Bryce Harper’s impressive stats earned the teenager a Fourth of July promotion Monday, moving on to Double A as part of the Washington Nationals’ measured approach with last year’s No. 1 overall draft pick.
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Harper made his debut Monday night for Harrisburg of the Eastern League and went 2 for 3 with a run scored and a walk in the Senators’ 8-1 victory.
The 18-year-old outfielder had been a hitting sensation at Class-A Hagerstown, ranking among league leaders with a .318 average along with 14 home runs, 46 RBI and 19 stolen bases.
But the Nationals are sticking to their plan not to have Harper make his big league debut this year. General manager Mike Rizzo said Harper will spend the rest of the season in Double-A and then play in the Arizona Fall League. Rizzo said he also wants Harper to play in Triple-A, which means the youngster almost certainly won’t be on the Nationals’ opening day roster next year.
While the stats have looked good, Harper has had to adjust the rigors and routine of professional baseball and the maturity that goes along with it. He notoriously puckered a kiss toward a pitcher while rounding the bases after hitting a home run last month — and was greeted with a hide-and-inside brushback pitch the next time he batted.
”The batting average was there,” Rizzo said. ”And the power, offensive production numbers are there, but a lot more goes into it than that. He’s a work in progress in his baserunning, his base stealing, his defensive play, the small intricate parts of the game. We feel he’s progressed to the point where we want to see him do that at the next level.”
Rizzo said Harper will play mostly left field in Harrisburg after spending most of his time in center and right in Hagerstown. Harper is adjusting to the outfield after playing catcher in high school and college.
Harper last year signed a $9.9 million, five-year contract, the biggest payday for a drafted position player. Having accelerated his way through high school to become eligible for the draft, he’s having work his way up slowly for the first time in his baseball life.
”I know where he wants to be right now. If he left there, he’d want to be here,” Nationals manager Davey Johnson said. ”Not that he wouldn’t be a quality callup, but there’s probably others more deserving.”