(Jonathan Newton)

“Yes, I have,” Rizzo said. “It’s not going to happen, because he’s not ready for that to happen. He’s got to learn the nuances of the game of baseball. We certainly don’t want to push him to a level where he’s overmatched and struggles even for a short period of time. We’re not going to put him in a place where he has a chance to fail until he’s 100 percent ready at that level.

“When he is, we will certainly bring him up, because we want to win as bad as anybody else, and nobody wants to win worse than I do, believe me. If I felt he was ready to hit in the big leagues right now and ready to perform in the big leagues right now, he would be in the big leagues. If he gave us the best chance at winning, he’d be up there.”

Rizzo also said Harper will “touch every level of the minor league system,” which means he will not jump from Class AA Harrisburg to the majors. So, if he does reach Class AAA Syracuse by the end of this year, it seems unlikely Harper would begin the 2012 season in the majors.

Also, Rizzo said, Harper will play in the Arizona Fall League again. Harper received some action last year in the AFL, where the sport’s brightest prospects convene for six weeks. Harper was a part of the Scottsdale Scorpions’ “taxi squad,” which allowed him to play only Wednesdays and Saturdays.

Although Rizzo kept open the possibility of Harper, 18, reaching the majors this year during spring training, his vow to keep Harper in the minors all season does not come as a surprise. At low-A Hagerstown, Harper is batting .366/.448/.657 with nine home runs and six stolen bases. While Harper has dominated at the plate since getting new contact lenses, he has also been prone to lapses on the bases and in the field.

Today, Boz wrote about how Harper is taking a path similar to that of Harmon Killebrew, who went from a Washington Senators bonus baby to a Hall of Fame slugger and person.

The Nationals, Rizzo said, have mapped out a rough development pace for Harper but “the next step is the most important decision we have to make,” meaning when to promote Harper to high-A Potomac. Harper’s dominance at the plate makes him appear ready for the next level, but the Nationals still believe his defense needs more seasoning.

“It’s not any one thing,” Rizzo said. “I think a lot of it stems on his development on the defensive side of it, in the outfield.”

Harper has played about two-thirds of his games in right field and the rest in center field. Soon, Rizzo said, Harper will also begin playing left field so he has experience in all three outfield positions.