Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, and one of the most hyped prospects of all time was reassigned earlier today to the Washington Nationals minor league spring training camp.
After drafting Harper with the first overall pick, the Nationals signed him to a five-year, $9.9 million major league contract which includes guaranteed invites to spring training. Harper was impressive in his first appearance, batting .389 with five RBIs.
The Nationals decision to demote him now was made to give him experience playing and starting every day rather than entering games off the bench.
According to two major league sources, Harper did not take the news of his demotion well, attempting to convince manager Jim Riggleman and general manager Mike Rizzo that he would benefit more from remaining in the major league camp and learning from the Nationals' veterans and hitting coach Rick Eckstein. The Nationals front office disagreed and wants him to get regular at-bats to help further his development.
"We think Bryce needs to go to the Minor Leagues, get four or five at-bats per game and prepare himself for the season—that's the reason we got him out," Rizzo said. "He was getting one or two at-bats per game, playing in spurts. He needs to be prepared for the season, get plenty of at-bats and get reps in the outfield."
Harper has vowed to make it to the Majors this season, and if his spring performance was any indication of the work ethic he will have in the Minors, he probably stands a pretty good chance.
"I have to go down there and get a couple of more at-bats per day," Harper said. "That will be good for me. It was a great experience here. I couldn't ask for anything better. I loved every minute of it. Hopefully, I'll be back soon."
"Nobody likes to leave the big league club. This is the life that you want to live every day. It's just the process. I'll just go down to the Minor League club. I'm going to bust my butt. I'm going to play hard, like I always do," added Harper.
The Nationals have asked him to work on his baserunning, defense and throwing accuracy while he plays for their Minor League affiliate.
In his limited playing time this spring in the Major League camp, Harper impressed fans as well as his future Washington teammates. Jerry Hairston, Jr. was among the Nationals' veterans that was impressed with what he saw from Harper in his first spring training camp.
"I loved the way he carried himself," Hairston said. "He is a confident kid, but he is not over the top. While he was here, he was humble. He is a guy that soaks up what veterans tell him. He is eager to learn, and that is going to bode well for him.
"He is learning to be a right fielder. He is going to be in the big leagues quicker than people think. He has that type of talent. He really needs to get four or five at-bats per game and concentrate on getting better. He did a great job for his first big league camp. He is only 18, but he should really be coming out of high school. I can't think of another 18-year-old who could have done it."
Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman is another Washington veteran who was impressed with Harper this spring.
"He is miles ahead of any 18-year-old kid as far as handling everything, baseball-wise. I don't think it's going to take him too long to get up to the big leagues," says Zimmerman.
"He is a lot bigger and more athletic than people think," Zimmerman said. "I didn't know he was as big as he is. He is only going to get bigger. He is young and still growing. He lives baseball and he is very intelligent. He knows the game. He is far ahead mentally."
Jayson Werth may have best summed up Bryce Harper and the need to send him to the Minor Leagues though.
"I'm overall impressed. He is way ahead of anybody I've seen—not just his size, but his togetherness, coordination and the ability to hit with so much power," said Werth.
"The one thing you have to remember is that he is 18 years old. He has never played professionally. He has a lot of talent, he has a really high ceiling, but everybody has to play in the Minor Leagues. The Minor Leagues builds professionalism, gives everybody a chance to play every day. When he gets that chance and do that, the next time we see him, he will be a better player."
General manager Mike Rizzo has not ruled out calling up Harper to play in the Majors this season, however it will likely be a September call up if at all. Harper plans to make it a very hard decision for the Nationals to leave him in the minors however.
"I'm going to be a leader down there, take everybody on my back and let's roll," Harper said. "That's the guy I am. Hopefully, I'll see you guys back in July."