Fan reaction: Bryce Harper’s first Major League hit

I'll admit it: a couple of years ago, I grabbed the Sports Illustrated magazine with Bryce Harper(notes) on the cover when an eye appointment ended early and I hadn't had time to finish the article on the Boy Wonder. But I didn't need 20-20 vision to very clearly see that this Harper kid was a remarkable baseball player.

Flash forward two years and now Harper's signed with the Nationals' organization and just got his first spring training hit in a game against the Mets. Fans are wild to see the eighteen-year-old kid up with the big team, envisioning double-digit runs as Harper and Jason Werth swing golden bats that can't miss a baseball. They howl in frustration with the Nats' general manager, Mike Rizzo, adamantly insisting that Bryce needs minor league experience. This experience will most likely take place in the Class A South Atlantic League, specifically in Hagerstown, Md. - a venue not even quite as exciting as the Cape Cod League. Almost unbelievable stats are cited of his high school and truncated Arizona league play as if these numbers prove Rizzo wrong. But they don't. Neither do the "apples and oranges" arguments that the Nationals brought pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg(notes) so quickly. First, Strasburg at least had four years of Division I college-level ball in addition to his very short time in the minors. And second? Well, remember that little televised snippet where he grabbed his arm after throwing another flamer? Postoperative rehabilitation is said to be progressing satisfactorily but no dates are being discussed as to when he'll be able to return. So, like I said before, Rizzo's right.

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Here's why:

The kid's long-await first hit actually occurred in Harper's second game. He went 0 for 2 in his first game, both strikeouts, and both in only seven pitches. What does that prove? Well, first, that all those high school and Arizona league pitchers that he hit screaming home runs off of didn't relocate to the DC area just to throw to him. He's at the plate now awaiting pitches from major league pitchers who have gone through their minor league apprenticeship, learning control, new pitches, how to interrupt his "hitter's attention," and most importantly - how to play the head games that all good pitchers do. And this is with the help of veteran catchers -having completed their own minor league internships - who are watching carefully to find the hole in Harper's swing.

Yes, yes, yes, Harper's an extraordinarily talented player. But being so doesn't negate the learning curve he'll have to scale in order to play at the major league level. If he's as talented as he and others claim, then he'll learn quicker than most. But Rizzo's right.

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Susan Abe was born at Andrews Air Force Base in Washington, DC and spent a lot of time in the area in between her father's Air Force assignments overseas. She now lives in Harrisonburg, VA - too close to the team not to keep a fond eye out for them.

Sources:

http://sports.espn.go.com/mlb/spring2011/columns/story?columnist=stark_jayson&id=6172047

http://washington.nationals.mlb.com/index.jsp?c_id=was

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Updated Tuesday, Mar 8, 2011