Legend of the fall
By Ryan Korby
Bryce Harper will get his next test as a professional baseball player when he joins his teammates on Sunday in the Arizona Fall League. He’s ready for it and the Nationals are right for sending him. Some people worry that putting him against a level of competition that is significantly higher than he’s ever played is rushing him. The biggest Chicken Littles are scared that he could struggle and get discouraged and become a shell of the player they think he should be. If fall ball ruins him as a player, then chances are he was never meant to be the All-World player he’s already been made out to be. If a little slump against top competition gives us a discouraged Harper, then it was bound to happen, either now, in spring training or at some minor league outpost in the future.
So far, Harper has succeeded at every level he’s played. His .987 slugging percentage in his first year as an early-entry college player looks more like an elite on-base-plus-slugging percentage. I’m sure as a phenom he wants to be challenged, because he knows that that’s going to make him a better player in the future.
What Harper is doing is rare, but not unprecedented. He’s now the third 18-year-old to play in the Arizona Fall League. He’s also not going to be the youngest player ever in the majors. Robin Yount started at shortstop for the Brewers as a young 18-year-old. Harper would have to be on the Nationals roster shortly after Opening Day to be a Major Leaguer at a similar age to Yount. Alex Rodriguez also played in the majors at 18. Both players proved they could stick in the big leagues.
Fans should take comfort in the fact that the Nats don’t have a history of rushing players. Strasburg did end up getting hurt, but it wasn’t for the lack of the kid gloves treatment. General Manager Mike Rizzo and the rest of the organization realizes that the goal isn’t to make Harper the youngest major leaguer in years, it’s to help him develop into the best young player in years. If they don’t challenge Harper, they’re doing a disservice to him and the team.
I’ll be rooting for Harper to take his lumps this fall: make some errors in the field, get into a little slump at the plate. I’m doing this because I also want to see that he can adjust and bust out of a slump. In the end, nobody is going to remember if Harper hits .111, .222, or .333 this fall. Arizona Fall League stats don’t matter and as long as he learns, becomes a little more polished and adjusts to life as a professional baseball player, then putting him against the tougher competition in the Fall League will be a success.
Box Seats blogger
| October 14, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
Categories: Nationals, Ryan Korby | Tags: Nationals, Ryan Korby
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