SECAUCUS, N.J. — The Washington Nationals are becoming the franchise of phenoms.
First, Stephen Strasburg. Now, Bryce Harper. Suddenly, the future looks bright in the nation's capital.
“Other teams are recognizing now that the Nationals aren't just a pushover,” said Davey Johnson, in his first year as a special adviser for Washington.
The Nationals drafted the much-hyped Harper, a 17-year-old slugger with prodigious power from the College of Southern Nevada, with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft Monday night.
“It's what I've wanted since I was 7 years old,” Harper said.
A year after selecting the similarly hyped Strasburg, the Nationals took Harper, who was primarily a catcher the last few years but was announced as an outfielder at the draft site at MLB Network studios by commissioner Bud Selig.
“Anywhere they need me, I'll play,” Harper said. “I just want to make it and we'll see what happens when I get there.”
Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo envisions Harper as a strong-armed right fielder and a No. 3-type power hitter.
“We're going to take the rigor and the pressures of learning the position, the difficult position of catcher, away from him,” Rizzo said, “and really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game and let his athleticism take over as an outfielder.”
It's a big couple of days for the Nationals, who added their stud slugger Monday and were set to have Strasburg make his major league debut against Pittsburgh on Tuesday.
“I can't remember where back-to-back years there's two players that have separated themselves from the rest of the field,” Rizzo said. “In that respect, it is very, very unique. I think it's a lucky time to have two No. 1 picks overall.”
Harper hit .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBIs in his first college season in a wood bat league, after skipping his final two years of high school and getting his GED. The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper surpassed former big league pitcher Alex Fernandez, who went fourth overall to the Chicago White Sox in 1990, as the highest-drafted JUCO player.
With the second overall pick, Pittsburgh selected hard-throwing Texas high school right-hander Jameson Taillon. He was considered by many the top pitcher in the draft with an overpowering fastball in the mid- to upper-90s.
“There's a lot there to like,” Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.
Baltimore went next and picked smooth-fielding Florida high school shortstop Manny Machado, who has drawn comparisons to Alex Rodriguez.
“He's been a target guy for us all spring,” said Joe Jordan, the Orioles' scouting director.
Cal State Fullerton shortstop Christian Colon went to Kansas City at No. 4, and could end up playing second base. Cleveland then grabbed Ole Miss left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the Southeastern Conference pitcher of the year.
Harper is expected to seek a record contract through his adviser, Scott Boras, who negotiated a record-breaking four-year, $15.1 million deal for Strasburg. The Nationals have through Aug. 16 to sign Harper.
“He's a player that wants to get out and play,” Rizzo said. “He's the type of guy that does not enjoy idle time.”
Harper was the subject of a Sports Illustrated cover story while still in high school, and has reportedly hit balls over 550 feet. A hitter has not garnered this much national attention since possibly Florida State's J.D. Drew, who went No. 2 overall to Philadelphia in 1997 but didn't sign. Also a Boras client, Drew played in an independent league and signed the following year after he went fifth to St. Louis.
There have been some questions about Harper's character and maturity, especially after he got thrown out of his last college game. Rizzo said the Nationals are comfortable with what they've seen.
“There are no concerns about this player's makeup,” he said. “We are sold on him, his family, the character of the player.”
Texas A&M righty Barret Loux went sixth to Arizona, and North Carolina right-hander Matt Harvey was selected by the New York Mets at No. 7. Houston next took Georgia high school outfielder Delino DeShields Jr., son of the former big leaguer.
Florida high school righty Karsten Whitson went ninth to San Diego, and Texas-Arlington outfielder Michael Choice rounded out the top 10 by going to Oakland.
The draft's first and supplemental rounds were completed Monday night, with rounds 2-50 scheduled for the next two days.
DETROIT — The Detroit Tigers selected high school third baseman Nick Castellanos of Florida 44th and Texas pitcher Chance Ruffin 48th overall in the baseball draft.
Detroit gave up its first pick Monday night to Houston when they signed closer Jose Valverde. But they acquired their top two selections for losing relievers Fernando Rodney and Brandon Lyon in free agency.
Castellanos is from Archbishop McCarthy High School near Fort Lauderdale, Fla. He made a name for himself at an all-star event last year at Wrigley Field, where he won a home run contest and is regarded as a solid defensive player with good hands.
Ruffin is 6-1 with 14 saves and a 0.73 ERA for the Longhorns, who are in the NCAA super regionals. His father is former big leaguer Bruce Ruffin.
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