Bryce Harper to start for Nats in right field opening day? Nationals 2012 preview

2 Feb

There is a lot of talk about Bryce Harper not only breaking camp with the Washington Nationals on opening day, but starting in Right field as well. Several months ago, the smart money was on Harper not coming up until September of 2012 if for no other reason to start the arbitration clock a little later, but Davey Johnson went on the record saying that if Harper has a good spring training, the time is now. From a financial standpoint, it could kill Washington in a few years, but for a franchise looking to win now, it is a move Johnson thinks has to happen. Is he right though?

Washington is expected to be better this season, but even the wild card may be a reach. Washington likely needs to pick up around a dozen more wins this season, but there are a lot of question marks on the roster that still need answers. If Harper falls at all, that means Roger Bernadina is the right fielder – or Mike Cameron at 39 years old. Neither option is a pennant winner. Werth has to play better defense in center field – that is a given. Forget the errors, Werth needs to cover ground better. Washington gives up a lot of outs based on what Werth simply can’t get to. He’s quick, just not fast.Mike Morse has to do everything right – he’s become a cog in the engine.

Adam Laroche needs a huge season. Laroche can put some crooked numbers on the board and play a decent first base, but he needs a major rebound. You can win Laroche – just not last years version. Laroche needs to pop out 25+ homers and hit the century mark for ribbies before the Nats go anywhere – and that may be asking a lot.Similarly, Ryan Zimmerman needs to be healthy and play like he usually does. Zimmerman is someone you expect to bounce back and perform. He drives the offense, and he is the guy that makes the infield respectable. If Zimmerman under-performs, so do the Nats. It’s that simple.

Brad Lidge comes in for 2012, and maybe he puts it together in a new park. It’s an interesting move, but let’s not pop any corks based on hime being dependable. Gio Gonzalez is a huge pickup, but he has to over-perform, at least for awhile, to make up for not having Strasburg around to open the season. Hey, someone has to be the Ace. Gorzelany and Lannan should be okay,but here are still a lot of holes in that rotation without a serious answer. Maybe Chien Ming Wang finally makes an appearance and pitches like he’s a 19 game winner again. Everyone has forgotten about him still rehabbing for the last 2 1/2 years.Starsburg, assuming he does come back off Tommy John surgery at some point in 2012 will likely be on the pitch count again and a 5-6 inning pitcher at best – they can’t risk blowing him out yet again so his real impact won’t be until 2013 in all probability.

They need an experienced catcher – and don’t say Harper. Ramos is nice as is Flores, but they are not the answer. Maybe they can snag one of thee 1,700 catchers the Yankees have hanging around. Derosa is nice and may be one of their most valuable players by virtue of being able to play almost anywhere on the field and hit his weight. But it all comes back to Bryce Harper.

Harper has all the tools. he has the drive. He also has less than 40 games experience in the minors and only 1 season of JUCO ball between him and high school. Harper may surprise everyone and go crazy when he hits the Nats. he may have a hot week or month. The reality in these situations is often different though. Pitchers on even bad MLB teams are twice as filthy as anyone he’s faced. Bigger crowds, more coverage and bigger pressure can take a toll. Mistakes are magnified and re-lived over and over by the press. Add to that, he’s already being compared, quite unfairly, to Griffey jr., A-Rod and even Mickey Mantle. Harper may be the leader of the franchise soon, but not in 2012 – give the kid a break and give him a few more ABs at AAA. They can afford to let him take some extra time to develop – they aren’t winning the East this year.

 

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