Washington Nationals select Bryce Harper with first pick in MLB draft
Tuesday, June 8, 2010
The men who run the Washington Nationals sat at a conference table inside Nationals Park on Monday night, watching Commissioner Bud Selig announce on television what they all knew and what everyone else watching assumed. Bunting hung from the ceiling. Owner Mark Lerner stood in one corner of the room; a cooler of Red Bull and a pile of snacks -- bananas, Snickers bars, cookies -- rested in another.
General Manager Mike Rizzo made his career as a scouting director, a draft expert. He watched Bryce Harper play for only one weekend, the first in May. He had not read any of the Nationals scouting reports; he wanted "a clear mind." On the flight back to Washington from Las Vegas, Rizzo knew.
"It was," Rizzo said, "a pretty easy decision."
The Nationals, one month after that trip, selected 17-year-old Harper, a power-hitting phenom from the College of Southern Nevada, with the first overall pick in baseball's First-Year Player Draft. On the night before last year's first overall pick will make his ravenously anticipated major league debut, the Nationals drafted Harper and announced he will play outfield and not catcher, the position he has played most of his life.
The Nationals became the first team to choose first overall in consecutive years -- until 2006, the first pick alternated between the teams with the worst records in each league. The Nationals, losers of 205 games over the past two seasons, not only picked first twice in a row, they picked Stephen Strasburg and Harper, two players widely regarded as possessing once-in-a-lifetime raw talent.
The focus now will shift to the process of Harper officially becoming a National. He is a client of super-agent Scott Boras, who is notorious for protracted negotiations that brush up against the deadline for draftees to sign, which this year is Aug. 15. Harper will almost certainly exceed the record contract for a position player, still Mark Teixeira's $9.5 million in 2001.
Rizzo is optimistic the negotiation will not be an ordeal. The Nationals, of course, have recent experience with such a negotiation. Last August, they struck a record $15.1 million deal with Strasburg, another Boras client, minutes before the midnight deadline.
"We have hopes of getting him out and playing before Aug. 15," Rizzo said. "We're going to put our best effort forward. We know that we have a player who wants to play. We've got a representative that we've dealt with successfully in the past. We're going to give our best effort on all sides."
"I know that he loves to play baseball," said Tim Chambers, Harper's coach at the College of Southern Nevada. "I expect him to sign."
Before he does anything, Harper will rest for a few weeks. "I know that he's tired right now," Chambers said.
When Harper signs, the Nationals will have already made one decision -- whether Harper plays catcher or outfielder. "Bryce doesn't care," Chambers said. The Nationals believe Harper playing the outfield will "accelerate his development in the minor leagues and extend his career in the major leagues," Rizzo said.
Harper primarily played catcher for most of his life, but he also played right field this year at CSN. Moving to the outfield will save Harper from the corrosion of catching and force him to the bench fewer games. It would also expedite his arrival in the majors, given the high demands of learning how to catch in the major leagues.