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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.  

By Box Seats blogger  | October 14, 2010; 10:05 AM ET
Categories:  Nationals, Ryan Korby  | Tags:  Nationals, Ryan Korby  
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Most of the fall seashon, he will be sitting next to Randy Knorr learning the facets of games. Two games a week will not make or break him. That said, I believe he will be good for 6 to 8 HRs and a .285+ BA. Norris and Harper in the same lineup (I hope)!! That will be something.

Sec 204 Row H Seat 7

Posted by: adhardwick | October 14, 2010 10:47 AM | Report abuse

Plenty of people who have gotten close to Harper have commented on a confidence level that borders on arrogance, and he's been labeled a jerk. Of course, he's an 18 year old kid with all the talent in the world, so we can forgive him for that. I'm not sure how you don't end up a jerk if you're in his shoes.

But part of me hopes the AFL can give the kid what nobody else has been able to provide- a big dose of humility.

I hope we see him climb the ranks quickly, and make the bigs soon. But I also hope he grows into the kind of young man that's easy to root for, and not another petulant you-know-what-hole.

Posted by: bryc3 | October 14, 2010 12:48 PM | Report abuse

Yount wasn't the youngest major leaguer ever, Joe Nuxhall was. 15. Factchecker anywhere? Column needs looking at.

Posted by: Nemo24601 | October 14, 2010 12:58 PM | Report abuse

Nemo, you're correct that Yount wasn't the youngest major leaguer ever. I didn't mean for it to sound like that, but I can see how it could be understood that way.

I just wanted to give most people a recognizable name for comparison purposes, and I felt Yount and ARod did the job.

Posted by: rnkorby | October 14, 2010 1:44 PM | Report abuse

@Nemo - Relax. Ryan didn't claim Yount was the youngest ever.

Posted by: nationalsanthems | October 14, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

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