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The Nationals want Bryce Harper to work in center field at Class AAA Syracuse.
So the recently demoted Harper will spend the majority of his time at Class AAA Syracuse manning the middle of the Chiefs' outfield as the organization decides whether he can eventually do it at the major-league level.
"Let's make an evaluation, see how he does," Rizzo said before tonight's game against the Mets. "If he handles it and we think he's a long-term answer for us in center, he'll certainly be the long-term answer. If we feel he can handle the position at the major-league level now, but if we're looking for better down the road, then we'll keep that in mind, too."
In his first comments since Harper was demoted late Sunday afternoon, Rizzo had nothing but glowing reviews of baseball's premier prospect. Harper hit .286 (8-for-28) with two doubles in nine total Grapefruit League games, though he struggled after missing six days with a calf injury, finishing 3-for-17 with nine strikeouts over his final five games.
Harper particularly had trouble facing some tough left-handers, though that didn't raise any red flags among the Nationals' brass.
"I see a guy that's dangerous against lefties and righties," Rizzo said. "He doesn't give a bit against left-handed pitching. He's always had success against left-handers, and I don't see that changing."
As for the position switch, the Nationals believe Harper is physically equipped to man center field for now. But there's actually some concern he could become too big for the position.
"This is a 19-year-old man that may not be done growing," Rizzo said. "He gained an inch and about 15 pounds from this time last year. His brother's 6-foot-6. We don't know if he'll outgrow the position just physically."
Having played only 37 games at Class AA late last season, some have questioned whether the Nationals would have been better off sending the kid back to Harrisburg for some more seasoning. Rizzo, though, insisted Class AAA is the right level for Harper right now.
"He showed that he can handle Double-A pitching just fine," the GM said. "And then he went to the [Arizona] Fall League and he handled that level. I always see that as Triple-A/accelerated Double-A. He had no problem there. I don't see the adjustment being that he's going to be over his skis as a Triple-A player."