One look at the stats page for the Hagerstown Suns tells you an awful lot about where Bryce Harper is in his progression to the Major Leagues. His numbers, through 30 games, fairly pop off the page.
30 games, .377/.459/.679/1.138, 11 2Bs, 7 HRs, 25 RBIs, 5-for-7 stolen bases, one outfield error.
Harper earned the low-A South Atlantic League player of the week honors for last week, when he hit .500 (12-for-24) with four doubles, one homer and four RBIs, and in a day game today extended his hitting streak to 14 games, going 2-for-5 with two singles and an RBI in a 7-3 Hagerstown win. In fact, Harper has multiple hits in seven of his last eight games, including today's.
Harper's hot streak has coincided with his starting to wear contact lenses as a result of an eye exam in D.C. a couple weeks ago. Scary to think he went his entire high school and junior college career not being able to see. That might be a bit of an exaggeration, but the contacts did prompt Harper to say that he was seeing "in HD" now.
With all of Harper's success thus far, the big question on everyone's mind in NatsTown is "When will Harper get promoted?" The Nationals explicitly said all through spring training that they were not going to rush the phenom for any reason, but also would let his play dictate his progress. That progress needed to be measured not only at bat, but in the field and how he handled the rigors of playing every day.
According to all reports, and his manager in Hagerstown, former big leaguer Brian Daubach, he's passing every test with flying colors. There was the one brief incident two weeks ago against the West Virginia Power, where Harper stood up for himself after the opposing pitcher taunted him after striking out Harper looking. But other than that, the 18-year old has been a model citizen on and off the field.
With the Nationals struggling so much at the plate, fans are already wondering when he'll be summoned to the show. But despite his early success, it's still highly unlikely that Harper pulls on a big league uniform this season for a number of reasons.
First, he's only played 30 games in the outfield, and while that might sound like enough to get comfortable with a position, it isn't nearly enough games to learn all the angles, when to let throws rip and when to play it safe, etc. When we saw him last Saturday night he played center field, and he's been splitting time in right field as well. He's already had one incident where he slammed into the outfield fence going after a ball, and we saw him have some confusion on a ball with the right fielder Saturday. He just needs to see more playing time in the outfield since this is the first time in his life he's played the position on a regular basis.
Next, he's striking out a ton, with 26 Ks in 106 at bats. He might be the type of player that is going to strike out a lot anyway, and while it's not necessarily a problem, the Nats are going to want to make sure he is making enough contact and has enough plate discipline at each level he plays before moving him up. The Nats don't want to confuse a hot streak for mastering a level of the minors.
Lastly, and this might be artificial, but he's only 18 years old. The Nats are going to take every precaution necessary to ensure Harper makes a natural, steady progression, learning the lessons of becoming a professional ballplayer at each stop along the way. He may be a very mature player, but they don't want to overwhelm him with everything that goes along with the territory. The very last thing the Nationals want to do is promote him too quickly and have to return him to a previous level.
One blogger's guess as to Harper's timeline, as long as he continues to produce at the appropriate rates: He stays with Hagerstown long enough to get named to the Sally All-Star team and plays in that game on June 21 in Salisbury, MD, then immediately gets promoted to High-A Potomac for a month. If he dominates at High-A like he has against Low-A, I could then envision seeing him spending the last month of the season at Double-A Harrisburg.
At that point, I think the Nats would give him a month or so off before sending him to the Arizona Fall League to play full-time, not on the taxi squad like he was last fall, limited to just two games a week. After that, it's on to spring training to try to win a job.