06/07/10 11:36 AM ET
Nats leaning toward Harper with top pick
GM Rizzo says team will 'keep it under wraps' until Draft time
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Rizzo said he will keep it to himself until it's time to select the player, but told MASN's Debbi Taylor that the Nationals will most likely take catcher-outfielder Bryce Harper. MLB.com confirmed that same sentiment, but was cautioned that the club could change its mind.
If Harper is drafted by Washington, he will most likely become an outfielder, a source said. The team believes that Harper is an above-average outfielder with speed. He can play center and right field. Harper still needs to work on his catching skills.
"We'll keep it under wraps," Rizzo said. "It's not the biggest secret in the world. Until we make the pick, things change often up to the Draft time."
Harper, after putting up monster numbers in high school, received a lot of publicity last year when Sports Illustrated referred to him as the "Chosen One" and baseball's version of LeBron James.
In 2008, for example, Harper had a .599 batting average with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs in 38 games for Las Vegas High School. The next year, Harper had a .626 batting average with 14 home runs and 55 RBIs for the school.
A Scott Boras advisee, Harper turned some more heads when he received his GED in lieu of becoming a senior in high school, and headed to the College of Southern Nevada -- a junior college team that plays in a wood bat conference.
Playing against a high level of competition and hitting with a wood bat has not presented much of a challenge to Harper. The 17-year-old hit .442 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs during the regular season. And in the National Junior College World Series, Harper hit for the cycle while going 6-for-7. The next day, he went 2-for-5 in the first game of a doubleheader and 6-for-6 with four home runs in Game 2.
Early last month, Rizzo acknowledged that he scouted Harper in Las Vegas and came away impressed.
"He played great," Rizzo said. "He has great energy, great tools and he is one of the five or six guys we are talking about taking with the first pick. He has great bat speed and great leverage power. He is already comfortable with the wooden bat."
Rizzo said that he has dismissed reports about character concerns regarding Harper and that the team is not concerned that he was recently ejected from a Junior College World Series game for arguing balls and strikes.
After being called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Don Gilmore, Harper took his bat and pushed dirt toward Gilmore to indicate that the ball was outside of the plate.
Earlier in the year, Harper was ejected from a game for taunting the opposing team, and also reportedly took a bow after unleashing a particularly strong throw from the outfield.
"He is moving 110 miles per hour all the time," Rizzo said. "He really plays hard between the lines. He is a young player with a big upside. We have no problem with Bryce Harper's character.
"We know him as well as anybody. [Assistant general manager] Roy Clark and [scouting director] Kris Kline have been doing this Draft stuff for many years, and if they are not concerned with it, I'm not concerned with it.
"I met the kid personally. I met the mom and dad personally. I adore how they interact as a family. The dad is an iron worker. Bryce is a hard-working, blue-collar guy and the kid brings his lunch pail every day."
Rizzo said he is looking forward to the second day of the Draft because that day's picks are more important than Monday's selection.
"Rounds 2 to 15 are going to separate a great Draft to a franchise-changing Draft," Rizzo said. "We are fired-up about it. We are excited about it. That is really the day all the great minds that we have in the Draft come together and put our strategy in play and really beat the opposition."