Electricity abounds as Harper joins Nationals
Wildly talented outfielder among most anticipated prospects ever
During the first week of Spring Training, Davey Johnson's coaches stopped giving him reports on Bryce Harper.
"Was Harper out there?" Johnson finally asked. "Did he take the day off?"
He was told that Harper hadn't taken a day off, that he indeed had done a full day of drills.
"Well?" Johnson asked.
At this point in the story, Johnson pauses and smiles. There would be no more reports on Harper's mechanics or his footwork or bat speed or anything else.
Instead, Johnson's staff boiled their analysis of Harper down to its simplest terms.
"They like him," he said.
They also knew that Bryce Harper wasn't going to open the season in the Major Leagues, and that by sending him back to the Minors for a few more weeks, the Nationals could delay his free agency by a year.
Forget those numbers at Triple-A. Harper was hitting just .250 even after getting semi-hot in the last week.
Forget that he has played just 129 Minor League games in two years, that he's only 19 years old, that there's really no way to know how he'll do if, as expected, he makes his Major League debut for the Nats at Dodger Stadium on Saturday.
Harper is the kind of prospect that comes along maybe once a generation. Bo Jackson? Yeah, that's a good comparison.
Scouts of Jackson's era said they'd never seen another one like him, either. Another generation of scouts probably said the same thing about Willie Mays and Mickey Mantle. Neither wasted much time in the minor leagues.
Darryl Strawberry made his Major League debut at 21. He played 16 games at Triple-A and hit 26 home runs in 122 games that first season with the Mets.
This isn't to say Harper is guaranteed to make it. It's only to say that when scouts discuss bat speed and strength and raw baseball talent, there has been very few prospects who thrill them the way Harper thrills them.
During Spring Training, Harper warned anyone who'd listened that he might struggle some when he got called up.
"I've needed an adjustment period whenever I've gone to a higher league," he said.
Yeah, I didn't buy it when he said it, so never mind.
As for expectations, Harper has dealt with those for most of his life. He was a legend at 15 and has heard "best this" and "greatest that" for as long as he can remember.
Regardless, Harper's time has come. His debut will be one of the electric moments of this season. His games will be events, particularly in Washington.
What should we reasonably expect? That's an easy one.
We should expect this to be a great adventure, a fun ride to whatever Harper's career is going to be.
Harper may very well have some tough times. Mays arrived at 20 and batted .236 his second season. Mantle made his debut at 19 and was sent back to the Minor Leagues for a month at midseason.
Young players do not come with guarantees, and there's no way of knowing how prepared Harper is in terms of emotions and maturity.
He's going to see better pitching than he has ever seen before. He's going to deal with defensive shifts designed to take away his strengths and scouting reporters that detail every weakness.
This debut is a beginning for Harper. But it's as anticipated a beginning as we've had since his new teammate, Stephen Strasburg, arrived on the scene two years ago.
Together, they appear to be on their way to transforming Major League Baseball in D.C. Thanks to the National League's best starting rotation, the Nationals are off to a 14-5 start despite an offense that has fewer home runs than every NL club except the Cubs.
With their biggest offensive star, third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, on the disabled list, the Nats aren't just calling Harper up to sell tickets. They need another presence in the lineup.
Here's hoping this is the start of something great, that Harper's debut will be electric and that there'll be many more electric moments to follow.
Richard Justice is a columnist for MLB.com. Read his blog, Justice4U. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.