When Bryce Harper was selected by the Nationals with the top overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft, Bud Selig announced him as an outfielder — the position he'll play professionally — not as a catcher, the position he played at the College of Southern Nevada.
If you're a Washington fan who's been contemplating a future in which Stephen Strasburg(notes) fires 110 mph missiles to Harper (the only man alive who could hit such a pitch), then we're sorry. That dream is already dead.
For all sorts of reasons, this position change makes sense for the 17-year-old Harper. It certainly eases the learning curve, which should allow him to advance through the Nats' system as quickly as possible, perhaps arriving in Washington by 2013. Harper's catching was never quite as impressive as his almost mythic ability to hit. Details here from MASN:
"We believe that he could pull off being a major league catcher. We think his bat is well ahead of his defense as a catcher," [general manager Mike] Rizzo said. "With the rigors of the game of catching — the squatting, the beating that they take behind the plate — we think it will accelerate his development in the minor leagues, and also extend his career as a major-leaguer."
"His representative [Scott Boras] is aware of what our plans are. The player has acknowledged it, and we're all on the same page as far as what this does for his development."
This news is a small disappointment for position scarcity fetishists, no doubt. But if it means that Harper will hit, say, 85 homers in 580 at-bats in 2016 (when he's 23) instead of merely 60 in 480 at-bats, then perhaps the trade-off is worth it.
Regardless of his position, we still project that Major League Baseball will ultimately require Harper to swing one-handed and use Nerf equipment, so as to preserve competitive balance.
Photo via US Presswire