Slow ap­proach the right one for Harper

The Washington Times Daily - - Weather -

WVIERA, FLA. ith a tal­ent like Bryce Harper, it isn’t a ques­tion of if, it’s a ques­tion of when. Of course, there aren’t many tal­ents like Bryce Harper, so the Washington Na­tion­als want to make dou­bly sure they get the “when” part right. The kid, af­ter all, is just 19. He’s got an­other 15 or 20 years of . . . pos­ing with base­balls in his mouth.

Send­ing Harper down to TripleA, then, where his abil­i­ties can be brought to a boil, is a no-brainer for the Na­tion­als. As he showed Sun­day, when he whiffed in his first four times up against Detroit, he isn’t quite ready to be, as he puts it, “a game-changer” on the ma­jor-league level. But as he also showed Sun­day, when he bashed a dou­ble off the cen­ter­field wall in his final at bat, he isn’t that far away, ei­ther.

Maybe a few months in Syra­cuse is all he’ll need to home in on the knee-buck­ling break­ing stuff and nasty left­handed pitch­ing he’ll get a steady diet of in the bigs — the final pieces in the puz­zle for just about any hit­ter. Or maybe he’ll need longer than a few months. The point is, there’s no hurry. When he’s ready for the Nats, the Nats will be ready for him.

“If I went to the big leagues and I sat [on the bench] . . . I don’t want that,” he said af­ter Davey John­son gave him the news. “I’m a guy that wants to play ev­ery sin­gle day and get bet­ter. Go­ing to Triple-a, you’re not fac­ing big-league guys, but you’re fac­ing guys that have been there and that are work­ing their ways up. So it’s go­ing to be good for me.”

It’s in­ter­est­ing. What the Na­tion­als are go­ing through with Harper is what the Red­skins prob­a­bly will be

go­ing through with Robert Grif­fin III later this year. There will be a de­bate, in­ter­nally and among the fan base, about when Grif­fin should be handed the keys to the of­fense, whether it should be from the get-go or whether he should be brought along more slowly.

It can be a del­i­cate process, the de­vel­op­ment of an NFL quar­ter­back — as with any other valu­able ath­letic com­mod­ity. Nat­u­rally, the trial-by-fire ap­proach is the most ex­pe­di­tious, but it also car­ries the great­est risk. The lat­ter is es­pe­cially true of quar­ter­backs, not just be­cause of the po­si­tion’s high vis­i­bil­ity but be­cause of the re­spon­si­bil­ity that comes with it. As the QB goes, so, usu­ally, goes the of­fense. There’s much op­por­tu­nity for glory, sure, but there’s just as much op­por­tu­nity for blame, blame that may not rest eas­ily on 22-year-old shoul­ders.

“How soon is too soon?” is a game ev­ery sport plays with vary­ing amounts of trep­i­da­tion. In bas­ket­ball and hockey, it’s not un­usual for a player Harper’s age, or even younger, to make an im­pact. Kevin Du­rant, just to throw out one name, av­er­aged 20 points a game for the Ok­la­homa City Thun­der at 19, and Sid­ney Crosby, to throw out an­other, was a 102-point man for the Pitts­burgh Pen­guins at 18. (Does any­one doubt, for that mat­ter, that Alex Ovechkin, who scored 52 goals for the Cap­i­tals at 20, would have been a force at 19 if the NHL hadn’t locked ev­ery­body out that sea­son?)

In base­ball, though, such prodi­gies are rarer, and in foot­ball they’re un­heard of (be­cause of the NFL’S pro­hi­bi­tion against cra­dle rob­bing). The gold stan­dard, per­for­mance-wise, for a player of Harper’s vin­tage — in re­cent decades, at least — is Ken Grif­fey Jr.’s rookie sea­son with Seat­tle in 1989 (16 homers, .264 bat­ting av­er­age). Not ex­actly 20 points a game, is it? But be­yond that, ball­clubs are so much more

these days with prospects, par­tic­u­larly pitch­ers. Look at how nur­tur­ing the Na­tion­als were with Stephen Stras­burg — and he ended up need­ing Tommy John surgery. Rest as­sured Harper will get the same hov­er­ing treat­ment. In fact, think of John­son and Mike Rizzo as his adop­tive He­li­cop­tor Par­ents.

Still, Bryce’s de­mo­tion wasn’t an easy call for the man­ager, who en­vi­sions him as the team’s cen­ter fielder of the fu­ture. “It’s no se­cret I like his bat po­ten­tial,” Davey said. “And I’m not get­ting any younger. The temp­ta­tion was there.”

He and the Nats wisely re­sisted it, though. Some things are worth wait­ing for, and Bryce Harper def­i­nitely falls in that cat­e­gory.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

“I’m a guy that wants to play ev­ery sin­gle day and get bet­ter,” out­fielder Bryce Harper said of start­ing the sea­son at Triple-a Syra­cuse.

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