Not if, but when?
That's the question being asked by all Washington Nationals fans.
The question doesn't need to be spelled out; Washington fans know exactly what it means. After drafting 17-year-old phenom Bryce Harper last year with the No. 1 selection, it's never been a question if he'd make it to the big leagues.
Doug Harris, the Washington Nationals Director of Player Development, says the team has a plan for Harper's development. The Nationals had the luxury of experiencing a similar situation with Stephen Strasburg. The difference, however? Strasburg had excelled in college and in international competition. He wasn't a kid who skipped two years of high school and played in junior college to get drafted early. Hype surrounding Strasburg was nothing compared to Harper.
He tore it up in high school. He hit a 502-foot home run at Tropicana Field and was head and shoulders above his teammates in junior college. After being drafted, Harper had an impressive pro debut in Instructional League, hitting .319, and in the Arizona Fall League, hitting .343 in limited action. He's ahead of the curve at every level.
Harris says that Harper will most likely start 2011 in Hagerstown, the Nats' Low-A affiliate. If he performs way he has everywhere else, moving up wouldn't be beyond the realm of expectation. If that happens, there's going to be a groundswell to see him in Washington when the rosters expand in September. It wouldn't hurt as an attendance booster, either.
When might we see Harper in the big leagues for good? I would guess 2013 at the earliest, but I'd put nothing past this young man.
He's the most hyped prospect in years. Will he fulfill his Hall of Fame tools, or will he become another Gregg Jefferies, who had a respectable career but never fulfilled his promise?
Baseball makes us feel young, and it makes us feel old. Our dads watched Willie and Hank come up and retire. We saw it with Griffey. Now we get to start again with Bryce Harper.