A fitting analogy for a player's rise from Single A to Double A would be a high school student moving on to college, an analogy that is even more fitting considering this article is about the continuing baseball education of Bryce Harper. At Single A, like in high school, the best and the brightest are not necessarily challenged. Raw talent can get you by, but Double A is an entirely different story. At Double A, the pitchers who could not throw strikes or locate their secondary pitches have been culled away. In college, you are forced to apply your knowledge. The same could be said about baseball at the Double A level.
The city of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania is no stranger to mega prospects. Over the hometown club's 25 year affiliation with the Washington franchise, the state capital has seen future major league stars like Cliff Floyd, Vladimir Guerrero, Milton Bradley, and Stephen Strasburg. This morning, the Senators received their latest, and possibly most hyped prospect ever: Bryce Harper.
Citing poor field conditions at the High A affiliate, Potomac, the Nationals jumped Harper straight to Double A. Whether it was poor field conditions that ultimately led to Harper's promotion, it was evident that it was time for the outfielder to move on to bigger and better things. Harper tore through the Low A level, batting .318 with 14 home runs and 46 runs batted in.
The only concerns were with his base running and fielding. Harper will have plenty of time to work on those parts of his game, but he needs to keep facing better pitching to improve his most important attribute, his bat.
At the Senators game tonight, it was obvious that word had spread that Harper would be making his Double A debut; after all, a record crowd would not show up just to watch fireworks. The parking lot was littered with local news affiliate's vans, and there was a certain, unmistakable buzz that comes with a player who has been hyped as "The Chosen One" since he was 16. Outfielder Johnathan Tucker said it best, when he told a group of autograph seekers, "I'll sign, but my name's not Bryce Harper."
Needless to say, Tucker did not sign many autographs.
Well, Bryce Harper did not disappoint. Starting in left field, and batting sixth, Harper did pretty much everything right, even signing autographs before the game. He singled twice in three official at bats, while also drawing a walk. Watching Harper swing the bat, it was obvious that he has been given an amazing gift.
Sure, you watch him launch home runs in YouTube clips, but until you witness Harper's swing in person, you are missing out. Harper's swing is vicious and quick through the zone, and both of his singles were scalded line drives.
Two plays, however, stood out tonight, and showed that Bryce Harper was indeed born to play the game of baseball. They both occurred in the fifth inning. Harper led off the inning with a single, but it was the way that he adjusted to the pitch, an inside fastball, that showed just how much potential the kid has. Harper moved up on his back foot and was able to get the sweet spot of the bat on the ball. Once on base, he took off on a hit and run. The ball was grounded to third base. With no chance to get Harper at second, the out was recorded at first. No one covered third, and Harper kept right on going, beating a late throw across the diamond.
Both of these plays cannot be taught. A player simply has to do them on their own. Not all players react this way instinctively. Bryce Harper is a special breed of player that has this ability.
The Nationals have been praised for the way they have brought Harper along slowly, and they have done so for good reason. He is still a kid, no matter how well he hits the ball. The game of baseball is completely different from a game like basketball or soccer where the best players can star at the professional level right out of high school. There are too many intricacies in the game of baseball for an 18 year old to play with men.
Harper still has not faced major league level pitching and is learning a new position. He can be reckless on the bases at times, no doubt a holdover from his days spent dominating lesser competition, and has showed a cocky streak that will not fly in the majors. A modicum of cockiness is required to be a major league star, but blowing kisses at pitchers and sporting war paint eye black will not be tolerated by the likes of Davey Johnson.
But, take a step back and remember that this kid is only 18 years old. He could be playing Legion ball right now. Instead he is the best hitting prospect this side of Mickey Mantle.
Harper will no doubt face his fair share of difficulties as he faces Double A pitching for the first time, but tonight he impressed. Look for Harper to spend the rest of the season in Harrisburg. This is great news for the city of Harrisburg, and any baseball fans in the surrounding area. If you live within driving distance of the city, you have no excuse not to make the trip to see one of the most exciting players in the game.