WASHINGTON -- For the second straight year, the Nationals used the No. 1 overall Draft pick to take the year's most talked-about player. This year, that player is Bryce Harper of the College of Southern Nevada.
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo and his team of talent evaluators, which included scouting director Kris Kline and assistant GM Roy Clark, were seen congratulating one another on Monday night after Commissioner Bud Selig announced Washington's selection.
Harper, after putting up monster numbers in high school, received a lot of publicity last year when Sports Illustrated referred to him as the "Chosen One" and baseball's version of LeBron James.
"I'm just trying to enjoy it with my family -- it's what I've wanted since I was 7 years old," Harper said in an interview with MLB Network shortly after he was selected.
Rizzo said he knew a month ago that Harper was going to be the guy. During that time, Rizzo went to Las Vegas to see Harper play and came away impressed with what he saw. After returning to Washington, Rizzo had a discussion with Kline and Clark, and the trio agreed that nobody was better than Harper.
"On the plane home from Vegas, we kind of cemented that he was the guy we were going to take," Rizzo said.
Known primarily as a catcher, Harper -- if he signs -- will start his professional career in the Gulf Coast League as a right fielder. Rizzo feels that Harper will get to the big leagues more quickly if he plays somewhere other than behind the plate. Harper is considered an above-average outfielder with a great throwing arm and speed.
"I think we made the early decision that we are going to take 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," Rizzo said.
"We believe he could pull off being a Major League catcher. We think his bat is well ahead of his defense as a catcher. We just think [playing the outfield] will accelerate his development in the Minor Leagues and also extend his career in the Major Leagues."
Harper told MLB Network that he doesn't have a problem playing the outfield.
"I can get better out there, I think," Harper said. "Anywhere they need me, I'll play. I'll play third, outfield -- I just want to make it. We'll see what happens when I get there."
Harper has the stats to warrant being taken with the No. 1 overall pick. In 2008, Harper had a .599 batting average with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs in 38 games for Las Vegas High School. He followed that up with a .626 batting average, 14 home runs and 55 RBIs the next season.
Playing against a high level of competition and hitting with a wooden bat has not presented much of a challenge to Harper. The 17-year-old hit .442 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs during the 2010 regular season. And in the National Junior College World Series, Harper hit for the cycle while going 6-for-7. The next day, he went 2-for-5 in the first game of a doubleheader and 6-for-6 with four home runs in the nightcap.
Kline said that Harper was the only hitter in the Draft to be projected as a No. 3 hitter, and he compared the slugger to former Major Leaguer Larry Walker and current Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew.
"Bryce is very advanced for his age -- very polished," Kline said. "He has the ability to keep the bat in the strike zone. I think he sees the ball extremely well. He's just very advanced but has a simple approach and that knack for driving the ball the other way already, which tells me how advanced he is at this point."
Clark first met Harper two years ago. When Clark saw Harper hit, his reaction was, 'Oh my God. How old is this guy?'"
"You knew he had a chance to be special back then," Clark said.
A Scott Boras advisee, Harper turned some more heads when he received his GED in lieu of becoming a senior in high school, then headed to the College of Southern Nevada to join a junior-college team that plays in a wood-bat conference.
"It was pretty difficult in the beginning, but being around the guys I was around -- kids I played with in high school, my brother being there, all of them there for me -- made it a lot easier for me," Harper said. "It made it a lot of fun, and I loved playing for the College of Southern Nevada.
"Our whole team, we had a huge target on our chests -- a lot of guys coming in from D1. Everybody on the team had a target, and everyone had to keep their cool. It made it a lot of fun -- we wanted a target on our chests. It didn't work out for us, but we had a great season."
Unlike last year's top pick, right-hander Stephen Strasburg, Harper isn't projected to be in the big leagues for at least two or three years. A year after being drafted, Strasburg is set to make his Major League debut on Tuesday against the Pirates at Nationals Park.
Washington's selection of Harper marks only the third time since 2000 that the Nationals/Expos franchise has taken a position player -- Ryan Zimmerman and Chris Marrero were the others -- in the first round.
Rizzo said that he has dismissed reports about character concerns regarding Harper and that the team is not concerned that Harper was recently ejected from a Junior College World Series game for arguing balls and strikes.
After being called out on strikes by home-plate umpire Don Gilmore, Harper took his bat and pushed dirt toward Gilmore to indicate that the ball was off the plate.
Earlier in the year, Harper was ejected from a game for taunting the opposing team, and also reportedly took a bow after unleashing a particularly strong throw from the outfield. He is also is known to wear eye black like war paint. Rizzo said that Harper will not wear eye black in that manner as a pro.
"There is no concern about this player's makeup," Rizzo said. "We are sold on him, the family and the character of the player. He acts like a 17-year-old at times. I don't want to tell you about when I was 17. He is mature beyond his years as far as performance on the field, tools development and even his social skills.
"This guy has had more hype and more publicity than most 25-year-olds have had already. He has handled it remarkably. Between the lines, he is going 110 mph all the time. He is a baseball rat. I love the way he gets after it."
Teams have until Aug. 16 to sign their Draft picks. The Nationals believe they can get Harper signed.
[Harper] is a guy that wants to get out and play," Rizzo said. "He does not enjoy idle time. We have hopes of getting him signed sooner than Aug. 16. He has a representative we have dealt with successfully in the past. We are going to give it our best effort on all sides."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.