Bryce Harper: 10 Things He Needs to Prove to Be in the MLB by the All-Star Break
Harper had hopes of making the majors out of spring training but was given the bad news after a game against the Detroit Tigers in which he struck out four times.
Before making a home in Washington, Harper will need to prove his worth at the Triple-A level.
Playing for Triple-A Syracuse will give him the opportunity to showcase his skills at the final stop before the majors. He will attempt to show the Nationals that he is ready to perform at the next level.
Nationals manger Davey Johnson was hopeful that Harper would make the club out of spring training, saying, "I'm looking at the best fit for this team and he's still a part of that...I certainly don't have my 25 picked," according to The Washington Times.
Although his manager felt there was a chance for Harper, he must ultimately prove himself to general manager Mike Rizzo.
Harper played 109 games in the minor leagues last year, 72 games at Single-A Hagerstown and 37 at Double-A Harrisburg. Harper has yet to play a Triple-A game in his career.
He added played another 25 games in the offseason in the Arizona Fall League. In those 134 games, he hit 23 home runs, 30 doubles and stole 30 bases. Harper is likely to be called up before the All-Star break if he can manufacture the same numbers in Syracuse.
Harper is faced with the task of giving the Nationals organization little or no reason to keep him in the minors very long. Each part of his game that he can improve is one less reason for the team to keep his talent suppressed in the minors.
The most important thing on Harper's checklist of things to prove is his ability to play center field. If he plays solid defense, Harper will force the Nationals to make adjustments and add him to the 25-man roster.
That He Can Play Center Field
The Nationals began converting the former catcher to an outfielder when they drafted him in 2010. Bryce Harper must prove that he is a major league-caliber center fielder before he is called up.
Davey Johnson turned to Harper in center field when Rick Ankiel began battling a hamstring injury during spring training.
In 2011, Harper played primarily left and right field in the minors because his routes seemed more crisp coming from the corners.
The Nationals plan on having Harper play mostly center field in Syracuse. This will allow Jayson Werth to play right field when Harper comes up in the hope of preserving Werth's leg as he gets older.
Harper has to be opportunistic and play a clean, crisp outfield to impress the Nationals.
That His Speed Can Supplement His Power
Bryce Harper has a realistic possibility of being a 30/30 man for Washington.
He has shown stellar speed in his development, stealing a total of 30 bases between Single-A, Double-A and the fall league in 2011. Along with 30 steals, he racked up 30 doubles and 23 home runs.
Harper did not exhibit his speed in the spring but will have an opportunity to run more when he arrives in Syracuse.
A player can be successful by hitting 30 home runs or stealing 30 bases, and Harper can do both if he continues to work hard in the minors.
It's these special players that are mentioned in MVP voting at the end of the season.
It might not be Harper's No. 1 priority, but he has to exhibit every aspect of his game if he wants to steal a spot from someone on the 25-man roster before the summer is over.
Although his minor league numbers are impressive already, Harper will need to continue to build on them, but how will his numbers translate when he faces tougher pitching in Syracuse?
That He Can Hit Off-Speed Pitches
Bryce Harper is going to have to hit changeups, curveballs and sliders if he wants to play at the major league level. The quality of off-speed pitches in Double-A are significantly different than in the majors.
His time in Triple-A will allow him to transition over to major league pitching, hopefully without many struggles.
When the Nationals played the New York Yankees in spring training, New York showed a lot of respect while pitching to him.
In the sixth inning, Phil Hughes started Harper with a curveball to begin the at-bat. Harper would see that same curveball on a 3-2 pitch from Hughes later in the at-bat. He ripped the ball by the first baseman for a booming single.
He is going to be challenged by off-speed pitches, but the key will be showing opposing pitchers that if they throw a curveball in his wheelhouse, he will be ready to make them pay.
A huge part of hitting the off-speed pitches will be his ability to remain patient at the plate.
That He Can Be Patient at the Plate and Reduce Strikeouts
Bryce Harper had an alarming amount of strikeouts in 2011. He struck out 109 times in 134 professional games while walking 70 times.
He has exhibited the ability to be patient at the plate, but he has to put the ball in play and not finish the at-bat with a punchout.
Cutting back on strikeouts will be pivotal in making the trip to D.C. He will have to prove that he is able to not only hit more advanced pitches, but also remain patient in the process.
The Nationals will not call him up if he is producing too many unproductive outs.
If Harper can turn some of his strikeouts into walks while in Syracuse, it will give the Nationals even more of a reason to bring him to the majors.
Before being optioned to Syracuse, Harper struck out 11 times in 28 spring training at-bats, four of them coming in his final game.
That He Can Overcome Nagging Injuries
Bryce Harper has a history of minor injuries that have resulted in him missing time.
He has been forced to miss time after rolling an ankle, bruising his knee, pulling a hamstring—which forced him to miss the final two weeks of the minor league season in 2011—and most recently, calf tightness, that forced him to miss a week of the spring.
The big question is: How much of it was Harper being physically unable to play and how much was the Nationals organization being cautious with their prized prospect?
Harper will have to take his bangs and bruises and keep going while he is in Syracuse. It is going to be impossible for him to get into any kind of streak if he keeps getting shut down with minor injuries.
The Nationals are not going to risk bringing Harper to the big leagues early if they feel he is injury prone.
Injuries are a part of the game, and it is imperative that Harper plays through bruises and soreness. If he is forced to miss time with an injury, he will have to show that he can bounce back from it.
An injury might interrupt a hot streak, but what's important is how a player responds when he comes back to the lineup.
When Harper missed time with calf tightness this spring, he returned to play his first game of the spring in center field. There were no issues with the calf, but Harper could not find his stroke after returning to the lineup, going 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts before being optioned to Triple-A.
Harper will not only have to prove that he is able to play through an injury, but also overcome adversity and carry on.
That He Can Deal with Adversity
How will Bryce Harper handle himself when he is in the midst of a slump in the majors?
We will find out during his time in the minors, as it is hard to imagine that Harper will not have a hitless streak at any time in Syracuse.
If he doesn't, he will be called up fairly quick, but if he does, then it will allow for him to prove to Washington that he can keep is head up and remain focused on snapping out of it.
Harper has taken the opportunities that he has had to prove that he is capable of dealing with adversity. Although he has not had a long dry spell, we saw a bit of his resolve in spring training.
After starting the day 0-for-4 with four strikeouts against the Detroit Tigers in spring training, he remained focused and produced in his final at-bat. Harper hit a booming double to end his day.
Harper could have packed it in and hung his head in what was easily his worst game of the spring. Instead, he remained focused and was able to come out of the day with a positive.
It was not an 0-for-20 stretch, but it should still give the Nationals a look at his ability to put negatives behind him and focus on the task at hand.
Harper is attempting to prove that no matter what challenge he is faced with, he has the poise to overcome it without being overwhelmed.
That He Will Not Be Overwhelmed
Bryce Harper did not shy away from the media when he found out that he was optioned to Triple-A.
The Washington Post reported that after learning of the news, Harper came out of the shower to a clubhouse full of reporters. The media took a step back before Harper reportedly told them, "We can do this now, guys."
Whether Harper begins the season in Syracuse 20-for-45 or 3-for-45, he will be questioned about his game and when he believes he should be in the majors.
How he handles himself will prove his maturity to the Nationals.
Harper has already shown that he has the ability to remain poised and not become overwhelmed while faced with high expectations.
After all, he has only known one thing in his baseball career: being the center of attention.
When he was 16 years old, he was featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated with the title "Baseball's Chosen One."
When he was 17, he played for the College of Southern Nevada in a league that used wood bats. He went on to hit 31 home runs in only 66 games, while knocking in 98 runs and hitting .443.
So far, he has handled the pressure with relative ease. He has faced minor bumps in the road, but nothing has derailed him.
He has the opportunity to show the Nationals that he might only be 19 but has the mindset of a 10-year veteran.
That He Can Hit with Power Against Tough Pitchers
Bryce Harper finished his spring training going 8-for-28. His first six hits were singles and his last two were doubles.
He is capable of getting extra-base hits, but he could not show it consistently in the spring.
If Harper wants to prove he is MLB worthy, then he has to impress the Nationals and the fans. There is still a faction of fans who feel he is not going to be ready in 2012.
When he begins to launch home runs at a steady clip, those same fans will begin to change their minds.
Singles are not impressive, even if they yield productive results.
When the odds are against a player, he has to respond with something that will be talked about. A few home runs will create a buzz and show the Nationals that he is worthy and ready to take the next step.
A steady dose of singles will do nothing more than prove to Washington that he needs more time in Triple-A before being called up. If he makes the minors look like a constant home run derby, then it won't be long before Harper is in D.C.
The time is now for Harper to begin hitting with power.
That He Is More Deserving Than His Competition
Bryce Harper has to play every game in Syracuse as hard as he would play in Washington.
There is no reason to believe he wouldn't.
He has proved that he has a great work ethic and determination to be the best player on the field at all times. The key is proving to the Nationals that his effort is worthy of the major leagues in 2012.
Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina will likely be filling in for the Nationals in the outfield before Harper is called up. If those guys are producing, Harper will have to continue to grow and give the organization a reason for them to free up a roster spot for him.
In a game on March 5 during spring training this year, the Nationals were trailing 9-1. Harper hustled to turn an everyday ground ball into an infield single. This kind of determination will show Mike Rizzo and the rest of the Nationals that Harper belongs with the big club.
Even if he has to wait a little longer than expected for the call, Harper will continue to learn and find every opportunity to impress.
That He Has Improved His Skills by June
If the Nationals can be at least a .500 team by the time Bryce Harper comes up, he could help lead them toward a playoff run.
Harper has to prove that he has all the skills needed to succeed by June in the major leagues.
The Nationals have all but decided that sacrificing a few months is more important than losing a year of Harper's contract rights.
To avoid becoming a Super Two player, Washington would have to call up Harper sometime after the Super Two deadline, which would likely be in June. If he is a Super Two player, the Nationals would lose a year of rights on Harper.
Avoiding this will allow the Nationals to keep Harper through his 25-year-old season.
With the addition of another wild-card spot, more teams will have the opportunity to remain hopeful in September.
It emphasizes the importance of every game, and the sooner that Harper is called up, the sooner the Nationals will be more legitimate playoff contenders.
Harper will prove to be an asset to the Nationals because he will supply them with another left-handed bat, which they need.
Harper is determined to prove that he should have been one of the 25 men to make the Opening Day roster. If he continues to improve, he should be in the MLB by the All-Star break, resulting in more than half of a year with the Nationals.
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