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June 19, 2011 / Nat Anacostia

What’s the Nationals’ plan for Bryce Harper?

This weekend, the Hagerstown Suns are finishing the first half of their season while Bryce Harper continues to nurse a sore thumb. He’s scheduled to participate in Tuesday’s Sally League All-Star Game (including the home run derby). After that? There are rumors he’ll be promoted.

When Harper was assigned to Hagerstown in March, Mike Rizzo made it clear that he “has a specific plan in place for Harper’s ascension through the minor leagues, but he declined to share it with reporters.” In a May interview, Rizzo revealed some aspects of his plan. Harper would not play for the Nationals in 2011, and Rizzo believes that Harper “needs to touch every level of the minor league system – A-ball, Double-A, Triple-A and the big leagues. He’s going to do some Arizona Fall League action.”

From what I can tell, Rizzo’s approach to management is methodical; he tends to make plans and stick with them (in contrast to Jim Bowden, who took much more of a fly-by-the seat-of-your-leather-pants approach). When Harper’s bat got hot in early May, sources close to the team (like Bob Carpenter—presumably using information that team officials provided on background) began mentioning the Sally League All-Star game as the target date for Harper’s next move.

The interesting question is whether Harper next move will be to Potomac, or if he’ll be promoted directly to Class AA Harrisburg. Byron Kerr mentioned rumors that Harper might skip Potomac “because the Woodbridge field is not in good shape.” Tom Boswell and Jim Bowden have also suggested that Harper might be advanced directly to AA. On the other hand, Rizzo’s statement that Harper “needs to touch every level” would appear to rule out skipping High A (though some commenters have noted that when he listed the levels, he just said “A-ball” without separately mentioning High Class A).

If Harper doesn’t skip Potomac, I think it’s difficult to see him advancing to the Nationals during 2012. The most likely scenario would have him spend most of the remainder of this season in Potomac, followed by a brief promotion to Harrisburg to ensure eligibility for the Arizona Fall League. In 2012 (assuming he avoids injury and plays well), he would spend the first half in Harrisburg and the second half in Syracuse. In 2013, he could be brought up to Washington in late April, giving the Nationals control of his contract through 2019.

A promotion to Harrisburg next week, on the other hand, would appear to be consistent with a plan to bring him up to the Nationals by June of 2012. The team, however, would retain control of his contract only through 2018. Would it really make sense to give up Harper’s age 26 season to get half of his age 19 season? No, it wouldn’t, which is why I think that Harper won’t skip Potomac and won’t join the Nationals until late April of 2013.

Update: Mark Zuckerman of Nats Insider and Adam Kilgore of The Washington Post provide some more information on the outfield drainage problems affecting Potomac’s Pfitzner Stadium in Woodbridge, Virginia. If the Nationals are reluctant to have Harper play in Potomac due to field conditions, it’s possible that they could leave him in Hagerstown for a few more weeks, then bypass Potomac and promote him directly to Harrisburg in early August.

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