The Washington Nationals unveiled Harper this weekend, and he will make his Nationals Park debut Tuesday night against the Arizona Diamondbacks. He came to the big leagues because of unforeseen circumstances, only after injuries decimated the Nationals’ offense. If he plays as well as he did in his first two games, he may be in the majors to stay. But we don’t know.
“I’m also reserved to the possibility that this may not be his breakout moment,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. “Like [Mike] Trout with the Angels, there could be a step sideways to take a leap forward.”
“More than likely,” Boras said, “he’s not going to be here permanently.”
Rizzo planned for Harper to receive between 250 and 300 at-bats in Class AAA, but third baseman Ryan Zimmerman’s inflamed shoulder joint altered those plans. The Nationals needed a hitter. Harper was the best they had.
“I’m worried about what the game does to players,” Boras said. “I don’t think the game particularly likes young players coming in. I think it wants to show them there’s something going on up here that’s a little bit different than anywhere else you’ve ever played.”
But Harper appears to be a little bit different than anyone else who’s ever played. His path to the majors reads like an origin story. Major league scouts began watching him at 14. He smashed a 500-foot home run off the back wall at Tropicana Field at 15. He appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16. He left high school a year early, passed the GED, laid waste to a wood-bat junior college league and became the first pick at 17.
“He has been hearing about his skill set being a major league player probably since Little League,” Boras said. “He’s been ready for this ever since he was 15 or so.”
Harper’s unique ascension has conditioned him to look past anything but the highest level of baseball. Tony Tarrasco, the Nationals’ roving outfield coordinator and one of Harper’s closest confidants in the organization, reminded him often over the past two years to keep his mind on Hagerstown or Harrisburg or Syracuse, not Washington.
“He needs to be challenged,” one person close to Harper said.
Harper hit just .250 with one homer in 72 Class AAA at-bats. He admitted the level failed to excite him. After his debut Saturday night, Harper enthused about the experience of reaching the majors – and leaving the International League behind.