In interview after interview all Spring and into the season, Washington Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo has reiterated the fact that while the Nats won't slow the growth of 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper in his first professional season, you won't see the 18-year-old outfielder in the nation's capital this year. In an MLB Network Radio interview in late February, Mr. Rizzo was asked about Harper's comments about potentially winning a spot on the roster with a big Spring after Harper was quoted asking the media rhetorically, "'Why can't it be realistic? Why can't I come in here and think I can make this team. I've exceeded expectations my whole life.'"
"I'd be shocked if he said something other than that," Rizzo said at the time. "He's a guy that's going to be a big part of this organization, this club in the very, very near future. He will not be in the big leagues this year, because we don't feel he's ready to be in the big leagues. There's more that goes into being able to get to the big leagues and stay in the big leagues and to be an impact guy in the big leagues, more so than hitting, throwing, running and learning how to play the outfield. He needs to learn how to be a professional player first. The everyday-ness of the game is something that I think young players, that's the first problem that they have to overcome, and we're going to develop him at his pace. We're certainly not going to hold him back, but we're certainly not going to rush him to the big leagues."
Jim Riggleman's been asked too. The Nats' Skipper assured the hosts of another MLB Network Radio show this winter that the Nationals' Minor League coaches and staff, "will have a close eye on Bryce as they will all of our young players, and if he needs to move from one league to the next, we'll move him," but a strong year for Harper might end with the 18-year-old getting up to Double-A Harrisburg, which Riggleman said, "...would be a little bit of a stretch this year."
In an MLB Network Radio interview at the end of Spring Training, the Nats' General Manager was asked when fans should expect Harper to make his MLB debut and Mr. RIzzo once again tried to be clear about how the team intends to develop the second once-in-a-generation talent they've drafted in the last two seasons. "Like any gifted young player, we're going to allow him to develop at his own pace," Rizzo said, "...we're not going to retard his progress, but we're certainly not going to accelerate it past where we think he belongs."
The comparison Rizzo offered then was to another top draft pick he'd played a part in selecting in his role as the Arizona Diamondbacks' scouting director. "You know, he's a fast-track, 18-year-old player, I really can't be any more specific than that," Rizzo said, "Justin Upton was a guy that I had personal experience with in how he developed, and 'gun to my head' if you ask me where [Harper] would be, I think he would be on that course to be, you know, maybe a 19-or-20-year-old big leaguer and maybe a 20-year-old All-Star like Upton was."
Harper's currently in the midst of a ten-game hit streak, as MiLB.com's David Heck writes this morning in an article entitled, "Harper extends hit streak to 10 games,":
"The Las Vegas native has raised his average 80 points during the streak and ranks seventh in the South Atlantic League at .368. He leads the circuit with a .724 slugging percentage, is second with a .466 on-base percentage and is tied for second with 23 RBIs in 26 games."
Harper has a .368/.464/.724 slash line, 10 doubles, seven HR's, 23 RBI's, 16 BB, 20 K's, five stolen bases, two CS and just one error in the field. So when's he coming up? "I think certainly in the near future," Jim Riggleman said when asked again this week during an MLB Network Radio interview, "but I think it's probably going to be something that will be a little bit of a longshot for this year, but you never say never. He's not going to be denied if he just cannot be denied. Quite often that's what happens with these great players, these young guys, whether it's Ken Griffey back in the day or whoever...if they just are dominating so much that the managers who have them in their reports are saying, 'Look, we love having him here, but we really don't have anything more for him here, he's just putting time in here, he's above the league,' if that were to happen...but he's got a long way to go. He's in our lowest level and he's doing very well, but he's got three or four more leagues to jump through yet."
ESPN.com's Jayson Stark got a similar message from a "Nationals source" he spoke to this weekend for the latest edition of his "Rumblings and Grumblings" column entitled, "Reviewing what is painfully obvious." Stark says people ask every week about when Harper will arrive in the majors and if it will be late this year, and the word he received was simple, "So here's the answer, according to one Nationals source: 'That's not happening.'":
"In the Nationals' perfect world, Harper would play his way to Double-A by August, head for the Arizona Fall League in October, then blow through Double-A and Triple-A and reach Washington by late next season. But you never know."
"Never say never." "You never know." If you want to see make sure you see Bryce Harper this season, drive to Hagerstown now, or maybe Potomac and eventually maybe Harrisburg...after that, who knows...?