There were many who thought that the Washington Nationals should let outfielder Bryce Harper spend 2012 in the minor leagues. If he had a good enough summer then bring him up in September. Manager Davey Johnson thought that Harper was ready to play in the majors when the season started. As has often been the case, Johnson was right.
Harper was called up from the Triple A Syracuse Chiefs and made his major league debut April 28 when third baseman Ryan Zimmerman went on the disabled list. Washington’s record stood at 14-6 and they were in first place in the National League East. Since Harper joined them the Nationals have gone 84 and 58. Washington won its first division title ever with a record of 98-64. Harper is an integral part to their success.
The reasons given for keeping Harper in Triple A was his age and lack of experience in the outfield. He is only 19 and in his second season as a professional baseball player. Harper was a catcher when the Nationals drafted him with the number one overall pick in 2010. He was immediately shifted to the outfield. By the end of the 2011 season Harper had moved up to Double A. He was on the fast track to success and Washington had him begin the season with the big club in spring training.
Johnson felt that Harper was ready for the big leagues and said so publicly. Still with veterans such as Jayson Werth, Michael Morse, Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina already in the outfield the Nationals felt that Harper should start the regular season at Syracuse.
Though he did not exactly tear up the league Harper was called up to play right field when an injury sidelined Zimmerman. He made his debut out west against the Los Angeles Dodgers. In a three game series Harper showed glimpses of his potential by getting his first major league base hit and playing solid defense.
Whether warranted or not, Harper got off to a good enough start to be selected for the NL All-Star team. He finished the 2012 season with a .270 batting average, 22 home runs and 59 runs batted in. The team moved him to center field where he has been solid. Along the way his hustle and enthusiasm endeared him to teammates and fans while grating some opponents. Most of all Harper showed that the game was not too big for him and he was ready for the majors.
The Nationals division title was a team effort. No one man stood out. However, one could make the case that without Harper they may not have won it. He filled a hole in center field and gave Washington one more good hitter. Harper is the bridge between leadoff hitter Werth and number three man Zimmerman. With Adam LaRoche and Morse next in line this gives Johnson a versatile lineup of power and average to work with.
No one really knew if Harper was ready for the majors when he was called up. He had to play in order for us to find out. Now we know.
As is often the case the naysayers were wrong and Johnson was right.