It’s no secret that Nationals manager Davey Johnson would like top prospect Bryce Harper to make the team out of spring training as the starting right fielder. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has played things pretty coy until now, but his comments to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com yesterday indicate that he hasn’t dismissed the possibility.
“We’re take a look at him and see where he’s at developmentally. If we feel he’s ready to play at the major-league level, we’re not going to restrict him,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said by phone. “We’ll be cautious yet open-minded. If he gives us the best chance to win, we’ll keep an open mind and see where it takes us.”
This idea continues to gain momentum, but unless Harper absolutely tears the cover off the ball during spring training and gives the Nationals no other choice, I still see it as unlikely. Harper batted .256/.329/.395 with a .724 OPS over 147 plate appearances after being promoted to Double-A Harrisburg last season and while that’s pretty darn impressive for an 18-year-old, some more at-bats in the minor leagues might not be the worst thing for his development.
Of course, the most significant reason to keep Harper in the minors to begin the year would be to delay his service time so that he doesn’t qualify as a Super Two player down the road. With that in mind, chances are we’ll see him when some of the game’s other top prospects make their way to the majors in late-May or June.
All spring training there was at least some mild confusion about Nationals first baseman Ryan Zimmerman. He played in almost no regular big league spring training games, instead, staying on the back fields, playing in simulated and minor league contests. When that usually happens, it’s because a player is rehabbing or even hiding an injury, but the Nats insisted that was not the case with Zimmerman. Not everyone believed it. I, for one, was skeptical.
The skepticism was unwarranted, as Zimmerman answered the bell for Opening Day and has played all season. As Jared Diamond of the Wall Street Journal writes today, it was all by design. He skipped spring training because he doesn’t like it and because he thinks it’ll help him avoid late-season injuries and slowdowns, the likes of which he has suffered over the years.
It’s hard to really judge this now, of course. On the one hand Zimmerman has started really slow this season. What’s more, he has started to show signs of warming up only in the past week, after getting almost as many big league, full-speed plate appearances under his belt as a normal spring training would’ve given him. On the other hand, April is his worst month across his entire 14-year career, so one slow April doesn’t really prove anything and, again, Zimmerman and the Nats will consider this a success if he’s healthy and productive in August and September.
It is sort of a missed opportunity, though. Players hate spring training. They really do. if Zimmerman had made a big deal out of skipping it and came out raking this month, I bet a lot more teams would be amenable to letting a veteran or three take it much more easy next spring. Good ideas can be good ideas even if they don’t produce immediately obvious results, but baseball tends to encourage a copycat culture only when someone can point to a stat line or to standings as justification.
Way to ruin it for everyone, Ryan. 😉