Bryce Harper had already put up arguably the best season by a 19-year old in the history of baseball.
In 2013, he’s set to make history once again – albeit doesn’t have to do directly with his performance on the field.
Well, then again, maybe it does. The 20-year old super-sophomore for the Washington Nationals, as you might expect, is tearing it up at the plate in Spring Training right now, notching nine hits in 19 at-bats, with a pair of doubles and a homer to go with it.
Sure, it’s just spring, but the Harper is locked in, and that hasn’t gone unnoticed by team’s manager, Davey Johnson.
In fact, according to James Wagner of the Washington Post, the team’s left fielder has impressed Johnson enough that he’s leaning towards moving Ryan Zimmerman, one of the veteran stalwarts of the team (and still 28-years old) out of his usual third spot in the lineup.
To replace him, of course, would be Harper, preceded by Jayson Werth, then followed by Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche in the No. 4 and No. 5 spots.
At least, that’s what Johnson hopes to have out there anyway. The reason for the change is to give the team a lefty-righty-lefty mix through the heart of the order, but it also speaks to just how much faith the Nationals have in Harper’s abilities as a 20-year old that they’re willing to make this type of move, especially given Zimmerman’s track record.
Something like this might not exactly be earth-shattering news in most situations, but it does have historical implications when it comes to this case. As Aaron Gleeman of NBC Sports’ Hardball Talk points out, there just aren’t too many 20-year olds who have batted third.
In fact, only one — Hall of Famer Al Kaline — has done so for more than 90 games, when he started as the Detroit Tigers‘ No. 3 hitter for 152 contests.
Assuming Harper can handle the spot even into the All-Star break as the team’s third hitter, he would easily pass names such as Willie Mays (34 games), Hank Aaron (35) and Mickey Mantle (43).
It won’t take very long longer before he’s looming on the likes of Ken Griffey Jr. (87) either, which would put him within the top-five all time among 20-year olds.
To do so, of course, Harper will have to be good enough to stick in that spot for the lineup — and on a stacked team like the Nationals, that’s much easier said than done.
If he can do that? Well, considering that teams play 162 games now, Harper will have a pretty good shot at putting himself atop the all-time greats to have served at the heart of a major league lineup at age 20.
Even for a player who has had the expectations of greatness follow him since he was a teenager, that’ll be pretty hard to top.