One of the biggest debates for the Nationals in Spring Training this year is officially over. Bryce Harper has been optioned to AAA to start the season, and will not be on the Opening Day roster as many had hoped. Harper finished the spring hitting .285, but was hitting .455 after 4 games before getting injured (minor calf strain) early in the spring. His peripheral stats are similarly unimpressive, as he struck out 11 times, but walked and hit only 10 times combined. Bryce’s demotion does not come as an incredible surprise, as most suspected it would happen unless Harper absolutely destroyed all the pitching he faced, which simply was not the case.
Despite the demotion to AAA, Amanda Comak of the Washington Times reports that Davey Johnson still expects Harper to play a good amount in the majors this year. Most notably, Comak and The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore report that Harper will play mostly center field in AAA, and that the Nats expect him to play center field when he comes to the majors this year. This comes as a stunning reversal from the team’s previous stance, where GM Mike Rizzo searched tirelessly for a long-term CF solution. As of right now, it appears the team saw enough in Bryce’s fielding in Spring Training that they trust him to adapt to that position for now. It remains to be seen whether the team expects Bryce to stay there long-term, or if they simply want him to play there until next year, when Morse can move back to first base and whatever new FA acquisition will move in to play CF. Regardless, this announcement is quite a surprise, and certainly changes what the Nationals plan to do in the outfield for the 2012 season.