<
>
Insider

Calling up Harper a risky move for Nats

4/27/2012

Forgive me if I'm picturing Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo making the call to Syracuse to recall Bryce Harper while sitting in his chair and staring down the barrel of a gun held by the team's VP of sales.

Harper has hit a combined .254/.330/.388, including a .174/.216/.275 line against lefties, across two levels above low-A (he also recorded four walks and 19 strikeouts against left-handed pitching in Double-A and Triple-A), and while his performance against right-handers at those levels is more than adequate for a player who's as old as your typical college freshman, it doesn't give us any reason to expect immediate success in the majors.

Harper made a lot of progress over the course of 2011, but in the Arizona Fall League his weakness against off-speed stuff was still evident, even if it was less than it was the year before. We have no evidence, statistical or otherwise, this spring to indicate that he's made those adjustments enough to be ready to produce in the majors. He will eventually do so -- of this I have little doubt -- but he had shown that Triple-A was a sufficient challenge for him, and there's no reason to recall him until he succeeds at that level.

This 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, as we've seen the club employ for most of its other prospects. Contrast their adamant statements about keeping Stephen Strasburg on an innings limit in his first full year back from Tommy John surgery with this seemingly unplanned promotion before Harper can even reach 90 at-bats in Triple-A.

The Nationals could have recalled Tyler Moore, who's more of a bench bat but could provide some power in a part-time role, and doesn't carry the same risk -- if you screw up Tyler Moore, you've really lost nothing, but if you screw up Harper by thrusting him into a situation for which he's not fully prepared, the cost is enormous. He's not just one of the most hyped prospects of his generation, he's one of the best, and if Washington sets him back through an aggressive promotion, we are all worse off for it.