"We're going to take the rigors and the pressure of learning the difficult position of catcher away from him and really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game," Mike Rizzo, on moving Bryce Harper from catcher to the outfield.

The Washington Nationals today selected College of Southern Nevada outfielder Bryce Harper with the first-overall selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. Nationals Senior Vice President & General Manager Mike Rizzo, Nationals Assistant General Manager & Vice President of Player Personnel Roy Clark and Nationals Director of Scouting Kris Kline made the joint announcement.

Harper—who stands 6-foot-3, 205 lbs. and hails from Las Vegas—hit .443 (101-for-228) with 23 doubles, four triples, 31 home runs, 98 RBI, 39 walks and 20 stolen bases in 66 games for College of Southern Nevada in the Scenic West Athletic Conference, which uses wood-bats. Despite being 17 years-old and the youngest player in the SWAC, Harper posted .526 and .987 on-base and slugging percentages, respectively, en route to a stellar 1.513 OPS (OBP+SLG) this season. He led his conference and team in virtually every primary offensive category.

Harper was named 2010 SWAC Player of the Year last month. He also earned First-Team SWAC All-Conference status. Harper’s 31 home runs in 2010 set a College of Southern Nevada single-season mark, easily besting the former record of 12, which was set during CSN’s era using aluminum bats.
From the very get-go, when MLB Commisioner Bud Selig called out the name "oufielder Bryce Harper", there was no mistake about the Nationals plans for their shiny new toy, 17-year old Bryce Harper.  Though he played most of his time this season at catcher, Rizzo said--in no uncetrain terms--that Harper's path to the majors would be in the outfield.

"We're going to take the rigors and the pressure of learning the difficult position of catcher away from him and really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game, and let his athleticism take over as an outfielder. He's got above-average speed and a plus-plus throwing arm.

We believe he could pull off being a major-league catcher. We think his bat is well ahead of his defense as a catcher. And with the rigors of the game of catching -- the squatting, the beating they take behind the plate -- we just think it will accelerate his development in the minor leagues and also extend his career as a major leaguer."

There have been questions about Harper's make-up, with the war paint he smeares on his face, to the umpire baiting, to taunting opponents.  But Rizzo dismissed all those concerns very quickly today. 

"We know him as well as any team in baseball can know a player. We've been scouting him for a long time. We've done a lot of homework on his character, his family background and that type of stuff.

This kid gets after it like few amateur players have since I've been doing this. He's a great kid. He's a very spiritual kid, solid family background, good parents. We have high expectations, not only of his tools, but of his makeup and his character."

"There are no concerns about the player’s make up. We are sold on him and the family, the character of the player. He acts like a 17-year old at times. I don’t want to tell you what I did at 17. So, he’s mature beyond his years as far as performance on the field--tools, development, and even his social skills. This guy has been through, he’s had more hype and more publicity than most 25-year olds have had already. And I think he has handled it remarkably."

As for the full-time position move, Harper told MLB Network about the move to the outfield, "Yeah, I can get better out there, I think. Anywhere they need me, I'll play. I'll play third, I'll play outfield, I'll play center. Anywhere they need me, I'll play there. I just want to make it. We'll see what happens when I get there."
As for his signability, Rizzo seemed to dismiss that as well.  "He's a player that wants to get out and play.  He's the type of guy that does not enjoy idle time.  We have hopes of getting him out and playing sooner than August 15."
Harper's advisor, Scott Boras, typically keeps his players close to the vest and negotiations often stall until the Aug. 15 deadline, as they did last year with Stephen Strasburg.
For now, the Nationals will be content to dream about getting Harper into the lineup in D.C., dream about pairing him with last year's double No. 1 picks, Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen.  Washington baseball fans will get a taste of the future tomorrow, with Strasburg's major league debut.