Despite a modest start to his AAA career (.250/.333./375), Bryce Harper is headed to Los Angeles to make his MLB debut against the Dodgers and Chad Billingsley. Harper made a push to break camp with the big league club, but that was always a longshot. Most saw his callup coming in mid-May or early-June, but the disabling of Ryan Zimmerman has facilitated the potentially high impact move for the NL’s best ballclub by record (14-5, .737 win pct.) and second to the 15-4 Texas Rangers for baseball’s best record. The 2-time #1 overall prospect according to Baseball America hasn’t been great in his 57 games in the high minors (37 in AA last year) toting a .254/.328/.388 line in 229 plate appearances with four home runs, but that won’t keep expectations from being unrealistic and sky-high.
The potential is enough to make him worthy of a pickup in literally any format, but be careful with who you cut to get him in 10-team mixed leagues. Chances are strong that you have a replacement level player somewhere on the roster, but don’t drop a real talent just in hopes of catching lightning in a bottle. I really hope we see Harper coming up and catch fire immediately, but at the same time, that is unlikely. He will likely have his moments, but I think we will see a .240 average with 12-15 home runs if he stays up for the rest of the year. He is still just 19-years old. In the expansion era (since 1961), we have seen just 19 players come up and have 100 or more plate appearances as 19-year olds and the results have been mixed.
Just six of the 19 ended up with an OPS+ of 100 or better (100 being league average). One of those was Ken Griffey Jr. who skipped AAA destroying the minors for 129 games before hitting the ground running on his Hall of Fame career. He was thought of as a once in a generation talent like Harper, who has… yep… 129 games of minor league work on his ledger. That is a decent collection of talent, though only Griffey was transcendent and Conigliaro may have been had it not been for his hit by pitch accident.
How about the collection of those who were subpar as 19-year olds?
Now that is a collection of talent. A-Rod, both Uptons, Yount, Beltre, Pudge and Jones all went on to have very successful careers (several of which are still going) including some Hall of Fame resumes in there. Meanwhile, Trout is running neck and neck with Harper for the top spot on prospect lists and he was pretty bland in his 40 games of work as a major leaguer last year. That was after a lot more minor league experience than Harper has had, too. The point is that you should temper your expectations with a 19-year old in the majors, especially one with limited AAA experience during which he has been pretty ordinary. There is a non-zero chance that Harper could set the world on fire from the jump. There is a stronger chance that he looks downright mortal and often overmatched as he gets acclimated to a level of competition unlike anything he has ever faced.