Washington Nationals manager Davey Johnson has repeatedly said that he’ll give phenom Bryce Harper “every shot to make the Nats’ opening day roster.” It looks like he’s living up to his word. The 19-year old outfielder will hit third and start in right when Washington takes on the Georgetown University Hoyas on Friday to open up their spring training slate.
Harper has been making professional scouts drool over his five-tool skill set since he was 16, gracing the cover of Sports Illustrated magazine. After winning the Golden Spikes award in junior college, he was the 1st overall pick in the 2010 draft. After starting at Class-A Hagerstown, he skipped the next level and played for Double-A Harrisburg before ending last season with a minor hamstring injury. Bryce did major damage in the 2011 Arizona Fall League, a league I consider the talent level between Double-A and Triple-A. He played a full schedule of games after only playing on selective days the year before.
The doubters that say that the converted catcher isn’t ready for the big leagues just look at his mediocre stat line from his 37 games at Harrisburg. What people fail to realize is that after struggling out of the gates, Bryce made positive strides and adjusted to pitching, something that’s crucial in today’s game. His .256 average is run-of-the-mill, but his strikeout rate was lower against tougher competition, a huge plus. He probably could have played through his hamstring injury, but the Nats’ organization didn’t want to take any chances.
Believe it or not, Washington has other young players looking to make a statement. Minor league player of the year Tyler Moore (first base) is hitting behind Harper. Moore has hit 31 homers in each of the past two seasons, the latter being Harper’s teammate with Harrisburg. First-round pick Anthony Rendon will play third and hit sixth, Corey Brown (acquired in the Josh Willingham trade), will hit after Rendon and play left, while Steve Lombardozzi will lead off and play second.
Johnson also said that Harper will play on Saturday against the Houston Astros, a game in which a familiar face will be towing the rubber for Houston, Livan Hernandez. If Bryce truly wants to be in Chicago on April 5th, he has to play well and have the right attitude to go through the rigors of a 162-game schedule. Remember, it’s the front office, not the coaching staff, that is holding Harper back. Now, it’s time for him to shine.