PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said he liked what he saw from outfielder Bryce Harper during the Grapefruit League season, but Rizzo felt Harper needed more seasoning in the Minor Leagues.
Harper was optioned to Triple-A Syracuse on Sunday and is expected to play mostly center field in the Minors. Harper went 8-for-28 [.286] with a team-leading 11 strikeouts during Grapefruit League play. It also didn't help Harper's case that he missed six games because of a calf injury.
The team decided that he was ready for Triple-A because he showed that he could handle Double-A pitching and was successful in the Arizona Fall League in 2011, where he hit .333 with six home runs and 26 RBIs.
After having a conversation with the team's Minor League coordinators and supervisors, Rizzo said the team wants to see what Harper can do in center fielder. The team feels he is athletic enough to play the position.
"We have a terrifically athletic guy that runs well, throws well, has great instincts for the game. Let's see if he can handle it," Rizzo said.
It's not a secret that the Nationals are looking for a center fielder. Before trying to trade for one, the Nationals what to see what Harper can do first. Rizzo hasn't ruled out Harper outgrowing the position.
"If he can handle it and we think that he is a long-term answer for us in center, he would certainly be the long-term answer," Rizzo said. "If we feel that he can handle the position at the Major League level now and look for better down the road, then we'll keep that in mind, too.
"This is also a 19-year-old man that may not be done growing. He gained about an inch and 15 pounds from last year to this year. His brother [Bryan] is 6-foot-6. We don't know if Bryce will outgrow the position, physically. There is a lot of thought that goes into it."
Besides playing center field, Rizzo said there isn't much that Harper needs to work on while playing for Syracuse.
"We want him to stay where he is at offensively," Rizzo said. "He improved greatly in his baserunning, and his throwing was much improved. We want him to know when it's prudent to utilize his arm that he has in situations, just to be more aware of hitting cutoff men and throwing through at times when you have a chance to get a guy, not always letting it loose and trying to throw guys out."