Bryce Harper tends to do things ahead of schedule, so it should surprise no one that he’s already heading to the major leagues.
The 19-year-old outfielder, who was the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 amateur draft, will be recalled by the Washington Nationals from Triple-A Syracuse on Saturday.
Widely regarded as baseball’s top prospect, Harper will meet the Nationals in Los Angeles, where they are playing the Dodgers, and take the roster spot of third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, who is going on the 15-day disabled list with inflammation in his right shoulder.
“Suffice it to say, this isn’t the coming-out party for Bryce that we had in mind,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday on a conference call. “This isn’t the optimal situation developmentally.”
The Nationals also placed reliever Brad Lidge on the 15-day disabled list with an abdominal wall strain, the second of the team’s three potential closers to go on the shelf. Lidge, whose move is retroactive to April 22, had been sharing closer duties with Henry Rodriguez while Drew Storen recovers from elbow surgery.
Washington also recalled right-hander Ryan Perry from Triple-A Syracuse.
Harper skipped his final year of high school, earned his GED, then played one season of junior college baseball at the College of Southern Nevada to become eligible for the draft and get a head-start on his professional career. He signed a five-year, $9.9 million contract, including $6.5 million in signing bonuses, with the Nationals in August 2010.
Rizzo has stated repeatedly that he thinks all young players should spend time at each level of the minors before moving to the big leagues. So while Nationals manager Davey Johnson wanted Rizzo to consider letting Harper skip Triple-A, the team sent him to Syracuse after he hit .286 in spring training this year.
But with their top two hitters – Zimmerman and left fielder Michael Morse, who’s been out all season with a problematic back muscle – sidelined by injuries, the team decided to bring up Harper now. He was hitting .250 with a homer and three RBIs in 72 at-bats at Syracuse.
“We still have a very good and committed developmental plan for Bryce in place. I still believe very passionately in the plan, and am committed to it. But it was expedited by the circumstances,” Rizzo said. “We felt that we needed to bring in an impactful, left-handed bat that could play the corner outfield.”
Rizzo headed to Rochester, N.Y., this week to watch Harper play in three games for Syracuse – and liked what he saw, including how Harper fared in the field.
Harper played primarily catcher in college, but the Nationals immediately shifted him to right field when they drafted him. They also wanted him to play some center field at Syracuse, because that’s a spot where Washington needs help.
“He’s swinging the bat extremely well right now, and looked comfortable in left field,” Rizzo said.
Asked whether Harper would start for Washington on Saturday, Rizzo wouldn’t answer directly, saying that’s a question for Johnson.
But Rizzo did say: “We didn’t bring Bryce up there to sit on the bench. He’s going to get everyday reps and get ample at-bats.”
The GM wouldn’t weigh in on whether Harper necessarily will stay in the majors, even after Zimmerman returns, or is definitely going to go back to the minors.
“This is a very confident person, and we expect him to do well in the major leagues,” Rizzo said. “He’s the type of guy who will handle anything that is thrown at him and will be the better for it.”
The Nationals were an NL-leading 14-5 heading into their game at Dodger Stadium on Friday night. That’s thanks mainly to outstanding starting pitching; the offense has been inconsistent.
Morse, the team’s cleanup hitter, isn’t expected back for weeks. Zimmerman, the No. 3 hitter, could return as soon as May 6, Rizzo said, because his stint on the DL is backdated.
“We don’t think it’s a debilitating injury,” Rizzo said, “but it takes time to heal.”