I went into Boz's "Harmon Killebrew is Bryce Harper. No he isn't. Yes he is" column with a preconceived notion that keeping someone in the minors when they were ready talent-wise for the majors is a mistake. I've come out of it not being so sure but not for any of the reasons Boz would want us to go with.
Well, ok, maybe we can agree on one thing - the everyday life of a ballplayer might take some getting used to. Playing months on end with long road trips to different places, staying in hotels, barely settling into one place before moving onto the next, that is something unlike most kids, even those that played college ball, have done. I can see value in making a youngster go through that. I also am not sure it's necessary, but it's so different than anything I've ever done I'm willing to give the guys who have done it some benefit of the doubt if they say it is so.
To me, keeping someone in the minors when they could be preforming in the majors is a waste. I know we talk about "clocks starting" and "maturity" and the like but I don't buy either. For the clock issue, I see betting on the future part - that the Nats will definitely be better in 2012, 2013, 2014, etc. as a fools bet. So much can happen between then and now; Strasburg could never recover, Zimm's injury could be a recurring thing, Werth could collpase; that "saving" Bryce for then is like not buying a little shelf to put your trophy on so you can save that money for the big cabinet that will fit all the trophies you are going to win. I like the attitude but why not worry about problem B when it actually becomes a problem?
As for the second part, I know sports isn't like everything else, but human nature is pretty stable. For every person I know that was groomed into a more mature person by circumstances there are a dozen that are pretty much the same as before. Little shifts to maturity over time will happen, but for the most part the mature stayed mature, the immature like wise. I kind of feel like that's going to prevail in sports as well. The Dukes, Bradleys, LoDucas will be who they are regardless of "dues paid". Mainly because eventually you don't care if they've learned anything - you got to use 'em or lose 'em.
(at this point I want to note that neither of these things apply to Killebrew, which makes the column's attempts to compare him to Bryce iffy. Harmon was apparently always the good ambassador type. He didn't need the minors to "learn him". And the Twins weren't sticking him in the minors for no good reason. It seems he wasn't ready for the majors in '54 and '55 when he had to ride with the team (though they could have played him more). His '56 numbers were good, but they were A-ball and he struggled in the majors again. Only in '57 did he do well in a stronger league (AA) and play well in the majors. And you know what? He started next season with the major league squad. He was sent down to AA again for some reason, (given the 3 game stint maybe he was an injury fill-in? - I need to find a biography) but when they attempted to bump him up to AAA he struggled. So outside the AA send down in '58 they treated him almost exactly you would any other minor league prospect)
OK, so if I'm not convinced Bryce should spend a couple years in the minors because he needs it or because the Nats need to save him for later, then why do I still think it might be necessary? Here's where the thought experiment starts: What if Bryce spending time in the minors isn't just for Bryce? What if it's for everyone else?
See, if you are good enough to make the major leagues, odds are very very good you are going to make it. It doesn't matter how mature you are, or how you treat your teammates or not, or how many times you smile to the fans. Talent rules. That means, right now, the major leagues are filled with a mixture of good and bad guys, just like real life (possibly more skewed toward those having issues just because being in a profession that leads to you getting adulation through most of your formative years can skew your perception of reality). The bad guys, or more accurately the insecure guys, can't handle the idea of a youngster coming up at 18 and being handed a starting spot, if they didn't catch that break themselves. That youngster could then be treated overly harsh by those guys wanting to make him "earn" in the majors what he didn't in the minors; trying to make something that is inevitably unfair, promotion due to physical talent, into something more fair, promotion due to time served. This is basically what the Lastings Milledge deal was all about. Here comes a kid two years out of high school and he's getting the attention and love from the fans? Didn't matter that he wasn't doing all that great and might not stick in the majors anyway. Some guys can't handle that. Everyone has their place and by the sheer virtue of sticking in the majors they earned the spot at the top of the heap.
You could say, we're just bringing him up anyway, but you risk alienating a good chunk of your team. It's a shame that you have to cater to that segment of your clubhouse, but unless you managed to bring together the perfect egoless team, you kind of do. So Bryce has to waste away another year in the minors possibly, just so he doesn't ruffle the feathers of the old guys too much. Can you imagine Dibble on a team where a 19 year old is a starting LF? It doesn't matter if Bryce was a date-raping showboat or a humble church-goer who stayed until the last fan got their autograph. That kid would learn his place.
I'm not saying that this IS the case, but given that I don't think much of the other possible reasons for keeping Bryce down, I needed to come up with something that made sense to me. I know this is armchair psychology and if you are bothered by that... well come back on Monday when I'll have some ottoman sabermetrics for you.