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Bryce Harper makes major league debut ahead of schedule for Nationals but it's no surprise

Tim Brown
Yahoo Sports

LOS ANGELES – Of course he's ready.

Bryce Harper was born for this, built for this, trained for this and anointed to this.

It's baseball. Just baseball.

Just his life, or however much of it he could fit into 19 years and 194 days, most of that spent in one batting cage or another.

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Bryce Harper is expected to be in the Nationals' lineup Saturday. (Getty)

This was the course, since he GED'ed himself out of high school after his sophomore year, tore up junior college ball for a season, went first overall in the draft not two years ago. Probably since before all that.

Harper boarded a plane in Syracuse, N.Y. on Friday afternoon, laid over in D.C., and by the time the Washington Nationals were taking batting practice here at Dodger Stadium, Harper was on a non-stop flight to the big leagues.

Whether that is to be a one-way or round-trip ticket is to be determined, but that's a matter of time. One day soon – maybe this day – he'll be here to stay.

Due in part to his age, in part to his talent, in part to his story and in part to the information age in which he is being raised as a man and developed as a ballplayer, Harper is the most hyped prospect in the history of the game, which, by the way, seems to suit him fine.

Much younger than any other player in the major leagues, on the back of 459 minor-league at-bats, barely 200 of those above A-ball, and on the wings of a power stroke that fans compare to the best who ever played.

The Nationals had a strategy for this, something along the lines of enough minor-league plate appearances at every level to succeed and fail and succeed again. They called it the developmental plan, and while it wasn't necessarily special to Harper, you knew he would challenge its schedule. When he did, at least a month or two early, it wasn't even because he was killing it in Triple-A, which he wasn't. It was because he was the best available talent when a hole opened on the 25-man roster, that coming when Ryan Zimmerman was disabled with a sore shoulder.

"This," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said Friday, "is not the coming out party for Bryce we had in mind."

But, then, the kid always has been early for everything.

Too big, too strong, too adept for games played in his own age group, Harper is again playing up. Same as it ever was. Barring the unforeseen, he'll start in left field for the Nationals at Dodger Stadium, a ballpark he visited often from Las Vegas, his hometown. Nationals manager Davey Johnson, who lobbied for Harper to be on the opening day roster, said he'd bat Harper seventh.

Now that he's got him, "I'll put him in left field and let him play," is how Johnson put it.

Indeed, Johnson spent some of his pre-game Friday with Vin Scully, telling the iconic Dodgers broadcaster about the day he watched a 15-year-old Harper win a home-run derby against boys two and three years older.

[Roto Arcade: Fantasy impact of Bryce Harper's arrival]

While some will shake their heads and wonder if it's too much too soon for such a valuable prospect, and even Rizzo seemed braced for such a possibility, Johnson appeared to have none of those concerns. Sure, Harper might not hit for the 10 days the Nationals will need him (until Zimmerman returns from the DL). Won't faze him. He'll be back to hit this summer, this fall, next April, whenever.

They know Harper a little in the Nationals' clubhouse. He was in camp last spring, then again this spring. He took some getting used to. Let's just say the world looks a little smaller to Harper, a little more beatable than it does to most.

"He's very confident," Zimmerman said with a soft grin. "Everyone in here is confident. But, Bryce at first had a different way of expressing his confidence."

And yet, said Zimmerman, who on his own draft day was labeled only the next Mike Schmidt, "I've never seen anyone grow up more in one year than Bryce. Like I tell everyone, when we were 19 we all did stupid stuff. But our stupid stuff wasn't on SportsCenter. A million people weren't watching."

Alex Rodriguez debuted in 1994, 19 days before his 19th birthday. He spent 23 days in the big leagues and batted .204. He was up and down from the minor leagues in 1995 and batted .232. By 1996, he ran second to Juan Gonzalez in American League MVP voting.

Ken Griffey Jr. played 127 games as a 19-year-old, batted .264 and hit 16 home runs. He hit .300 the following season and won a Gold Glove.

The spotlight has brightened since then.

[Related: Bryce Harper joins recent phenom Stephen Strasburg in lineup]

Harper will get here when he gets here, and it starts Saturday. His promotion is not a risk. It's a game plan. It's a way for the Nationals to win ballgames. This isn't pressure. Mike Trout walking into a 6-14 Angels team, that's pressure.

Besides, it's not like Harper didn't see this coming. Since the day Scott Boras explained to Harper's parents that their second son's path would skip a couple years of high school, the goal was a big-league ballpark, sooner the better.

"He's thrilled," Boras said of Harper.

And why wouldn't he be?

This is what he was meant to be, and where it was meant to be.

It's baseball.

He's ready.

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