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Jim Riggleman: Nationals Will Not Bring Bryce Harper to Majors in 2011

Feb 16, 2011 – 1:26 PM
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John Hickey

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Bryce HarperThis is two seasons running now that the previous year's first overall pick in the June draft is dressing out in a Washington Nationals uniform.

Last February, it was right-handed starting pitcher Stephen Strasburg, whose journey from San Diego State to the U.S. national team to the Nationals rotation was conducted at the speed of a Daytona 500 lap.

This time around, it's Bryce Harper who will be in the eye of the storm. Signed at 17, he's just 18 now and was judged to be the best pure hitter in the 2010 draft.

And when the Nationals' full roster reports on Feb. 20, Harper will be as highly scrutinized as highly touted free-agent addition Jayson Werth. The difference is that Werth is on hand to be in the middle of the Washington batting order.

Harper? Not so much. At least not yet.

"It would be very unlikely that he would make the club." manager Jim Riggleman told FanHouse on the eve of the opening of the Nationals spring training camp in Viera, Fla. "We will give him some big-league at-bats, then get him into the minor league camp.

"This would be a major challenge for him, playing against guys who are older than him. To this point he has met and exceeded everything he's had in the way of challenges."

You could say that. This is a kid who was taught his swing by his father and pushed his passion for playing elite baseball so far that he got his GED after his sophomore year of high school in 2009 so that he could spend the 2010 season as a 16-year-old in the junior college ranks at the College of Southern Nevada.

He went on to hit 31 homers in 66 games -- the school record was 12 -- while batting .443 and being named conference Player of the Year despite being the youngest player in the league. Ultimately he was made the No. 1 pick in the draft by the Nationals, converted to the outfield, and comes into spring training with a major spotlight trained on him.

Will it be Strasburg-like? Well, more like Strasburg-lite. Strasburg came to his first spring training camp last year as a former Olympian who'd competed for three years in college. He was simply a much more polished player.

Harper has great potential, but he doesn't have great experience in the game, and he's learning a new position to boot. So while Nationals fans might expect to see him in a Washington uniform sometime this season -- Strasburg made it to the big leagues after about two months in the minors -- they should not count on it.

"I don't think the kid will have the same pressure that Strasburg did," Riggleman said. "But very much like in the case of Strasburg, what we eventually do will be an organizational decision.

"He'll be a big-leaguer when the organization decides he's ready. We like everything about him. Everything I have heard about him is good. I've talked to college coaches and our minor-league pitchers about him. He's got ability and he has got some gamesmanship about him, and he's feisty.

"The guy is a baseball player. He loves the game. He'll compete his ass off."

Just not in Washington this year.

Curiously, the same can be said for Strasburg, although not for the same reason. Strasburg, who debuted in the big leagues last June 8, went on the disabled list in July, came back to pitch in August, then was finished after being diagnosed with a torn ulnar collateral ligament. That required Tommy John surgery, effectively putting Strasburg on the shelf for the 2011 season.

"With Strasburg, the best-case scenario is to see him pitching maybe in September," Riggleman said. "Very possibly this could mean he wouldn't pitch for us again until 2012, The doctors say the surgery is successful 85-90 percent of the time, so we're hoping for a good full recovery."
Jeff Fletcher
John Hickey | Twitter: @JHickey3

John is a National Baseball Writer for AOL FanHouse. He covered the Seattle Mariners from 2000-2009 for the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, and and the Oakland A's for two decades at the Oakland Tribune and The Daily Review (Hayward, CA). He is a multiple Associated Press Sports Editors award winner for his baseball coverage. A member of the Baseball Writers Association of America, he is a Hall of Fame voter.
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