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Sunday, January 20, 2019

Nationals won’t talk about Bryce Harper around Davey Johnson to quell excitement

Spring training is an important time for managers to be able to gauge what they’re working with. For the most part, rosters are predetermined based on offseason acquisitions and past performances. There are, however, a few spots that need to be filled with younger players. The winter months give managers and coaches time to evaluate players who are on the bubble, assuming the coaches don’t withhold information from the manager. Such is the case with Bryce Harper and the Nationals. Apparently Washington’s coaches are trying to curb manager Davey Johnson’s excitement.

“And a funny thing happened today,” Johnson said according to the Washington Post. “They were talking Rendon, LaRoche, Lombardozzi, Espi, damn near everybody over there. I asked them, I said, ‘I didn’t hear one word about Harper? Is he there?’ They said, ‘He’s okay, he’s fine.’ They don’t want to make a comment. Because they like him. They don’t want to try to influence me in any manner.”

Harper looks sharp, and the coaches don’t want Johnson jumping the gun. The prodigy is only 19 and struggled last year in the minors, but he admitted some of that was a result of boredom. The Nationals don’t want to bring him up until he’s ready, but Johnson’s argument is that he has a pretty good track record of unleashing young players.

“I had Dwight Gooden when he was 18 pitching for me in the Class AAA World Series,” he said. “Did I care that he was 18? I told the organization that I thought the best pitcher down below wasn’t in Double A. He was in A ball, in Lynchburg, a guy named Dwight Gooden. They let me have him for the playoffs, and he won two games. I knew he could flat-out pitch. I don’t look at age or color – you can either play or you can’t.”

The Nationals’ marketing department is certainly anxious to get Harper going, but he is young enough that the team can afford to wait. Johnson and the rest of the team would probably love the excitement, but the last thing you want to do is stunt his growth. If I had to guess, I’d say Harper will be in the minors to start the season.

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