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Parasiliti: Harper steps closer to his final destination

July 04, 2011
  • Bob Parasiliti
Bob Parasiliti

Bryce Harper showed the Washington Nationals it was finally time to go.

Since Washington’s top prospect arrived in Hagerstown, it was a matter of “when” — as opposed to “if” — he would move on to bigger things. The “when” came Sunday night after the Suns’ 8-2 victory over Lexington.

Harper was promoted, leaving the low Single-A Suns for Double-A Harrisburg, and started for the Senators in Monday’s game against Erie. It is the next step to his destination in right field at Nationals Park in Washington in the not-so-distant future.

On Sunday, the 18-year-old phenom turned Nationals manager Davey Johnson’s preseason statement into prophecy.

“The organization isn’t going to push him,” said Johnson in April while in the capacity of Nationals’ senior adviser. “His performance is what is going to get him promoted.”

Harper’s time in Hagerstown was a statistical roller coaster ride, but minor league officials don’t always use those numbers to make decisions. Talent often wins out over fractions and percentages on a stat sheet, along with the challenge needed to improve.

“One of the biggest sins you can make is putting guys into position where they’re going to fail early,” Nationals’ director of player development Doug Harris said recently to the Associated Press. “We’re really committed, but want to lay the blocks before we try to put in some chandeliers and some granite countertops. We want to make sure we’ve built a good foundation, not only on the field but in the clubhouse.”

Harper enjoyed two major hot streaks while playing in Hagerstown, the first starting on April 20 after admitting he was refitted with contact lenses. Those surges led to his .318 batting average with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs in the 72 games he played as a Sun. He also collected 44 walks, 66 strikeouts and stole 19 bases in 24 attempts.

The Suns were 47-34 with Harper.

The No. 1 overall draft selection in 2010 finished his stay in Hagerstown by going 2-for-4 with an RBI and two strikeouts on Sunday. He left the game in the eighth inning for precautionary measures after he fouled a ball off his right leg before striking out.

Harper was in a funk for three weeks, mainly because of a bruised thumb which caused him to miss seven games. Sunday’s RBI was his first since June 15 and he hasn’t homered since June 6, the night of the now infamous “kiss” incident with Greensboro pitcher Zach Neal.

Aside from the numbers, Harper displayed the natural talents, eliminating all shock from the promotion.

Upon entering Municipal Stadium, Harper showed he was a man-child among boys. He had superior bat speed and instincts for the game to go with a strong throwing arm. Those talents made him an easy selection for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game and this weekend’s Futures Game in Phoenix, a showcase featuring baseball’s brightest talents that kicks off Major League Baseball’s All-Star celebration.

But what Harper owned in talent, he lacked in discipline and understanding that are hallmarks of professional baseball. He exhibited some immature decisions with throws, base running, emotions and in baseball etiquette, proving that he needed to play in Hagerstown in the first place.

In the end, the talent won out over seasoning. He played in just over half a season with the Suns, making the promotion not only well timed, but well choreographed.

 “He has an old-time zeal for the game. … It allows him to set his goals as high as he wants,” Johnson said in April. “He has all the promise to reach the big leagues by the time he’s 19.”

The move to Harrisburg, bypassing a more traditional stop in high Single-A Potomac, keeps Harper on his accelerated path to the majors.

Throughout his career in baseball, Harper has played with and against older and more experienced players with uncanny success. He tries again with the Senators as an 18-year-old matching talents with players four to six years older, many with at least three years of professional experience.

Barring injury, Harper’s roadmap has him on target to be playing in a Nationals uniform sometime past the midpoint of the 2012 season.

“The worst thing you can do is rush the kid,” Suns manager Brian Daubach said in April. “You want him to learn everything so that once he gets to Washington, he will be there to stay.”

And if Bryce Harper stays the course, his talents will let the Nationals know when that time will be … and it will probably be sooner, not later.

Bob Parasiliti is a staff writer for The Herald-Mail. He can be reached at 301-791-7358 or by email at bobp@herald-mail.com

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