Bryce Harper Optioned To Triple-A

The Washington Nationals optioned top prospect Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday afternoon, ending the discussion of whether or not the 19-year-old phenom would begin the season in the major leagues or back down in the minors.

Harper lost some time due to a calf injury this spring. Although the injury was deemed nothing serious, it appears that it may have affected his performance. After all, he has only gone 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts at the plate since returning to the lineup. Everything needed to go perfectly this spring for Harper to break camp with the Nationals’ big league club. Both the injury and plate discipline issues made the decision to option him to Triple-A for more seasoning extremely easy.

In Triple-A, the Nationals will reportedly attempt to groom Harper in center field. With Mike Morse entrenched in left field and Jayson Werth in right field for the foreseeable future, squeezing Harper into center field is a natural fit for the organization. Most scouting reports believe he possesses the natural athleticism to survive in center — though a corner outfield position will still be his eventual home — and his bat profiles as plus-plus in center, as well.

The time frame for a potential big league call up for Harper remains unclear. If he dominates Triple-A pitching as he did in the Arizona Fall League — where he hit .333/.400/.634 with six home runs — his time with the Syracuse Chiefs will be relatively short-lived.

Keeping the seat warm in the big leagues will be 27-year-old Roger Bernadina. Last season, Bernadina hit .243/.301/.362 and was worth +0.8 wins in 337 plate appearances. ZiPS projects approximately the same output in 2012, which follows historical precedent as the young man has not been worth a single win in any season throughout his career. He also plays poor defense in center field, too, which makes his lack of bat a bit more concerning.

Of course, Rick Ankiel could also see some time in center field. His bat leaves quite a bit to be desired, as well. He only hit .239/.296/.363 last season with the Nationals. Defensively, though, he does play a much better center field (+6.9 UZR in CF in 2011) than does Bernandina (-5.2 UZR). That significant upgrade could net Ankiel more playing time than currently projected at this point in the spring.

Whether Bernadina or Ankiel plays the majority of innings in center field for the Nationals this season, though, they will merely serve as a placeholder for Harper. The organization is perhaps only a few months away from trotting out a big league lineup with both of their hyped young players, Stephen Strasburg and Bryce Harper. The future of the organization is almost now.

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J.P. Breen is a graduate student at the University of Chicago. For analysis on the Brewers and fantasy baseball, you can follow him on Twitter (@JP_Breen).

34 Responses to “Bryce Harper Optioned To Triple-A”

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  1. VJO says:

    If Nats mishandle this and bring him up too early, I wouldn’t be surprised if he turns into a Travis Snider.

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    • Anton Sirius says:

      In much the same way that Strasburg was rushed and turned into another Tyler Chatwood, I’m sure.

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    • I am just going to pretend that VJO is being sarcastic.

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      • JDanger says:

        Little known fact: Travis Snyder was actually the first “Best Prospect Ever”, Harper the second.

        And long before Gary Cherone, there was David Lee Roth.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      So bringing up Harper too soon would make him slower, have a weaker arm, have less range, hit with less power, and make less contact?

      I say just bring the guy up and get his “growing pains” season over with so that when you need him to be “Bryce harper” he’s already went through the newness of it all, has fewer distractions, and can just let his talent flow.

      Seriosly, Travis Snider?

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      • Tom says:

        This made me laugh harder than it probably should have.

        I also like how Snyder getting called up early is assumed to be the issue in the original comment. Apparently his performance can be attributed to “mishandling”.

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    • Shane says:

      Travis Snyder? For real? Maybe I missed it but I do not recall Travis Snyder on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year old. I also don’t recall hearing about Snyder hitting 500 foot bombs and throwing 96 mph at 23 years old let alone at age 16.

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  2. Resolution says:


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  3. AL Eastbound says:

    Can’t wait to see what he can do with 600 MLB PAs.

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  4. Preston says:

    If he was any other prospect the move to AAA would be considered agressive after only a short and somewhat unsuccessful AA stint. Going straight to the majors would have been a huge jump.

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      Going straight to the majors would have been a huge jump.

      That goes without saying.

      However, there have been other prospects play 1 MiLB season and then jump to the majors (Griffy Jr, Pujols, etc).

      Harper was viewed to be “one of those guys”.

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      • Nats Fan says:

        Griffey’s worst season was one of his worst statistically. I think for most of these guys it was the same thing. I would rather get Harper’s age 27 season than his age 19 season.

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      • Will says:

        Griffey spent parts of two seasons in the minors before he was promoted to the majors.

        Pujols was 21 when he started the season with the Cardinals.

        Both played just over 130 games before being promoted.

        Bryce Harper is still only 19. And will hit the 130 game mark sometime in May. It’s still too early to eliminate Harper from the “one of those guys” group.

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      • CircleChange11 says:

        I’m not eliminating Harper as being of “those guys”, he’s still “one of those guys”.

        My thinking goes ….

        1. The Nats will compete and he needs to experiecne some intense MLB games.
        2. SS is on a 160 IP limit. You might as well combine that with BH’s first run through the majors.
        3. Then in 2013, you have SS back to full strength and BH already with his feet wet.
        4. Harper is already probably as good as Colby Rasmus. If you had Rasmus on your team would you start him or send him to AAA?

        I would rather get Harper’s age 27 season than his age 19 season.

        If Harper existed in a vaccum that’s how I would think.

        But, in Harper’s age 27 season where are Strasburg, J. Zimmerman, Werth, etc?

        The Nats are playing to win in 2012 (maybe), 2013, 2014. They have a few guys that are high injury risks, and the future is not guaranteed.

        My preference is to play Harper at the level you feel he is going to play for his career. I see him as a MLB starter, so he might as well just get used to it. He’ll still have to adjust to MLB from AA anyway. Killing AAA hasn;t really helped the confidence of some other really talented young guys (like say Brandon Wood).

        Let him get his expereince playing MLB centerfield in MLB stadiums against MLB pitchers, and let him adapt. Let him work with MLB coaches and follow around MLB players.

        What you are really looking at in 2012, is Harper to go through his growing pains, SS to return to health/strength, along with Zimmerman and be in a really strong position in 2013 … but before Werth starts to age significantly.

        But really Harper’s age 27 is so far off in the future that it shouldn;t be a priority.

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    • baty says:

      Yeah, they say that the AA to MLB jump isn’t always as significant as it appears to be. AAA is used more as a primer. You tend to see prospects spending more time in AA with a shorter stint in AAA before getting promoted.

      I’m surprised they didn’t just send him back to AA for at least a short stint to be certain. You usually see more of your younger, promising prospects there anyway. If for some reason he struggles in AAA to start (especially if the injury lingers), they risk having to demote him which seems ridiculous.

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  5. mockcarr says:

    This saves face for everyone. Harper has been promoted, and they still get the extra year of control. This center field stuff seems pretty temporary, and a way to get him more chances in the outfield for good or ill where it doesn’t matter so much. Werth is probably still capable of playing center better than Harper, but that’s not a long term sort of ideal in any case, and as the Nats haven’t anyone better than DeRosa to put in right if Werth plays center, you’ll likely see Ankiel try to be better than a replacement-level hitter out there until either Harper is ready, or the corner depth on the roster changes.

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    • gonfalon says:

      service time was an issue, but maybe not in the way you might think. as of yesterday any injury on the major league team means a player goes on the major league DL, which would also start Harper’s service time clock.

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  6. jpg says:

    This the right move, espescially if he develops into a “once in a generation” type player he’s projected to become. With Boras as his agent I doubt he’s going to sign a team friendly deal. So he’ll probably go year to year through the arbitration process and probably try to get a 10+ year Mega deal. The worst thing the Nats
    . dodo is waste two years of service time on a 1 WAR Harper as opposedV

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    • CircleChange11 says:

      They want Harper, Strasburg, RZim, JZIM, Werth, and Morse to play as many seasons together as possible, right?

      2012 would count as one of those seasons.

      Yes, Harper at 27 will be better than he is at 19. But, it’s the rest of the team that won;t be the same then. Right now they are pitching talent heavy. That probably won’t be the case when Harper is 27.

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  7. Baty says:

    You don’t see many 18 year old catchers in the majors playing CF by 19

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    • Nats Fan says:

      actually tons of guys were college catchers and moved to other positions. Some get a little time at catcher first like Craig Biggio, but not many.

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      • baty says:

        not to premium defensive positions after barely receiving a look. I’m sure there are lots of athletic players out there who should be capable of playing a premium defensive position, but it takes a little time. That’s a lot on his plate, and I think he’d benefit from Washington slowing things down a bit.

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      • Phrozen says:

        Jayson Werth came up as a catcher, and was drafted as a CF.

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  8. jpg says:

    Yikes. Meant to say a 19 yr old Harper who will probably be worth 1 WAR. A 26 yr old Harper might be a 7 WAR player that you’ll have to pay $25 million as a free agent. I’d make force my hand by destroying AAA pitching if I was Rizzo

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  9. astrostl says:

    “Defensively, though, he does play a much better center field (+6.9 UZR in CF in 2011) than does Bernandina (-5.2 UZR).”

    Why not use more than a year’s worth of defensive data?

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    • Will says:

      Doesn’t really make any difference which way you look at it.

      Over their careers:
      Bernadina: -8.4 UZR (-16.5 UZR/150)
      Ankiel: -4.1 UZR (-2.2 UZR/150)

      Last 3 years:
      Bernadina: -14.9 UZR/150
      Ankiel: 2.1 UZR/150

      In each scenario, Ankiel is about +10 on Bernadina.

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  10. TX Ball Scout says:

    “his bat profiles as plus-plus in center”


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  11. CircleChange11 says:

    Harper, according to Zips, projects to be a league average CF … even though Dan admits that the Zips projection for his bat is probably low.

    So, if you view Harper as a league average bat, with league average CF … then that’s a valuable CF.

    For example, Jon Jay is a league average bat and league average fielder … he was worth 2.8 WAR last year.

    Is a team looking to be competitive really going to leave such a player in AAA? Even when he’s the better option in CF?

    If Wash was a cash-strapped team, then you probably do keep him down to stave off service team. They aren’t.

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