08/17/10 2:10 AM ET
Nats, top pick Harper agree to five-year deal
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Harper was in Las Vegas when he found out that he was a member of the Nationals.
After finalizing the deal, general manager Mike Rizzo received a whipped cream pie in the face and the silver Elvis wig from team president Stan Kasten. The Elvis wig is usually awarded to the Nationals' game MVP.
"Why not go overboard?" Kasten jokingly asked. "That is a lot of fun. That's really fun."
According to a baseball source, the five-year contract is worth $9.9 million, which includes a $6.25 signing bonus. The deal is a new record for a position player signed out of the Draft. The previous record was held by Mark Teixeira, who received a $9.5 million, four-year Major League deal in 2001.
Harper and the Nationals agreed to terms seconds before the deadline. Within a minute before the deadline, there was a point where both sides thought a deal wouldn't get done.
"With a full minute to go, Mike and I both thought we were not going to have a deal done," Kasten said. "It changed during the middle of that last minute. This was literally right at the end. It was just both sides coming together.
"I thought we started early enough to avoid [the last minute]. Early in the evening, it sounded like a willingness on the other side to not get in the situation. Yet, there we found ourselves [in that situation].
Said Rizzo: "It was both sides compromising and knowing that we were so close. It would be fruitless to not get a deal done. Like I've always said, we have an organization that wanted the player and a player who wanted to be in the organization. Once the smoke cleared, we found common ground to get a deal done."
Harper, 17, will be introduced to the D.C. media during the next homestand, which starts Monday against the Cubs.
Harper will start his professional baseball career in the Gulf Coast League and then go to the Instructional League in the fall. Rizzo isn't sure if he will go to the Arizona Fall League. Rizzo said it was an outside possibility.
Harper, after putting up monster numbers in high school, received a lot of publicity last year when Sports Illustrated referred to him as the "Chosen One" and baseball's version of LeBron James. Shortly thereafter, he turned more heads when he received his GED in lieu of becoming a junior in high school, then headed to the College of Southern Nevada to join a junior college team that plays in a wooden-bat conference.
Having played primarily as a catcher, Harper will start his professional career as a right fielder. Rizzo feels that Harper will get to the big leagues quicker if he plays somewhere other than behind the plate. Harper is considered an above-average outfielder with a great throwing arm and speed.
In addition to the physical tools, Harper had the stats to warrant being taken with the No. 1 overall pick. In 2008, as a freshman at Las Vegas High School, Harper had a .599 batting average with 11 home runs and 67 RBIs in 38 games. He followed that up with a .626 batting average, 14 home runs and 55 RBIs the next season.
Playing against a high level of competition and hitting with a wooden bat didn't present much of a challenge to Harper. The 17-year-old hit .442 with 29 home runs and 89 RBIs during the 2010 regular season. And in the National Junior College World Series, Harper hit for the cycle while going 6-for-7. The next day, he went 2-for-5 in the first game of a doubleheader and 6-for-6 with four home runs in the nightcap.
"This guy is another impact player in the system," Rizzo said. "He is a guy that could possibly be a cornerstone in our lineup in the very near future and a talent we're pleased to put in the organization.
"We feel he is a fast-track, 17-year-old player. [We like] the fact that he handles the wooden bat so well and is very experienced with it the whole season. It helped us with our evaluation of him. I think it speaks to how hard he has worked over the season and how ready we feel he is to endure the rigors of professional baseball."
Scouting director Kris Kline said that Harper was the only hitter in the Draft to be projected as a No. 3 hitter, and he compared the slugger to former Major Leaguer Larry Walker and current Red Sox outfielder J.D. Drew.
"Bryce is very advanced for his age -- very polished," Kline said. "He has the ability to keep the bat in the strike zone. I think he sees the ball extremely well. He's just very advanced but has a simple approach and that knack for driving the ball the other way already, which tells me how advanced he is at this point."
Unlike last year's top pick, right-hander Stephen Strasburg, Harper isn't projected to be in the big leagues for two or three years. A year after being drafted, Strasburg made his big league debut this season.
Washington's selection of Harper marks only the third time since 1999 that the Nationals/Expos franchise has taken a position player -- Ryan Zimmerman and Chris Marrero were the others -- in the first round.