VIERA, Fla. - While Bryce Harper's chances of making the Nationals' opening day roster have taken a hit as he's missed the last six days because of a left calf injury, general manager Mike Rizzo says that Harper still is in the mix for the team's starting right fielder job.
"We haven't made any decision to the contrary," Rizzo said. "He's still in the picture, and we're still early in the decision-making process."
Harper, the Nats' top prospect, has gone 5-for-11 (.455) in Grapefruit League action so far this spring, and he's shown good hustle on the basepaths and solid instincts in right field. But some have questioned whether the 19-year-old's already slim chances of making the big-league team faded completely during his injury absence.
Rizzo, however, says the organization is keeping an open mind when it comes to Harper possibly being one of the 25 players the Nationals take north at the end of spring.
"We have a lot of games left," Rizzo said. "There's 19 or 20 games left in spring. (The injury has) kind of set him back a little bit as far as getting his at-bats, but I don't think it will be part of the decision-making process, because we feel he has enough time to get back into the swing of things."
Harper has shown his youth at times this spring, running into an out when he tried to aggressively go from first-to-third on a groundball to the left side and missing a cut-off man from time to time, but overall, the team feels he's not far off from being able to contribute in a big way at the major league level.
"I think he's progressed well," Rizzo said. "I like the progression he's made in the outfield. He's still very aggressive at everything he does. He does everything full-throttle - defense, throwing, running the bases. That'll come with experience, when to pick his spots to go first-to-third and not hit the cut-off man and try and throw a guy out, but I like his progression defensively, and offensively, he's gotten his hits.
"He's the type of guy that even though he might not look good in an at-bat, he always seems to find a way to get something done."
Still, the most likely scenario has Harper starting the season in the minors - either picking back up at Double-A Harrisburg or going to Triple-A Syracuse - and then getting called up mid-season.
Harper may have a shot at a spot on the 25-man roster, but the chances of having Rick Ankiel starting in center field and Jayson Werth manning right field appear much greater.