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Calf slows Bryce, and prodigy admits he "probably'' can't make Nats

Viera, Fla. -- Slugging wunderkind Bryce Harper, 19, admitted today he doubts he can make the Nationals after missing a few key games with a calf issue. "Probably not,'' he said in answer to a question about whether he still has a chance to be picked to go north with the team. Then, he added, "It's all good though.''

Harper has said from the moment he got to spring camp that his goal was to make the team. But he probably needed things to go perfectly to realistically make it, and he is smart enough to understand that. Nationals teammates say they are impressed by his speed as well as his power, but a couple remarked that they haven't seen him enough to make a judgment. Lost time was something Harper could ill afford if he was to realize his goal of making the Nats.

Harper plays and works hard (according to Adam Kilgore of the Washington Post, he showed up at Space Coast Stadium at 7:15 a.m. today), and by all appearances he seems to have a terrific attitude, despite previous reports of excessive cockiness.

But mainly, he has great home-run potential. Harper, considered one of the top three prospects in baseball, has impressed Nats veterans with his prodigious power. "Outrageous,'' Brad Lidge said. Harper was cranking balls in batting practice above an owl's nest perched above the light tower in right field here. He swings with all his might and frequently connects.

But the minors is the best place for him to start the year. He is only 19, after all. And he did hit just .256 in Double-A last year, when a leg injury cut his season short, after dominating Class-A. Though no one questions his credentials as a prodigy, one Nationals person suggested that despite excellent speed he needs a little work in the outfield, no surprise since he's a converted catcher. He's missed a few days with the left calf injury but is due back Wednesday night.

Manager Davey Johnson has stumped for Harper to make the team behind the scenes, and he isn't the only one in the organization to feel that way. But, as Harper sugested, it is probably a serious long shot at this point.

One Nationals person said he thought Harper would hit .220 in the majors and that "he'd probably run into twenty homers.'' If that's true, it shouldn't be a tough call. That's no way to start his major-league career.

Harper should start the year in the minors, maybe Double-A, then move up quickly if he's as good as folks think. The Nats are clearly preparing for him to make the majors at some point this year while he's 19 (he doesn't turn 20 until October). But it shouldn't be now. This is too soon.
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