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Hagerstown likely for Harper

"He needs to start in a comfortable position," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said of where top prospect Bryce Harper (34) will open 2011.
"He needs to start in a comfortable position," Nationals GM Mike Rizzo said of where top prospect Bryce Harper (34) will open 2011. (Jonathan Newton)

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By Adam Kilgore
Thursday, November 18, 2010

First overall pick Bryce Harper, currently tearing up the Arizona Fall League, a league packed with the most promising prospects in baseball, will begin the season with Class A Hagerstown, General Mike Rizzo said Tuesday night. Rizzo had said Harper would begin in Class A, but hadn't specified whether he would begin in High-A Potomac or Low-A Hagerstown.

In Hagerstown, Harper would play for new Manager Brian Daubach, a former Red Sox slugger. Rizzo did not marry Harper to starting in Hagerstown, but the low level would allow Harper, 18, to develop against easier competition. The Nationals like to see their prospects dominate a level before advancing, such as when Stephen Strasburg began this past season at Class AA Harrisburg despite obviously possessing the talent to pitch at a higher class.

"I would assume [Harper] starts in Hagerstown," Rizzo said. "That could change. If the minor league season opened today, it would be Hagerstown. I think he needs to start in a comfortable position for him and succeed and move on."

Wednesday night, Harper was to play his ninth game in the fall league. He is hitting .323/.400/.613 (average/on-base/slugging) with one home run, four walks and 10 strikeouts in 31 at-bats. Harper has also impressed scouts with his arm strength in right field.

The Nationals took somewhat of a risk assigning Harper to the fall league, given his dearth of experience and age - he became the second-youngest player, by less than a week, to play in the AFL. Rizzo, though, always felt comfortable with Harper fitting in.

"He makes those decisions pretty easy," Rizzo said. "It's nice that he's doing well, but he was out there not only for the Wednesdays and Saturdays that he plays, but for the other five days a week that he didn't play. Those are as important or more important as far as his development. He's with those professional players. Many of those players will be in the big leagues in 2011."

Team talking to Pavano

The Nationals are one of "six or eight" teams to have engaged in preliminary discussions with Minnesota Twins free agent starting pitcher Carl Pavano, according to a league source. The Nationals met with Pavano's representative here at the General Manager meetings in Orlando, a meeting designed for both sides to gauge the other's interest.

It comes as no surprise that the Nationals would pursue Pavano, given their determination to find a starting pitcher. Pavano, an 11-year veteran, is one of the top pitchers in the free agent pitching market following Cliff Lee. Pavano became the Twins' No. 2 starter this season, going 17-11 with a 3.75 ERA, 117 strikeouts and 37 walks in 221 innings. . . .

The Nationals have three options this offseason with left fielder Josh Willingham, who is entering his final year of arbitration and will be a free agent following the 2011 season. They could sign him to a multiyear contract extension, which Willingham would prefer. They could sign him to another one-year contract. They could trade him.

Early in the offseason, it seems unlikely that Willingham, 31, will get the extension. The Nationals will likely either give Willingham another one-year deal, either in arbitration or otherwise, or trade him.

kilgorea@washpost.com


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