“I don’t know why anyone is worried about him. Age is just a number. He’s got that special ‘it’ factor,” Zimmerman said.
For the moment, the Nats’ operative assumption is that Harper is an example of a rare breed — the player destined from an early age, either by bloodlines or talent — to be a standout major leaguer. That, they think, makes the big leagues a better, easier and more appropriate place for him to gain experience than AAA.
Adam LaRoche’s father was a big-league pitcher. The Nats’ first baseman remembers: “I was expecting to be a big leaguer my whole life. From T-ball on up, I never had a doubt I’d play in the league. All the pressure is working your way up through the minors.
“That’s exactly how Harper feels. This is the way he always expected it to be. He’s ready. He’s been ready forever. When he got to Los Angeles, he [told me] he had not felt so relaxed for any game since he became a professional.”
Harper was surprised and a bit confused by his own time-slows-down reaction to a debut before 54,000 people in Dodger Stadium. “I got really calm as soon as I got to L.A.,” he said. “In AAA, it’s like I gotta prove because I wanna get up there so bad. Now, I’m here. Stay in the moment.”
“Young players with a lot of potential — their goal is the big leagues. They want to hit .600 or hit a 500-foot home run,” Johnson said. “They try to do too much.”
And they only play within themselves, use their skills properly, when they’ve gotten to the level which, at a deep lifelong level, they think they belong.
“He may change our development plan,” Rizzo said. “In his mind it’s probably, ‘Why is this guy so dumb that he didn’t bring me up sooner?’ ”
“I’m just going to come in here every day with open eyes and open ears,” Harper said.
That will probably be enough. Now that Harper is here, the Nationals should give him absolutely every benefit of the doubt to stay in the big leagues until Morse comes back — around the all-star break, at the earliest. Then make a decision if necessary.
But until then, unless he is absolutely overmatched night after night, leave him alone. He’s likely to develop better and faster against the best competition — and, considering his sharp batting eye, with the best umpires. This is where Harper belongs — unless he proves otherwise.
Which is unlikely.
For Thomas Boswell’s previous columns, go to washingtonpost.com/