Bryce Harper had a mixed day at the futures game yesterday. He went 0 for 4 with 2 strikeouts at the plate, but did show off an arm that reminded people he’s more than just the best hitting prospect in the minors. After his 4th out at the plate, he was interviews, and probably wasn’t all that impressive there. He didn’t quite answer the first question, and recovered somewhat on the second question despite an abundance of “you know”s.

But all that should do is serve to remind you just how young this guy is. There was all of three 18 year olds in the futures game, including Harper. One of them,  Profar, played all last year in low-A. The only guys that young who made it without logging significant pro time last year were Harper and Machado. They combined to go 0 for 6.

So in the next few days, Harper will return to central Pennsylvania and most likely start hitting again. There will be 0 for 4s as well, but only people who went to that particular Harrisburg Senators game will notice. Everyone else will probably just look at his AVG/OBP/SLG or his HRs or whatever and see that he is still doing great. So the question that follows will be about when he might appear on the major league team.

Mike Rizzo knew that if he brought Harper up to AA any earlier, Bryce would have real time to show that he might be too good for it. But because he only really has two full months before that season winds down, anything great up until August won’t be enough playing time, anything after that will be too late to move him. That leaves him an opportunity to go to the Arizona Fall League, and probably make an appearance with the big league club in Spring Training. He might last longer than the first round of cuts, but it is probably a stretch to think he’d be named to the team. Instead, he’ll get to spend his late spring in Syracuse.

Beyond that, it probably is up to Harper. If he tears apart AAA early next year, he could get a late May/early June callup. The weird rules of free agency and contracts would likely prevent anything before that, no matter how well he plays. But if he isn’t sitting with a .950 OPS in AAA by June 1, I would venture to guess that Rizzo would be perfectly comfortable leaving him down there for an extra month or two. Then, if August comes and he looks ready, he might get the call. Or we might have to wait until September when the rosters expand.

10 months ago, most writers were saying that Harper wouldn’t make it to the big leagues before 2013. He was too young, he would need seasoning, he’s never seen pro pitching, etc. But I looked at guys that were comparable to him in high school, in terms of what the scouts said. The three guys that were consistently mentioned, ARod, Griffey and Justin Upton, were all up in the majors with barely any time in the minors. I’ve always thought Harper could just as easily be ready some time in 2012 as those guys, and now signs point to that being true. While they won’t rush him, I think it’s more likely than not that you’ll be able to watch Harper play in DC some time next season. It will be all the more exciting if the Nats are in contention by then.

By Charlie