Bryce Harper was hitting just .250/.333/.375 at Triple-A Syracuse. In that sense, calling him up, as Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo just announced his team will do, might seem premature. Harper is only 19 years old, and the extra time to develop probably wouldn’t hurt, but think of the decision in these terms:
The Nationals find themselves leading the National League East, pushed along by a terrific pitching staff despite a weak offense. Their two main problems have been third base and left field, but the former will presumably take care of itself when Ryan Zimmerman’s shoulder heals.
Left field is a more difficult problem. So far this year, Nationals left fielders have hit a paltry .097/.207/.125. Last Sunday night, Mike Ferrin, Kevin Goldstein and I discussed this extensively on the radio show we co-host on MLB Network Radio (Sirius 209/XM 89 on at 11 p.m. ET Sundays).
You can’t go on using players like Xavier Nady out there. Even at his best, X marks the spot for desperation. Aside from Harper, the most likely outfield prospect to be called up was Syracuse’s Tyler Moore, presently hitting .278/.354/.556. Moore has real power, with 31 home runs in each of the last two seasons, but his strike-zone judgment and batting average are weak.
That left the Nats with a few choices: (a) stand pat and let the left fielders drag them back to the division; (b) call up Moore and hope that he could put up a .300 on-base percentage and play workable defense (he’s a transplanted first baseman), neither a sure thing, or (c) see if Harper can put everything together at the major-league level rather than Triple-A.
Put in that context, Harper seems like a no-brainer. Zimmerman isn’t expected to be gone long, so if Harper struggles, the move is easily undone. On the other hand, if he catches fire, the Nationals have advanced his timetable, found the missing motor for their offense and could run away with the division.
And if he’s just average and only hits .250/.333/.375? Well, that’s still better than .097/.207/.125.