Bryce Harper Optioned To Triple-A

The Washington Nationals optioned top prospect Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday afternoon, ending the discussion of whether or not the 19-year-old phenom would begin the season in the major leagues or back down in the minors.

Harper lost some time due to a calf injury this spring. Although the injury was deemed nothing serious, it appears that it may have affected his performance. After all, he has only gone 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts at the plate since returning to the lineup. Everything needed to go perfectly this spring for Harper to break camp with the Nationals’ big league club. Both the injury and plate discipline issues made the decision to option him to Triple-A for more seasoning extremely easy.

In Triple-A, the Nationals will reportedly attempt to groom Harper in center field. With Mike Morse entrenched in left field and Jayson Werth in right field for the foreseeable future, squeezing Harper into center field is a natural fit for the organization. Most scouting reports believe he possesses the natural athleticism to survive in center — though a corner outfield position will still be his eventual home — and his bat profiles as plus-plus in center, as well.

The time frame for a potential big league call up for Harper remains unclear. If he dominates Triple-A pitching as he did in the Arizona Fall League — where he hit .333/.400/.634 with six home runs — his time with the Syracuse Chiefs will be relatively short-lived.

Keeping the seat warm in the big leagues will be 27-year-old Roger Bernadina. Last season, Bernadina hit .243/.301/.362 and was worth +0.8 wins in 337 plate appearances. ZiPS projects approximately the same output in 2012, which follows historical precedent as the young man has not been worth a single win in any season throughout his career. He also plays poor defense in center field, too, which makes his lack of bat a bit more concerning.

Of course, Rick Ankiel could also see some time in center field. His bat leaves quite a bit to be desired, as well. He only hit .239/.296/.363 last season with the Nationals. Defensively, though, he does play a much better center field (+6.9 UZR in CF in 2011) than does Bernandina (-5.2 UZR). That significant upgrade could net Ankiel more playing time than currently projected at this point in the spring.

Whether Bernadina or Ankiel plays the majority of innings in center field for the Nationals this season, though, they will merely serve as a placeholder for Harper. The organization is perhaps only a few months away from trotting out a big league lineup with both of their hyped young players, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The future of the organization is almost now.

J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

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10 years ago

If Nats mishandle this and bring him up too early, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns into a Travis Snider.

Anton Sirius
10 years ago
Reply to  VJO

In much the same way that Strasburg was rushed and turned into another Tyler Chatwood, I’m sure.

10 years ago
Reply to  VJO

I am just going to pretend that VJO is being sarcastic.

James Gentile
10 years ago

Little known fact: Travis Snyder was actually the first “Best Prospect Ever”, Harper the second.

And long before Gary Cherone, there was David Lee Roth.

10 years ago
Reply to  VJO

So bringing up Harper too soon would make him slower, have a weaker arm, have less range, hit with less power, and make less contact?

I say just bring the guy up and get his “growing pains” season over with so that when you need him to be “Bryce harper” he’s already went through the newness of it all, has fewer distractions, and can just let his talent flow.

Seriosly, Travis Snider?

10 years ago
Reply to  CircleChange11

This made me laugh harder than it probably should have.

I also like how Snyder getting called up early is assumed to be the issue in the original comment. Apparently his performance can be attributed to “mishandling”.

10 years ago
Reply to  VJO

Travis Snyder? For real? Maybe I missed it but I do not recall Travis Snyder on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old. I also don’t recall hearing about Snyder hitting 500 foot bombs and throwing 96 mph at 23 years old let alone at age 16.