Washington Nationals top prospect Bryce Harper was sent down to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday after going 1-for-5 with four strikeouts in the spring contest against the Tigers. It finally ended any speculation that he could make the majors on April 5th.
After starting the spring 5-for-11 with a .500 OBP, Harper cooled off a bit, allowing his slash line to drop to .286/.333/.357. Though still impressive, one point of interest from his appearances in Florida was his lack of power, as he failed to hit a homer in 28 at bats. The biggest news from the send down, though, is Harper will primarily play centerfield in Syracuse.
Harper’s move to CF is significant, as it could indicate that the Nationals are happier with Jayson Werth in right field than they are with him in center. It could also mean that the Nats official search for an every day CF is over for the time being. With Chien-Ming Wang’s injury, it was unlikely that the Nats would try to trade LHP John Lannan, and the depth in the Nats minor league system isn’t quite as significant as it once was to come up with a trade not including Lannan.
Harper is often touted as a five-tool player, and his speed, range, and absolutely remarkable arm would certainly be beneficial for the Nats in center. However, the main concern with any center fielder is durability. The grind of roaming center can easily wear on a player over 162 games, even with the occasional day off. The Nats likely believe Harper, still just a teenager, is better equipped to deal with the day-to-day rigors of that position than Werth.
Watching Harper learn yet another new position, remember he was a catcher in college and spent time in both left and right field last season, will be fun as the 2012 season in Syracuse begins. His development there will help determine how quickly he ascends to DC this season, combined with the Super Two date that has financial implications at the end of his contract.