Bryce Harper’s Season Comes To An End, What Can We Make Of His First Season As A Pro?

The Washington Nationals 2010 first overall pick Bryce Harper will miss the short remainder of the 2011 minor league season as he continues to recover from a strained hamstring, reports Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post.

“Harper, 18, played his last game this year Aug .18, when he strained his hamstring trying to run from first base to third on a base hit. He had to be helped off the field and the next day was placed on the 7-day disabled list. Harper hoped to return for the postseason and the Nationals viewed him as day-to-day, but Harper will not be able to play.”

With this news, Harper’s first season as a professional baseball player comes to a close. The 19-year-old finishes with a batting line of .297/.392/.501 with 17 home runs, 26 steals, and 58 home runs in 109 games in between Single-A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg. While his performance in the former was much more memorable than his performance in the latter, the former to draft pick excelled at advanced levels for a teenager in his first experience outside of college baseball.

The major discrepancy between Harper’s stats in Hagerstown (.318/.423/.554, 14 home runs) and Harrisburg (.256/.329/.395 with 3 HR), and the anti-climactic end to his season leaves an odd taste in Nationals fans’ mouths. It is difficult to know what to make of this first season, one that had such ridiculously high highs, and some bazar lows.

Harper’s explosive opening to the season captured all of baseball’s attention. The 18-year-old was absolutely dominating low Single-A pitching, sporting a batting average hovering around .400 while mashing balls out of the park left and right.. With just a month under his belt at Hagerstown, many were already calling for a promotion and even predicting a late season call-up. However as the season went by Harper’s pace in Single-A slowed to a more reasonable, all-be-it still impressive pace.

In July, Harper skipped Potomac and was promoted to Double-A to play for he Harrisburg Senators. While some were cautious over his statistical slowdown in the month of June, many overlooked it, suggesting that he wasn’t actually struggling, but that the all talented Harper had simply become bored in lowly Single-A.

Unfortunately for Harper, his production never picked up in Hagerstown when a new challenge was presented to him. This was a new thing for Harper. At each level he has ever played, whether it be high school, college, or even minor league ball, Harper had elevated his game to match the next level. In Harrisburg though we saw him struggle for 37 games before he finally was injured, and it leaves a lot of us scratching our heads.

What went wrong? Did pitchers figure him out? Had he lost interest? Was he battling secret injuries? Did he finally hit a rookie-wall after playing over 100 games for the first time in his young career? Is there something providing a mental block?

The most frustrating thing about the situation is that with his season coming to a premature close, we wont be able to figure out those answers for some time. Likely not until next season. The only thing we know now for sure is this; Bryce Harper is not invincible.

The good news is that his lackluster July and August will buy him time. Clearly there are parts of his game that need refinement, even if his raw ability is through the roof. The Nats don’t need Harper now and with his struggles in Double-A, no one will expect him to be there right away anyways. Allowing Harper time to develop will help him sharpen skills that he will need as a future franchise player, and as of now, it looks like he’ll get a good chunk of 2012 to do that in the minors.