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Bryce Harper’s Time Will Come Soon

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You can’t blame the Washington Nationals for their plans to start Bryce Harper in AAA this year instead of placing him on the opening day roster. He is still younger than most of the players in the NCAA basketball tournament and except for spring training the bulk of his professional experience was in Class A and AA last year.

When you have a valuable piece of property it usually pays to handle with care. Anyway, if Harper tears up the pitching in AAA, he will be up with the big club after 50 games. Harper was identified as a baseball prodigy at a young age. He manipulated his high school education to jump to better competition earlier than other kids. He was the team’s No. 1 draft pick in 2010, so the majors thought he was the real deal, too, not an over-hyped, over-inflated prospect.

Younger players have competed and succeeded in the majors. Bob Feller was mowing down hitters at 17. But there is always the David Clyde Factor haunting teams. Clyde was the super high school pitcher from Texas popularly chosen in the draft by the Texas Rangers. He was thrown into a Major League start in front of a full house without spending any time in the minors after high school and his career fizzled out. Would he have struck it big if he had been nutured carefully? Would he have been an All-Star with a long career if he had been babied?

We will never know for sure. Clyde was the Rangers’ first pick in the 1973 amateur draft. Later that summer, at age 18, he was hurling for Texas. He went 4-8 with a 5.01 earned run average. Things never got much better. Clyde pitched part of five years in the majors and finished with a record of 18-33 with Texas and the Cleveland Indians. He was out of the majors for good by the time he was 24 and without ever winning more than eight games in a season. Instead of a Hall of Famer he became a cautionary tale.

Ever since teams have been skittish about rushing can’t-miss-prospects to the majors because there is no such thing as can’t-miss. And any scout or executive who has been around the game for any length of time knows the David Clyde story. It is the No. 1 thing they do not want to repeat. A jewel comes along only so often and teams would much rather be accused of being over-protective.

Harper, who is still 19 and won’t be 20 until October, has been busy converting from catcher to outfielder, as well, so picking up game experience where the grass is greener instead of where the field is dirtier, can’t be all bad. He probably thought he was ready for the majors two years ago, but if he is smart he will take advantage of every minute he spends in the minors to hone his skills and soak up finer points of the game from crusty old coaches, savvy managers, and yes, even from hanging out with guys his own age.

Harper, who with a 6-foot-3, 220-pound frame doesn’t have to grow into his body, has hit everywhere he has gone after cutting short his high school stay. He was a star in junior college, batted .319 in the fall Instructional League in 2010 and batted .480 in Class A after being fitted for contact lenses in 2011. After the Futures All-Star game he was promoted to AA and finished the season at that level.

Surely he reported to Nationals spring training planning on breaking camp with the big boys. But a stay in AAA should not do him any harm and it should help mature his game. If Harper dominates in AAA there will be no excuse to hold him back. That is the last world to conquer below the majors. Count on seeing Bryce Harper  in the nation’s capital on a regular basis by the Fourth of July.

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