Just two years after being selected No. 1 in the MLB Draft ?? and three years since he was named baseball's next prodigy by Sports Illustrated ?? Nationals prospect Bryce Harper will have his first chance to live up to the lofty expectations.
He's been hailed as the LeBron James of baseball. Although Harper could prove worthy of the accolades, Washington is taking a significant gamble by calling up the 19-year-old so early and starting him Saturday against the Dodgers.
With Ryan Zimmerman on the disabled list, the team was rushed into action to replace one of their offense juggernauts. But Harper merely has 20 games of Triple-A experience under his belt.
His statistics down there weren't exactly striking, either. In his short stint in Syracuse, the outfielder owned a .250/.333/.375 slash line with one homer, three RBI, eight runs and one stolen base.
Harper could improve upon those numbers in major league action. Or, as a result of the premature promotion, he could struggle to adjust and a few pitfalls could easily stilt his development.
It's a typical risk with any promising prospect. And Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has recognized as much, which is why he expressed his intentions to option Harper back to Triple-A upon Zimmerman's return.
Harper's age is also a reminder of the perils of the move. When he takes the field, he'll be two years younger than the youngest player in Major League Baseball, where he'll be expected to contribute immediately.
He won't be the first athlete to make that transition. From the moment that Ken Griffey Jr. received his promotion, he flourished en route to finishing third in the Rookie of the Year voting. His Hall of Fame career took off without issue.
But there simply aren't many of those scenarios anymore. And in the age of social media, athletes are scrutinized more than ever and ?? on occasion ?? Harper has been plagued by immature habits.
With this opportunity, Harper could certainly put all concerns to rest. Surely Rick Ankiel and Roger Bernadina aren't the long-term options at center field, so the move makes sense for the Nationals.
Either way, Saturday marks the beginning of the Chosen One's era. Amid all the risks, it should be a remarkable ride for Harper.