Mar. 13, 2012; Melbourne, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) in the dugout in the sixth inning against the Detroit Tigers at Space Coast Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-US PRESSWIRE
"There's no question in my mind he can do it," Nats' skipper Davey Johnson said when asked by MLB Network Radio hosts Mike Ferrin and Jim Duquette yesterday about the team's decision to have 19-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper in center field at Triple-A Syracuse to prepare him to play there between a hopefully-healthy Michael Morse in left and Jayson Werth in right when Harper is inevitably eventually called up to the majors at some point this season. "And there's no secret I like his bat and I'd like to get more left-handed presence in the lineup," Johnson continued, sounding like a manager who expects it won't be long before the second-year pro makes his MLB debut.
"I told him when I sent him out," Johnson explained, "I said, there's several things, two reasons why I'm sending you out. Number one, you have a propensity sometimes to struggle a little bit and if you struggle with what we've got going on here, there's going to be naysayers out there saying you should have gottten more seasoning."
"You guys have probably said that coming in," Johnson joked with the hosts.
"'But you go down there and get some at bats at Syracuse and I also want you to play center field, see if you're comfortable,'" Johnson continued, returning to the narrative of what he'd told Harper. "He says, 'I love center field,' and I said, 'You get those at bats down there and do the things I know you're capable of down there cause then when you come up there's no going back.' And he understood that. And he's had a great attitude down there and I was over there today and I saw him hit a bullet over the center fielder's head, so he's going to give it all he's got down ther--"
"He knew you were there didn't he?" Jim Duquette joked.
"Yeah, he knew I was there," Johnson said with a laugh, "But he only knows one way and that's going about 120 miles and hour."
When the Nats' GM Mike Rizzo visited with the MLB Network Radio hosts later in the show he told them he's already seen differences in Harper's play in center field from what he saw last year. "We played him about  games last year in center field in Hagerstown, in Low-A, just to kind of get his feet wet in each of the outfield positions," Rizzo said. "He's a good enough runner, he's not a burner, but he's a solid-average to a tick above average runner on the way, but he's got great baseball instincts. He's got a real high baseball IQ, so he understands the position."
"What I've seen in contrast from last year," Rizzo explained, "Is [that] this is a kid who's starting to read angles off the bat, read swings, and anticipating the balls off the bat and [he] made two or three really good routes today in the game. Of course, he's got an above average arm in center field, which helps. Because he's 19, he's a live-bodied guy, he's not the real fluid, floating-type of Devon White-type of center fielder, but this is a guy who can cover a lot of ground and if he could fill that position for us, it's a position of need and it would be the best of both worlds for us to get his bat in the lineup, left-handed power and be able to play center."
No one's heard much from Harper since he was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse after hitting in 8 of 28 Grapefruit League at bats this Spring, though he'd already toned down the public comments after stirring up controversy through Twitter and his comments to reporters earlier this Spring. The one comment attributed to the Nats' top prospect that did leak out via CBSSports.com's Danny Knobler last week, after he'd, "... hit 2 HR in minor league exhibition," was that, "He's telling people he will be in big leagues quicker than Nationals plan." Harper's manager and GM both look forward to the day, and they seem to both agree with Harper's assessment, as expressed by the CBSSports.com reporter at least, that it won't be long.