When the Washington Nationals take the field in Los Angeles later tonight (9:00 PM EST) to face the Dodgers, there will be a new face in left field as Bryce Harper will be making his much-anticipated MLB Debut. In convenient fashion, Stephen Strasburg is scheduled to start for the Nationals, meaning the back-to-back #1 overall picks from the 2009 and 2010 MLB Drafts will be in the same lineup for the first time together.
Harper’s debut alone is enough to breed excitement for any Nationals fan, regardless of the fact that Starburg is pitching as well. MLB Network will reportedly air the game live nationwide, which will hopefully allow me to catch the game (living outside of Boston, and not having access to MASN, keeps me from watching most games live).
Harper’s the consensus top prospect in the organization and a key piece of this team’s future. We just never expected him to arrive quite so soon. It would seem even the Nationals weren’t expecting to make this decision so soon. But plans change. The Nationals have been impressive of the season’s first few weeks, and in my absence here at DoD for the past three. The pitching staff has been stellar, and the rotation has carried this team to the top of the NL East. But the offense has been abysmal as a whole. Production from center field, left field, and second base has been non-existent. With mounting injuries, the team needs a spark from somewhere.
But I’m not certain Harper is necessarily the right spark, at least right now. And I’m not alone in that line of thinking, as ESPN.com’s Keith Law writes (Insider Req’d):
Harper has hit a combined .254/.330/.388, including a .174/.216/.275 line against lefties, across two levels above Low-A (he also record 4 walks and 19 strikeouts against left-handed pitching in Double-A and Triple-A), and while his performance against right-handers at those levels is more than adequate for a player who’s as old as your typical college freshman, it doesn’t give us any reason to expect immediate success in the majors.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m excited for his arrival and am anxious to see what Harper is capable of doing with regular at bats against Major League pitching. We just need to remember to be patient because there are going to be some bumps in the road as he continues to develop. Harper will have his moments where he’ll shock and amaze us over the coming weeks. If we’re lucky we’ll get one or two of those moments tonight. Let him get the kinks out now and he’ll only get more comfortable as the lineup strengthens around him once some of the team’s players begin returning from injury.