Top prospect Bryce Harper is officially listed as the starting right fielder in this afternoon’s lineup against the Houston Astros. The game will be the Nationals’ first official game of Spring Training. Harper will be batting seventh, slotted between third baseman Mark Teahen and left fielder Roger Bernadina. The move has long been anticipated, and was made official yesterday afternoon prior to the team’s game against Georgetown, according to Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post.
What does this mean for Harper? Well, though the public will take this as “the Nationals want him on the big league roster on Opening Day,” I’m not so sure that is the case. Tis’ not to say he won’t be on the roster, I’m just saying that his appearance tomorrow is not a reason to justify the belief that he will be, and here’s why.
If you take a look at the rest of the lineup, you’ll see that it contains players such as Teahen, Chad Tracy, and Jason Michaels (filling in for starters Ryan Zimmerman, Adam LaRoche (who has a sprained ankle), and Michael Morse). So this is not a game where Davey Johnson is starting all the players he wants on his Opening Day roster. It’s a game where Johnson is throwing together a mixture of young guys who need experience (Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa will get the nods at their respective positions) and guys who are battling for bench jobs, while letting injured starters recuperate, and healthy starters rest. Trust me, when Ankiel, Tracy, and Michaels are considered worthy of your 3-5 spots, you’re either a) a Spring Training lineup, or b) the Astros. If the Nationals thought Harper would only get a bench job, they’d probably be smart enough to know he’s better off using that time actually playing (as to sitting/pinch hitting) in AAA Syracuse. So to summarize, don’t look to much into this in regards to Harper’s potential spot on the Opening Day roster.
Here’s what you should take out of this. If you didn’t know, top prospects such as Harper, Matt Purke and Anthony Rendon all saw action in yesterday’s exhibition win against the Georgetown Hoyas. Let me ask you something; do you think Purke and Rendon are going to be on the Opening Day roster? Probably not. So why were they playing? Quite simple; the Nationals front office members wanted to see these guys in action. They wanted more face time with their top prospects. They wanted media to read into it like you guys might have, and give the team coverage. Well, the same went for Harper in this lineup move. The Nationals want media (like me) giving the move coverage, analyzing it to the nanometer, and focusing on their team. They want a chance to see Harper themselves; since they don’t get to see prospects play all that often once the season rolls around. But again, they aren’t doing this as an announcement of Harper’s Opening Day roster spot.
So, enjoy the game this afternoon. It’s the kickoff of baseball season. Enjoy Harper’s first stint as a “major leaguer.” Enjoy what will probably be a Harper homer in the third inning. Enjoy seeing Nationals fan favorite Livan Hernandez pitch again (for the other team). But, don’t think this means you’ll be seeing Harper again at the start of the real season.