March 6, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats in the second inning of the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
FOXSports.com's Jon Morosi's (@JonMorosi) initial reaction to the Washington Nationals' announcement that 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper would make his MLB debut tonight in LA, as he explained after writing on Twitter that he was, "skeptical about the timing of the move," was that he, "...would have liked to [have seen] more performance from Bryce Harper in the minor leagues before calling him up." ESPN.com's Keith Law, in an article entitled, "Calling up Harper a risky move for Nats", wrote yesterday that it, "... looks to me like a panic move, a reaction to modest attendance figures for the Nats despite their hot start this year, rather than a well thought-out developmental plan," and the ESPN analyst suggested that 25-year-old Tyler Moore could have been called up instead with much less risk of setting his development back if he were to struggle than there is with Harper.
Mr. Law's colleague at ESPN, former D.C. GM Jim Bowden quoted the current general manager admitting that Harper is coming up sooner than planned, writing on Twitter (@JimBowdenESPNXM) this morning that, "Rizzo told me that his Development plan for Harper was 300 ab's at AAA this year but because of injuries to Morse & RZim & poor LF production," the preternaturally-gifted young hitter is being brought up now. Rizzo himself addressed all of these issues and said yesterday this obviously wasn't the ideal situation for Harper to make his MLB debut, or as he put it, "this isn't the coming out party for Bryce that we had in mind. This isn't the optimal situation developmentally for Bryce," but he did add that the top outfield prospect in the organization had picked things up at the plate in recent weeks and looked comfortable in the outfield when he saw him play there this week...
But with Nats' left fielders hitting a combined .093/.200/.120 and Tyler Moore, who was considered as an option, having only played three games in the outfield in the minors after four years in the system at first base, the Nationals decided that now was the time for Bryce Harper to make his MLB debut. According to ESPN.com's Mr. Bowden, the Nats' GM told him there was at least one member of the Nationals' organization who thought Harper should already have been playing in the majors:
Mike Rizzo told me on Fri night that MGR Davey Johnson thought Harper was ready coming out of ST and wanted him to make the team then— JIM BOWDEN (@JimBowdenESPNxm) April 28, 2012
Davey Johnson had lobbied for the Nationals to at least keep an open mind about Harper making the big league club out of Spring Training, but when the decision was made to get the catcher-turned-outfielder some at bats at Triple-A, the manager told Harper, as he explained to MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette this past March, "'You get those at bats down there and do the things I know you're capable of down there cause then when you come up there's no going back.'" Rizzo wouldn't guarantee, given the situation, that Harper was in the majors to stay, but he left open the possibility that the outfielder, in spite of the team's desire to stick with the development plan they have for him, could force the Nats to keep him on the major league roster.
"He certainly could," Rizzo told reporters yesterday, "That is a certain distinct possibility."
"You know me," the GM said, addressing the reporter who'd asked about the possibility of Harper forcing the Nats' hand, "I'm a scout and player development guy at heart and I believe that you have to take certain steps to achieve long-term success in the big leagues and he obviously could make me abandon [our plan for him] and I hope he does, but I'm also reserved to the possibility that this may not be his breakout moment. That like [Mike] Trout with the Angels and some of the players you've mentioned before there could be a step sideways to really take a leap forward."
"Harp has had great Springs and Spring Training," Davey Johnson told reporters yesterday, "And he's a phenomenal talent, and he's been swinging the bat good down there and we have a need here for a left-handed bat, which, we've been trying to get more left-handed presence in the lineup and he's the guy that fits the role. So it's the right move for a lot of reasons."
Asked yesterday if Harper would be in the starting lineup tonight when the Nationals take on the Dodgers in the second game of a three-game series in LA, Rizzo said, "That's a Davey [Johnson] question, but we didn't bring Bryce up here to sit on the bench. He's going to get everyday reps and get ample at bats." There was no doubt in Johnson's mind, as he told reporters before last night's game that Harper would be in left field tonight. "I'll probably hit him seventh in the lineup," Johnson said, "As far as I'm concerned he's earned the right to get the opportunity and he fits what we're looking for so, it's just a good ballplayer coming up to the big leagues the way I look at it."
"We didn't bring him up here not to play him," Rizzo responded when asked about what role Harper would play on an everyday basis now that he's up, "But I think Davey's going to treat him the way he would treat any of the young potential stars that he's handled in the past and kind of allow him to succeed and really try to lay the groundwork for him to do that." As for any concerns that bringing Harper up this soon could affect his development, the Nats' GM told reporters he believes the 19-year-old who left high school early to make sure he was eligible to be drafted as soon as it was possible and achieved his goal of going no.1 overall at 17, is ready for this challenge, or any challenge the Nationals throw at him.
"With Bryce's makeup and his attitude and his confidence level," Rizzo explained, "I don't have any reservations. I know this guy is a very confident person and we expect him to perform well in the major leagues, and if he doesn't he's not the type of guy that it's going to derail his developmental plan whatsoever. He's the type of guy who will handle anything that's thrown at him and be better off for it." Will the Nationals be better off with Harper in the outfield in the majors? We're about to find out.
• AUDIO: Listen to D.C. GM Mike Rizzo's appearance on 106.7 the FAN with LaVar Arrington and Chad Dukes: