Harper Struggles At The Plate In Pro Debut

The Nationals top pick in the 2010 draft, Bryce Harper, made his professional debut last week participating in the fall instructional league against other draftees. Harper has shown flashes of his talent but has by-in-large appeared to be out-matched by more experienced older players. As a result, Frankie Piliere of believes that he is not ready for the Arizona Fall League this year:

“As it turns out, even Harper isn’t above the challenges instructional league can present. Harper is no doubt rusty, as he’s just a few games into the fall schedule, but there are clearly adjustments he’s going to have to make. He was given a significant and early test on Saturday, getting to square off against Braves star pitching prospect Julio Teheran.

It was an interesting first look at Harper, and sometimes it can be easy to forget just how young he is. But the message here is to not get ahead ourselves when it comes to him. While he may be an impressive talent, he is not ready for competition like the Arizona Fall League later this year as some have speculated.

That is in no way a slight to his abilities. He is, quite simply, just as vulnerable as any other highly touted teenager taken in the first round. He is not super human. He has flaws and he will have to make adjustments as he advances. In that sense, he is no different than big-time draftees like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who are elite hitting prospects now, but had their holes coming out of high school and were certainly not ready for a league like the AFL straight out of the draft.”

While Piliere has a point that Harper certainly has a lot to learn about hitting professional pitching, this of course is a small sample size and could just be attributed to rust. For the past 13 years of his life Harper has played baseball year-round. This four-and-a-half month period between his last college game and his pro debut could very well have been the longest time he has spent away from baseball since he was a child. So while he may not be hitting the ball as well as he did in junior college last year, we have to keep in mind the learning curve he has demonstrated in the past.

That being said, the Nationals do have to be responsible in their decision making with Harper. There is a lot of pressure to see a return on investment for any first overall pick, much less one who signed a record breaking contract. Nats fans will want to see Harper as soon as possible, so the Nationals front office will have to balance that expectation with doing what is right for the sluggers development. The good news is that general manager Mike Rizzo has never been one to make a political decision over a baseball one, which means that Harper should be in safe hands. Furthermore, the man who probably had the final say in drafting him, Stan Kasten, is no longer with the organization, meaning no one will be trying to push him through the system to save face.

Harper is an unbelievable talent to say the least. He will have to learn how to be a hitter, and not just a batter, and he will have to learn how to play a new position. These things will take time, which means we all will have to have patience. The good news is that while the Arizona Fall League may not be a place for a 18-year-old, Junior College isn’t the place for a 17-year-old either, but that didn’t stop Harper from hitting 31 home runs, 98 RBI, and batting .443/.526/.987 last season…all with a wood bat.