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Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

Posted on: February 3, 2012 12:12 pm
Edited on: February 3, 2012 1:53 pm

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has been telling anyone who'll listen he wants slugging teen-aged phenom Bryce Harper to start the season with the big-league team. And while most folks around baseball think that's a reach, Johnson may getting through to some people -- in fact, the very people making the call.

"We're take a look at him and see where he's at developmentally. If we feel he's ready to play at the major-league level, we're not going to restrict him,'' Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said by phone. "We'll be cautious yet open-minded. If he gives us the best chance to win, we'll keep an open mind and see where it takes us.''

While Harper is universally viewed as one of the best prospects in baseball, he is only 19, and skeptics outside the organization don't view Harper's immediate ascension as very likely. One said, half jokingly, "It just gives Davey something to talk about.'' Others pointed to Harper's .256 batting average at Double-A Harrisburg (Pa.) last year as evidence he needs another year of seasoning. Harper also slugged just .395 at Harrisburg after tearing up Class-A to the tune of a .318 batting average and .977 OPS to start his pro career.

Putting all that aside, everyone wonders whether the Nats would want to start Harper's arbitration and free-agent clocks so early. Angels phenom Mike Trout played in the big leagues at 19 last year, and the research of Danny Knobler of CBSSports revealed several other players to play in the bigs at 19 in recent years, including Jose Reyes, Adrian Beltre, Karim Garcia, Wilson Betemit and the Upton Brothers, but Andruw Jones as the last position player to break camp with a major-league team at 19 when he did it for the Braves in 1997 (Felix Hernandez is the last 19-year-old pitcher to break camp with a big-league team.).

There is also a suggestion that the Nats are willing to say that he may make the team because they want to provide extra incentive for Harper to show his best during spring training. Though by saying publicly he can play his way onto the team, that also, puts pressure on them to make good on the promise. Regardless, that isn't deterring Rizzo.

"If he gives us the best chance to win, and (we) feel he's fully prepared to play in the big leagues, he'll make the team,'' Rizzo said.

There is a lot of excitement around the Nats after their additions of Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson, Brad Lidge and others. While the Phillies remain the favorite in a strong National League East division, the Nats look like a bona fide contender. Washington looked hard at Prince Fielder but ultimately spent on pitching, which fits Rizzo's defense-and-pitching plan. (While they were in on Fielder almost until the end, they are believed to have held the line on years and are believed to have been outbid by at least three others, including the winning Tigers.)

"We feel good about where we're at,'' Rizzo said. "We feel we've strengthened two parts of the team. We have a better, deeper more well-rounded rotation and we've improved a strength in the bullpen by adding a veteran presence.''

The key to Jackson are the innings he brings. Rizzo said that's because pitching phenom Stephen Strasburg is on a pitch limit, Jordan Zimmermann has never thrown 200 innings and Chien-Ming Wang is a couple years removed from shoulder surgery. Jackson will receive $11 million for one year, with $9 million of it actually paid in 2012 and the other $2 million next year.

Though Rizzo is a pitching-first guy, the lineup, which is anchored by Ryan Zimmerman, Michael Morse and Jayson Werth, still looks still looks strong. It will look that much stronger if, as Johnson envisions, Harper can tap his potential immediately and play his way into the Opening day lineup.


Since: Dec 20, 2011
Posted on: February 8, 2012 5:25 pm

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

.256 ? What did departed loser Adam Dunn hit last year for the ChiSox? And that was a guy the Nationals were sorry to see go.

Since: Oct 9, 2009
Posted on: February 6, 2012 1:51 pm

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

Will people stop saying bringing him up has the chance to kill his confidence?  If you want to say he should stay down to learn RF then I can buy that -switching positions in a league that is putting more emphasis on defense is harder than many may think.  But please stop giving me the line about killing his confidence if he hits .220 or something.  Everyone who for some reason already hates this kid goes on and on about how "cocky" and over confident he is yet when he is mentioned about being brought up this year, those same people cry that his confidence will be killed.  If he is ready, bring him up!  While only 19, this kid is ready.  How does hitting in the .250s in AA and hearing everyone say he isn't ready for the bigs help his confidence??  Again, if he is ready, they will bring him up.  If he isn't, then he waits a while longer. 

Since: Sep 20, 2006
Posted on: February 6, 2012 12:08 pm

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

There aren't many .250 minor league hitters that don't hit MUCH worse than that in MLB. In fact, it's a bigger factor in failure than jumping from Double-A to MLB. Harper has BOTH those hurdles to overcome, not to mention he was a high school catcher a year ago, trying to become a MLB outfielder.

Calling the Nats offense "strong" is a real stretch... The weakness of the Nats offense is THE biggest reason Harper MAY have a legitimate chance to make the team in spring training....but the fact that they may sell a few more tickets to see him TRY may also be a consideration.

The Nats still have a roster comprised largely of unrealized potential, and an occasional player (Werth, Lidge) trying to regain their former level.

The Mets are a mess, but I'm not believing the Nats are truly ready to compete with ANY other NL East teams, yet.

Since: Aug 21, 2006
Posted on: February 6, 2012 9:30 am

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

Nats need to keep him in the minors until June (at least). It'll give him time to mature and play against better competition than he was facing last year. Plus, it's one year later that he'll bolt for free agency and leave Washington

Since: Jan 26, 2011
Posted on: February 5, 2012 3:45 pm

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure


I agree with you on the Jayson Wertyh contract being a waste of money and can't believe GM Mike Rizzo did that. I really like Rizzo as a GM and think the guy has the eye for talent to build a winner, but he got the Werth contract wrong in my opinion. I think Bryce Harper can make the team coming out of spring training and this Nats team will be in the hunt for a playoff berth. The pitching staff is solid and fairly deep going into camp and there's a buzz about the team in the D.C. area as fans are excited about the upcoming season!

Since: Dec 6, 2006
Posted on: February 5, 2012 3:31 pm

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

Lineup looks strong?  If Werth is one of your top 3, there's no way the word 'strong' should be used unless it's used this way:

There's a strong possibility that the Nats will trade for a big bat during the 2012 season to compliment Morse & Zimmerman.

Since: Jan 9, 2012
Posted on: February 5, 2012 1:19 pm

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

Start Harper in spring training and if he tears it up against the opponent's regulars, then he deserves to break camp with the Nats.  Some people are mature at 19; some are immature at 30.  Let his bat and defense make the choice - not his birth certificate. 

Since: May 22, 2007
Posted on: February 5, 2012 11:36 am

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

The problem I have with Bryce Harper going straight to the Nationals starting lineup is because he is coming off an injury. Then, he has to adjust to the speed of the game, which may also be a problem. He is fortunate he has Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Michael Morse hitting around him, so he may see good pitches to hit.

The Nationals could have a strong team this year, but they must compete against the Phillies, and the improved Marlins, plus the Braves. Not easy for this team with or without harper.

Since: Dec 18, 2011
Posted on: February 5, 2012 11:12 am

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

I bet Harper can go out there and out perform Werth if he were to get the chance next year.  What a waste that contract is.  I'd play an outfield of Harper, Morse and DeRosa - of course they can't do that because of the 500 Gorilla in the Kitchen named Jason Werth.  Bottom line I think the Nats have a great shot of being in it this year - love what they have done with their pitching and I think that if they can catch lightning in a jar with Harper they should go for it.  Give the kid a chance (oh and sell some tickets and beer while he's at it)

Since: Apr 22, 2011
Posted on: February 5, 2012 10:17 am

Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure

.256 in the AA wasnt great but i sy ur paying this guy like a BIG leaguer u play him and i do agree if he lights up Spring Traning u play the guy and how do you compare Dominic Brown to Bryce Harper thats too funny  

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