Photo by Mark Zuckerman / NATS INSIDER
Bryce Harper, who turns 18 next month, may play in the Arizona Fall League.
Several media outlets will be present today for Harper's first workout as a professional, just as several media outlets were present one year ago for Stephen Strasburg's first workout (including one represented by yours truly). I won't be in Viera today, but I do have some spies on the ground who hopefully will share some details of the proceedings.
Unlike Strasburg, Harper seems to relish the spotlight, so my guess is he won't have any trouble dealing with all the attention. Ultimately, though, his priorities over the next month are to begin experiencing life as a professional ballplayer, learn a new position (right field, not catcher) and show the first glimpses of what he can accomplish on a baseball field.
Somewhere along the way, Mike Rizzo has an important decision to make: Should Harper move from the instructional league to play in the Arizona Fall League?
Typically, there would be no debate. Of course you wouldn't send a kid who will still be 17 years old when the league begins play on October 12. Having said that, Harper is no typical 17-year-old.
There is precedent for top draft picks participating in the AFL that year. Strasburg and Drew Storen did it last fall. So did Dustin Ackley, the No. 2 overall pick behind Strasburg. (Ackley, who split time between Class AA and AAA this season, will return to Arizona for a second go-around this fall.)
But those guys were all 21 or older after playing multiple seasons in college. Harper played only one season at the College of Southern Nevada after getting his GED two years earlier than the rest of his high school classmates. So it's not a perfect comparison.
Ultimately, Rizzo's decision has to come down to this: Do the potential benefits of Harper playing in the AFL outweigh the potential downsides?
Like most good baseball development folks, Rizzo believes in the idea of letting a player have success at one level before advancing him to a higher level. The last thing you ever want to do is put a top prospect in a position where he may fail and then have to be demoted. It's not good for the player's confidence or his development, and it's not good for the organization that looks like it made a mistake evaluating the player in the first place.
Last year's AFL rosters included Strasburg, Buster Posey, Starlin Castro, Ike Davis, Jose Tabata and Mike Leake, all impact rookies in the majors this season. Could Harper thrive against that type of competition? Perhaps. He also could look very much like a boy competing against men four or five years older than him.
What do you think? Should the Nats send Harper to Arizona, or should they bring him along a bit slower?