A few leftovers from Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo after today’s press conference to introduce left-hander Gio Gonzalez:
* Whether Bryce Harper does enough to break spring camp with the major league club will be one of the biggest stories in the Grapefruit League starting next month. Manager Davey Johnson has gone on record as saying he thinks the 19-year-old outfielder can handle big league pitching now, while Rizzo seems to think the top prospect, who has played less than half a season at Double-A, might benefit from more minor league seasoning.
On Wednesday, Rizzo seemed at least willing to entertain the notion of Harper making the 25-man roster for opening day, though he definitely added a qualifier.
“We’re going to bring the best 25 north,” Rizzo said. “If that includes Harper, it’s Harper. When I believe Harper is ready to play in the big leagues, he’ll be in the big leagues. We’re not going to hinder his progress but we’re not going to accelerate it to a point where I think it endangers his development and curtails his overall performance.”
* Rizzo isn’t postponing the team’s longstanding search for a center fielder who can function as a leadoff hitter, but he’s also comfortable going into spring training with Jayson Werth manning center field. He even left open the possibility of a platoon in center field in 2012.
“I think we have candidates in-house that we’ll go to spring training with,” Rizzo said. “That’s not to say that we’ve abandoned the search for the right fit for us, but we like the options that we have going into spring training and we do have multiple options of what to play, be it Jayson Werth moving to center or a platoon in center field, that type of thing. (We’re) not satisfied with not getting the long-term solution that we had, but we’re satisfied with the in-house candidates and we feel that we’re going to field the right type of team going into spring training.”
* Asked whether the Nationals are still pursuing a hitter, Rizzo answered: “I think that other bat may be a healthy Adam LaRoche, a healthy, full season of Ryan Zimmerman and a back-to-Jayson-Werth Jayson Werth. I think with the maturation of our young core of (Wilson) Ramos, (Danny) Espinosa, (Ian) Desmond getting better just by maturing and playing another season and with the continued success of (Michael) Morse, LaRoche, Zim playing a full season and Jayson coming back to his career norms, I think we have addressed the offensive part and we do have a power left-handed bat by the name of Bryce Harper waiting in the wings to be fully developed and help us on the big league level.”
* Because of his lineage of a scout, Rizzo has a special affinity for players he’s scouted, drafted and developed. That made trading four such players - left-hander Tom Milone, right-handers A.J. Cole and Brad Peacock, and catcher Derek Norris - to the A’s for Gonzalez so difficult.
“Our depth is the reason you can make this trade,” Rizzo said. “But that’s the reason you have a fertile farm system and you scout and develop. This Gio trade is a testament to our pro scouts identified this is the guy we need. Our amateur scouts drafted the guys to get us the depth we needed and our development guys developed those 41st-rounders, 10th-rounders, fourth-rounder and fourth-rounder to give us good enough prospects that it intrigued Oakland to make this trade.”
* Rizzo may have missed out on free agent first baseman Prince Fielder, but he’s not sitting still in the three weeks before pitchers and catchers convene at spring training.
Asked what his priorities are between now and the start of camp, Rizzo said: ” think to tweak the roster. I think ... we feel good about where we’re at. Never satisfied. Need more arms, improve the bullpen, improve the bench - all those factors. But with that said, (we’re) comfortable going into (spring training) with what we’ve got. We can never rest on our laurels because when we rest, the Phillies and the Marlins and the Braves and the Mets aren’t resting. We’ve got to give Davey (Johnson) the best pieces to manage and try and win with.”
* Gonzalez has no no-trade protection in the deal he signed with the Nationals, Rizzo said.