I had a chance to sit down with Nationals scouting director Kris Kline over the weekend, to discuss the First-Year Player Draft, which starts tonight at 7 p.m. The entire Q-and-A is pretty long, so I’ll grab the highlights of it and post them here. As you can imagine, much of our time was spent on Bryce Harper, the Nationals’ likely selection with the No. 1 overall pick. Kline, like general manager Mike Rizzo, came away satisfied with Harper’s character, and hinted Harper may end up in right field instead of behind the plate.
Here’s what Kline had to say:
On the overall quality of the draft: “I think it’s about the same as far as depth goes. I think last year was an exceptional year as far as left-handed pitching. In 21 years, there was more left-handed pitching in the draft than I’ve ever seen. This year is probably more of a down year, as far as college position players go. But as far as the depth overall, I think it’s comparable to last year. It’s probably about the same.”
On the areas of the draft that stick out: “The depth part of the draft probably lies in your college right-handers, your high school right-handed pitching. Which is pretty typical, because there’s more of them than anything else. It’s really down this year as far as college position players. If a team wants a shortstop or is focusing on those premium position guys at catcher, you’ll probably see them go off the board a little earlier than their availability warrants, and then they’ll start to follow suit. The other shortstops and catchers will follow suit.”
On Bryce Harper’s offensive game: “He’s an advanced hitter for his age. 17 years old, he’s advanced as far as his field to hit. He’s got power the other way, which is hard to find. I’ve seen him play, I think 12 games. I’ve got six home runs, I’ve got five to the opposite side. He did that with a wood bat. He had to play with a metal bat later in the year, because that was part of the deal.”
On which position Harper ultimately plays: “I think there’s a chance he stays behind the plate. Then you have a premium position player that’s offensive from the left side of the plate, and he has value there, no question about it. I think he probably has more value possibly playing the outfield, because he is athletic. He does run well, he throws well, so you save his legs. He’s offensive at either corner outfield spot. He can probably play center at the lower levels. As he matures, fills out and gets stronger, he probably ends up over here (in right). You’d rather have a better athlete on this side than (in left). That’s kind of where he profiles. I’m not saying that he can’t catch, because he does some things back there on a given day where you think, ‘Yeah, he can probably pull that off.’ Time will tell.”
On how many times he saw Harper play the outfield: “Eight, center and right. I saw him play third base one game. He split time with another catcher in a doubleheader. Most of their games are doubleheaders, so he’d catch either the first or second game and then play right, center or third. I think he actually came in in relief a couple times. I think the kid will tell you, he’ll play wherever we ask him to play. I’m not sure he has a preference. I think he creates longevity for his career if he plays in the outfield.”
On what Harper needs to improve offensively: “The one thing that he does is, he’s got great bat speed. His bat stays in the zone for a long time. The one thing he will tell you he needs to work on, and he will tell you the exact same thing, is he has a tendency to drift. He gets a little, maybe overly aggressive at times. He’ll kind of leak in his approach and get kind of heavy on that front side. But when he stays back, he creates great leverage and he becomes a different hitter. He’ll tell you that. I think he senses when he does things like that, and he does work at it, a lot.”
On how aware Harper is of the flaws in his game: “I think he’s advanced for his age. Sometimes he’ll do things in a game or at the plate where you’re looking at a 17-year-old kid. Sometimes, he’ll do things where you look at it, and he looks like he’s been playing for a long time. That’s the cool thing about him. He’s very competitive. He hates to fail. Regardless of some of the things that are written about his off-field (behavior), things that are kind of under a microscope, he is ultra-competitive, and he hates to fail. He carries himself like a big-leaguer. You watch him walk around the field, he looks like a big-leaguer. I’m sure he’s done some things we’ve all done.”
On Harper’s character: “Every time I re-read or edit my report on him, I look at the age. You do have to remind yourself he is 17. I was talking to his father probably 2 Ã‚Â½ months ago in Arizona. I said, ‘It’s funny. I have to remind myself he got his drivers’ license a year ago.’ He goes, ‘No, Chris, he just got it the other day.’ He didn’t let him get it until he was 17. But he just got his drivers’ license. That puts it in perspective. And he’s a junior in high school. You remember when you were a junior in high school? I do, too. I was 5-11, 150 pounds.
He’ll grow. And you know what will happen when he gets into pro ball? Some of the things he’ll do, someone’s going to grab him by the jersey or take him into the locker room, and say, ‘You can’t do that anymore.’ He won’t do it anymore. Once he gets up to the big-league level, he’ll handle himself like these guys handle themselves, be professional about the things he does. He already does that in a lot of things. You can look at all of his home runs on YouTube and say, ‘My God. That’s a lot to handle as a young man.’ I think you put all that in perspective, with the Sports Illustrated thing, the agent that’s representing him and factor in everything, overall, I think he’s handled it tremendously. I think he’s a good kid.
We’ve talked to the kid. He’s a good kid. We’ve met the kid. The coach there at CSN (Tim Chambers) has known him, I think, since he was 11 years old.”
On the players they’ve scouted for the top pick besides Harper: “
We’ve seen them all. We’ve seen Deck McGuire pitch since last year. We have multiple, multiple reports on him. Same with (Drew) Pomeranz. We saw him pitch twice. We saw the much-anticipated (Anthony) Ranaudo-Pomeranz matchup that didn’t turn out so well for either kid, but guys have bad days. Tallion, I’ve seen since he was a sophomore in high school. I saw him in all the showcases. I saw Pomeranz on Team USA. We’ve had multiple looks and depth on all the players we have interest in.
I think Mike is going to ultimately make the call. He has all the information that he needs. He went in there and saw him play. I think if Bryce is the guy for him, he’s comfortable with everything he’s seen and all the information we have on the player, he’ll take him. And we have a comfort level with the other two or three guys we like. Mike’s going to make the call in the end. I think he’s comfortable at this point with Bryce, if Bryce is the guy.”