With the addition of another playoff spot, the Washington Nationals have a much better chance of making the playoffs in 2012. They are a team that has made a number of improvements this year and a number of their young players have gotten better.
Every win will be an important one as the Nationals will be competing for one of the wild-card spots. A win in April will be just as important as a win in September.
To ensure that the Nationals put themselves in the best position to reach the playoffs this year, they should field the best lineup that they can for every game.
Having Bryce Harper start the year as a starting outfielder for the Nationals gives them the best chance of reaching the playoffs this year.
A stunning performance in the Arizona Fall League turned a number of heads. Harper went .333/.400/.634 with six home runs, 26 RBI and four stolen bases in 93 at-bats.
However, Harper does not believe that he will make the team to start the year. Instead, the team will likely go with Rick Ankiel or Roger Bernadina in center field. Eventually the Nationals will move Jayson Werth over to center field when Harper is ready, but that move should be made now.
Neither Ankiel or Bernadina is better than Harper. RotoChamp predicts that Ankiel will hit .231/.294/.363 with eight home runs and 36 RBI in 354 at-bats. The RotoChamp prediction for Bernadina is .261/.321/.389 with seven home runs, 32 RBI and 17 stolen bases in 305 at-bats.
Harper is predicted to hit .263/.317/.496 with 11 home runs, 38 RBI and eight stolen bases in 259 at-bats. If this is extrapolated out to a season of 550 at-bats, Harper should hit 23 home runs, drive in 81 runners and steal 17 bases.
Even if Harper falls short of the projected numbers, he will be a much better contributor to the Nationals' lineup than Ankiel or Bernadina would be.
Washington has likely recognized this as they gave Harper a start in center field during spring training. They could be trying to get a better read on what position that he can handle in the major leagues.
One of the arguments against having Harper start the year in the majors is the fact that he has maturity issues.
If Harper started the year in the major leagues, these issues would certainly be solved quickly. The veteran players on the Nationals' roster would not let Harper get away with the immaturity and cockiness that he showed in the minor leagues. Having these players help put Harper in his place could have a very positive impact on his development.
Another reason that some are saying that Harper should not start the year in the major leagues is because it would mean that he would become eligible to be a Super Two player.
However, that is not a problem for the Nationals. GM Mike Rizzo has stated that Harper's Super Two status will have no impact on when the team decides to call him up.
Even though Harper missed six games in spring training as a result of a calf injury, he has been able to produce when he has been on the field. Through his first six games this spring, Harper has five hits in 16 at-bats.
The Nationals should look to break camp with the best 25 players they have on their Opening Day roster. That means that Harper should be in the majors to start the year. Having him as a starter gives the Nationals their best chance at contending this year.
While having Harper start the year in the majors may not be the most popular move, it is the right one. However, it is uncertain if the Nationals see it that way.