The main stream baseball writers are starting to pick up on the fact that Nationals outfield prospect Bryce Harper might either start the season with the big club or will get an early call up in 2012. Patrick Reddington over at Federal Baseball has been on this story for what seems like months this offseason, and you should check out his work.
Most of the offseason hype around Harper comes from Nationals manager Davey Johnson who has been very willing to provide his opinion to anyone who wants to write about it, and ESPN's Buster Olney addressed his thoughts on Tuesday in his blog.
Olney writes that Johnson promoted a 19 year old Dwight Gooden when he was managing the Mets, but before he promoted him, he wanted to see Gooden throw his secondary pitches for strikes and not rely on his fastball. Similarly, with Harper, Johnson wanted to see the following, per Olney's piece:
Johnson said, there are two things he has wanted to see in Harper, as he and the Nationals begin to evaluate the question of whether the young slugger will start the year in the big leagues. "No. 1 -- does he know the strike zone?" Johnson said. "Some hitters -- some young hitters -- will expand the zone and chase pitches, especially when they start to struggle. I think he knows the strike zone."
The second skill that Johnson has wanted to see in Harper is the ability to adjust to a breaking ball. "He uses the whole field," Johnson said. "If he can do that -- well, that's tantamount."
Because inevitably, if Harper mashed fastballs, then opposing pitchers would throw him a whole bunch of off-speed stuff -- sliders, curveballs, splitters. Call it the Wily Mo treatment.
Harper dominated Low A ball as he triple slashed .318-.423-.554, but he showed solid plate discipline as he struck out in 20% of his at bats while walking in 14.4%. Moving up to AA, he hit just .256-.329-.395, but he lowered his K rate to 17.7%, but his walk rate dropped to 10.2% as well. So Harper apparently has passed the Johnson Test. What else does Johnson say about Harper?
Check it out after the jump:
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According to Olney, Johnson wants another left handed bat in the Nationals lineup, and assuming they don't sign Prince Fielder, Harper meets that need. Check. And Johnson loves young players. Check.
Here is Johnson comparing Harper to a young Darryl Strawberry:
Johnson does not run from that comparison, either; again, he embraces it. "He's got more drive and more ambition to succeed than Straw did," Johnson said. "Straw got better, but this kid is going to push himself to really improve. This kid is driven."
I think we all knew Harper was driven. So what can we expect out of Harper in 2012, assuming he makes the team out of spring training? Harper has been compared to Ken Griffey Jr and Alex Rodriguez, as both made it to the majors when they were 19. Here is how Griffey performed in his age 19 season in Seattle:
And here is ARod's age 19 season:
ARod's strikeout rate as a 19 year old was alarming, but then he followed that up by hitting .358-.414-.631 with 36 HRs, 123 RBI and 54 doubles in his age 20 season.
Paul Sporer over at Rotohardball wrote a piece yesterday on Harper called Senior Circuit Scoop: Bryce Harper in 2012. In the article, Sporer says not to expect much from Harper in 2012, and opines that he won't do much better than what Mike Trout did last year. Trout hit .220-.281-.390 in 135 plate appearance last year.
I don't agree with using Trout as the comp here, as they are different hitters and we have all heard how tired Trout was at the end of the 2011 season and even in the Arizona Fall League. Harper, should he make the team out of spring training, will be fresh after not having played a game in 6 months. Knowing the drive of this kid, I could see him excelling in spring training to the point he does make the team. Anything is possible.
So what can we expect out of Harper in 2012? If he does make the team out of spring training, or even if he gets a call up in May sometime, I can see him doing his best Ken Griffey Jr. and hitting around .260 with 13 HRs, 50 RBI and 15 stolen bases.