"If Davey [Johnson's] picking the club, he's on the club," D.C. GM Mike Rizzo joked this afternoon in an appearance on the MLB Network Radio Show "Power Alley" with Jim Duquette and Kevin Kennedy when asked if 19-year-old phenom Bryce Harper would be breaking Spring Training with the big league team. "Bryce is an extremely talented player. He performed terrifically in the Arizona Fall League and in his first professional season really handled each level flawlessly. [He] played very, very well in the Arizona Fall League which, as you know, is an accelerated league. He shows all the signs of [being] a guy that is a quick-to-the-big-leagues guy. We all know about the power, we know about the hit tool, the [hitting] ability, the kid can run, he can throw really well. He's learning how to play defense in the outfield, since after we drafted him we took him from behind the plate to the outfield to extend his career a little bit, but those are difficult questions."
"What Davey has beat into my head," Rizzo said, referring again to the public comments his manager has made about wanting to bring the best team north when Spring Training ends, "Is that I'm going to keep an open mind about it. We really want to break camp with the best twenty-five players that [give] us the best chance to win, but we can't do that in lieu of not developing Bryce Harper correctly for the long-term." As the general manager has explained repeatedly when asked about Harper since the day they selected him no.1 overall in 2010, "We don't want to retard the progress of a great player, but we also don't want to accelerate the process where he really takes a step backwards in his developmental curve."
"It's a fine line," the Nats' GM concluded, "but as we stand today, we're going to keep an open mind and if he's deemed ready and prepared to handle the rigors of a major league season we'll give him every opportunity, but if we feel that he still needs a little more seasoning, he'll go to the minor leagues. I see him as a guy who doesn't need a whole lot of minor league seasoning, but it never hurts a player to go and get some at bats at a lower level than the major leagues."
The Nationals' general manager, who introduced another new starter yesterday when the Nats announced that they'd signed 28-year-old right-hander Edwin Jackson, hasn't been able to escape the Bryce Harper questions in spite of the fact that Washington has been making headlines by trading for Gio Gonzalez and topping Baseball America's list of the top organizations in baseball this winter (before the Gonzalez trade). In an appearance on the MLB Network Show Clubhouse Confidential, the GM was asked what he needed to see from the left-handed slugger this Spring to make his decision:
Mike Rizzo: "I think he has to show that all aspects of the game are fully developed. We know what the power entails. We know how he can swing the bat. We know his competitive edge and we know he's certainly not going to be intimidated or afraid, but he needs to work on the nuances of the game, to become a better defensive outfielder and to be a two-way player, to learn the nuances of base running and that type of thing. And to see more pitches and to get a data base on pitchers in the league and making adjustments I think are probably the most important portions of the development that he has left."
• Watch D.C. GM Mike Rizzo on Clubhouse Confidential:
Though he's held the line in public throughout Bryce Harper's development, CBSSports.com's Jon Heyman wrote this morning in an article entitled, "Nats' Rizzo: Bryce can make team; others unsure", that Davey Johnson's comments, "... may [be] getting through to some people -- in fact, the very people making the call." Mr. Heyman writes about whether making the team would be the best thing for Harper's development, but also (more interestingly?) wonders if the public comments about Harper might be a bad idea in case Harper does impress this Spring:
"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,'" the Nats' GM told the CBSSports.com reporter. The Nationals might be trying to motivate Harper, but it doesn't sound like the left-handed-hitting slugger needs much motivation, he did, after all, leave high school early, get his GED and get himself drafted as early as possible in pursuit of his dream of playing in the major leagues. If this winter's acquisitions of Gio Gonzalez, Edwin Jackson and Brad Lidge do in fact signal that the Nats believe they're ready to win now, would Harper be better off learning on the job in the majors rather than joining a competitive team later this season? In our last poll we asked "IF" Bryce Harper "would be" on the Opening Day Roster. The results overwhelmingly said, "No." One suggestion was that the next poll should ask, "SHOULD Bryce Harper make the Opening Day Roster?" Should he?