In mid-March, the Nationals sent Bryce Harper to Class AAA, in part, so he could learn center field. “We’d like to give him an opportunity to see what he can do as a center fielder,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said a few days later. “There’s a hole there for us.”
But after Harper played his first two Class AAA games in center field, he moved over to right field for the next two. What happened? Well, nothing. The Nationals wanted to give Harper more time in center, but never planned to play Harper exclusively in center field.
“He’s going to play both,” Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris said. “We play all of our guys all around the outfield.”
Harris said the split for Harper playing center and right would be “pretty even.” Even if Harper plays half his games in center, that would be a sharp increase over last season. Out of 109 games in 2011, his first professional season, Harper appeared in only 20 games as a center fielder, all at Class A Hagerstown.
At the plate in his first four Class AAA games, Harper has gone 4 for 15 with a double, a walk, a stolen base and three strikeouts. Against left-handed pitchers, Harper is 1 for 7 with a walk and three strikeouts.
>>> The Nationals should have more information on Anthony Rendon’s badly sprained left ankle and his timetable to return later today. The injury added to a rough early spring for the health of the Nationals’ minor league system.
“We’re banged up,” Harris said. “They’ve all been competitive injuries. It’s not like you can prepare for any of them. In two or three weeks, we’ll have an abundance of players. We’ve got to into survival mode for right now.”
Left-hander Sammy Solis, a top pitching prospect, underwent Tommy John surgery early in spring. Left-hander Matt Purke and Robbie Ray are starting the season in extended spring training, as are infielders Zachary Walters and Rick Hague, among others. “You name it, there’s probably a good chance they’re down there right now,” Harris said.
Purke did not suffer any specific injury. The Nationals simply want to build his arm strength slowly in his first year as a professional, a similar plan to the one they used last year with Ray and A.J. Cole, the hard-throwing right-handed they included in the trade for Gio Gonzalez. Both Ray and A.J. Cole made 21 appearances during the season.
“We think a lot of him,” Harris said. “We’re going to be careful.”
>>> In brighter news, perhaps the best development in the Nationals’ system has been the fast start of Brian Goodwin. The Nationals drafted Goodwin, a center fielder, with the 34th overall pick last and paid him a $3 million signing bonus. In four games, he has gone 5 for 14 with five walks, two home runs, a double and two steals. Even if he has made two errors, that’s not a bad way to start a career.
“He’s got a chance to be pretty good,” Harris said, chuckling a bit.