TAMPA -- TheNationals did the right thing sending 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper to the minors.
Harper was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse for the right reasons. One, he is only 19. Two, he needs more time.
"He is going to be special, but he isn't ready,'' one Nats veteran told CBSSports.com the other day.
There was a lot of buzz about Harper possibly making the team, even as scouts and executives of other teams questioned the wisdom such a rush job. Nationals manager Davey Johnson, quiet on the topic in recent days, was believed the biggest proponent of putting him on the team, at least initially.
Another Nats official noted that while Harper looked spectacular some days, he looked lost other days. He struck out four times in an 11-7 defeat to the Tigers just before he was told of the demotion. He started the spring five for 11 but was just three for his last 17 with 11 strikeouts. Harper's confidence is legendary but it could be threatened by failure in the big leagues, and there was no good reason to test it now.
That last game wasn't the reason for the demotion, either. Harper knew after missing six days with a calf injury the odds for him to make it were long. When I asked him six days ago whether he still had a chance to make the team, he answered honestly, "Probably not ... it's all good, though.''
Harper continued to try to make the team and returned to play the next day.
Johnson was quoted as saying about Harper, "He is close.''
While Harper's arbitration and free-agent clocks are delayed by the demotion, there is no reason to think that was the reason, either. That has been the overriding reason in some past cases, but in Harper's case, he is extremely young and has room to grow. He has very good experience for his age, but he hit just .256 at Double-A last year.
It is rare for a player to make the majors out of spring training at age 19. Tigers Hall of Famer Al Kaline was one of a handful to be able to do it, but Kaline said his advantage was that he was breaking into a bad team while the Nationals are hoping to contend.
Harper will play center field in the minors in an attempt to fill the role the Nats have had trouble filling. Harper was converted from catcher to the outfield, so he has something to learn as an outfielder, too. He has excellent speed, however, so that's a head start.
Harper has an excellent chance to be called up sometime in midseason, but in the meantime the current plan is for the Nats to employ some combination of Roger Bernadina, Rick Ankiel and Brett Carroll in center field.
Danny Knobler of CBSSports.com reports the Nats have had trade talks with the Diamondbacks for Gerardo Parra, but Arizona seeks a haul in return.