is his favorite position, but he played mostly right field and left field last season in the minor leagues.
Here was his reaction to today’s demotion, also to MLB.com. It’s quite similar to Johnson’s:
“I didn’t want to go up there, go 2-for-15 and everybody is all over me and saying that he needs a little more seasoning. I just want to go down there, get better, get on my groove, get on a streak, get called up and hope to be a game-changer for the Nationals.”
Here’s betting that call-up comes before May 1.
Harper is No. 2 on MLB.com’s top 100 prospects list, behind Rays left-handed pitcher Matt Moore.