Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said the club will not hold outfield phenom Bryce Harper back from the Majors once he is ready to make that next step.
Answering questions from fans in an online Q&A on Monday, Rizzo said the 19-year-old could even make the Opening Day roster if his performance in Spring Training merits a spot.
"Bryce is a unique talent. He's got outstanding abilities and a great skill set," Rizzo said. "He's going to be an impactful player when he gets to the big leagues. His development and his performance is going to dictate when he actually gets to the big leagues.
"There are no restraints on him, we're not going to hold him back. If he's legitimately ready and prepared for the Major Leagues, we won't feel bad about bringing him to the Major Leagues. We're going to bring the best 25 players north and try to win as many games as we can, and we need the best players we have to do so. If he's one of the best 25 and he fits, and his development curve is right where we want it to be, then he'll be in the big leagues."
Harper hit .318 with 14 homers, 46 RBIs and 19 stolen bases in 72 South Atlantic League games with the Hagerstown Suns before being promoted to the Harrisburg Senators this season. He compiled a .256 average in 37 Eastern League appearances, but he missed the final six weeks of the season after injuring his leg running the bases in a game in Akron on Aug. 18.
Back to full health, the first overall pick in the 2010 Draft appeared in 25 Arizona Fall League games for the Scottsdale Scorpions this offseason. He hit .333 with six long balls, 26 RBIs and 17 runs scored, showing he has the talent to compete with the best prospects in the game.
During the annual Winter Meetings in Dallas last week, Rizzo hinted that Harper was a candidate to man the Nationals outfield as early as 2012.
The club came into the offseason looking for a center fielder, knowing Jayson Werth could be moved into that position if they failed to sign a more suitable replacement. In that scenario, Harper could then replace Werth in right field ... but only if the club feels Harper could handle the demands and jump in competition.
"We put Jayson out there [late last season] to find out if we had ourselves a center fielder in-house," Rizzo told MLB.com. "We felt he played quite well out there. It doesn't really [force us] to trade for a center fielder, because we feel we have a center fielder in house already.
"We have Harper and several others that could fill that bill [in right field]. It depends if we deem Harp ready, when we feel he is ready. That figures into the equation. Are there other options out there? And what is the cost in acquiring those other options?"
Should Harper break camp with the club in March, he will have just 387 professional at-bats under his belt, having skipped both Class A Advanced Potomac and Triple-A Syracuse.