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Washington Nationals pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg made just 12 appearances in the big leagues last year before tearing a ligament in his elbow that will sideline him for the entire 2011 season. But the Nationals can take solace in the idea that another phenom may be just around the corner.The left-handed hitting catcher-turned-outfielder, who signed a $9.9 million contract after being drafter number one overall in 2010, went 4-5 last night extending his hitting streak to 15 games. On the season he is hitting .396 with eight home runs, a .472 OBP, 1.184 OPS and 5 stolen bases in just 31 games. And he is getting better.
His hitting streak began the day that he visited an eye doctor and was outfitted with new contact lenses. Since then he is 33-71 (.465), earning the South Atlantic League’s (Sally) player of the week honours.
Oh yeah. He is only 18 years old and should be a senior in high school, having left school early to become eligible for the draft. And he is tearing up a league where the average player is four years older than he is.
It is hard to imagine Harper will be in the Sally very long. And if he continues to dominate minor league pitching, people will start to wonder if Harper will eventually get a call-up to the big leagues later this year.
Crazy? Consider that the Nationals promoted Strasburg to the big leagues after just 11 minor league appearances and Harper doesn’t have the same injury risks associated with pitchers. And consider that one scout recently submitted a report on Harper that was his “most glowing report since A-Rod.”
The comparison to Alex Rodriguez is significant. Harper, who won’t turn 19 until October, would be only the second 18-year old in the big leagues in the last 33 years and the first since A-Rod played 13 games as an 18-year old for the Seattle Mariners in 1994.
The Nationals are currently 18-18, six games back in the NL East. They are also only 22nd in baseball with 20,606 fans per game. And unless they can stay in the race, that number will drop in August and September.
Last year, Washington saw an attendance spike when Strasburg pitched and that was just seven home games. It is easy to image the temptation of promoting Harper and having him in the lineup everyday over the last month or two of the regular season.
An 18-year old in the big leagues sounds crazy. But the temptation might be too great.