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Nationals introduce top pick Harper

Nationals introduce top pick Harper

WASHINGTON -- The Nationals introduced outfielder Bryce Harper to the local media at Nationals Park on Thursday evening. Fans were able to see the news conference on the video scoreboard, which is located behind right-center field.

Harper, the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, will wear uniform No. 34 when he starts his professional baseball career in the instructional league this fall. The Nationals are thinking about letting Harper play in the Arizona Fall League as well.

"I love the game of baseball," Harper said. "I love being out on the field. I just love playing. I live for baseball. Anywhere I could play, anywhere I could help the team, I'm excited to go out there and start playing."

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Third baseman Ryan Zimmerman gave Harper his new jersey during the news conference. Harper chose the number because of his baseball hero, Mickey Mantle, who wore No. 7. Harper has worn No. 34 since high school because No. 7 wasn't available -- it is Harper's way to honor Mantle by adding the three and the four to equal seven.

Before the news conference, Harper -- who was sporting a mohawk -- took six rounds of batting practice. His first homer came in the first round, and it was a majestic shot. The ball landed in the third deck in right field. In all, Harper hit 12 home runs.

"I was impressed with his hand size," outfielder Kevin Mench said. "His hands are huge. I thought I had big hands, and I shook his hand and they are massive. If he grows, he is going to be a giant. He is impressive with what he showed so far."

During the sixth round, Tim Foli, the senior assistant to general manager Mike Rizzo, noticed that Harper was swinging the bat too hard. It was if he was playing home run derby. Foli had Harper come to the mound and simply told Harper to relax. Harper went on to hit six home runs in his final round.

"I told him, 'Just go back to where you were -- just drive the ball the other way,'" Foli said. "'Just take your swing.' He was trying to generate too much. It was more of home run derby type of swing instead of his normal swing. He is a strong young man. I'm very excited."

Harper and the Nationals agreed to a five-year contract worth $9.9 million, which includes a $6.25 million signing bonus. The deal is a record for a position player signed out of the Draft. The previous record was held by Mark Teixeira, who received a $9.5 million, four-year Major League deal in 2001.

Harper and the Nationals agreed to terms seconds before the Aug. 16 deadline.

Don't look for Harper to buy a new car with his money. Look for him to use the money to fix the door on his 2000 Toyota Tacoma. It has a dent in it.

"It's pretty nice. It's awesome. It has 120,000 miles on it, so it's all right," Harper said.

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. Shortly thereafter, he turned more heads when he received his GED in lieu of becoming a junior in high school, then headed to the College of Southern Nevada to join a junior college team that plays in a wooden bat conference.

Having played primarily as a catcher, Harper will start his professional career as a right fielder. Rizzo feels that Harper will get to the big leagues quicker if he plays somewhere other than behind the plate. Harper is considered an above-average outfielder with a great throwing arm and speed.

"We throw a lot of accolades, descriptions and comparisons all the time," Rizzo said. "I think he is going to be a fine player. He has the athleticism and the other skills to play the outfield. He was drafted to be in the middle of the lineup. He is a very educated player, has high baseball IQ and knows the game very well. We feel we have an player that is an impact player."

Many believe Harper will be in the big leagues in two years. Asked if believed the prediction, Harper said, "I don't know right now. I just know that Mike Rizzo and [manager] Jim Riggleman and all of them will take care all of that. I'll just go out and play and let them make those decisions."

Harper acknowledged that he will miss working behind the plate, but is willing to do anything to help the team win. He said his father taught him how to play the outfield.

"I grew up playing the outfield. I grew up playing right and center," Harper said. "I played a couple of games out of the weekend. My dad played the outfield. He knows a lot of things out there."

In addition to the physical tools, Harper had the stats to warrant being taken with the No. 1 overall pick. In 2008, as a freshman at Las Vegas High School, Harper had a .599 batting average with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs in 38 games. 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 didn't present 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.

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.

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