Feb 24, 2014, 4:00 PM EDT
VIERA, Fla. — Despite his relative lack of experience, Bryce Harper has already seen considerable playing time at all three outfield spots with the Nationals. In 253 total games since reaching the majors in 2012, he has spent 39 percent of his time in left field, 36 percent of his time in center field and 25 percent of his time in right field.
That’s an awfully even split across all three positions, a rarity for any big-league outfielder, let alone a budding superstar who only 3 1/2 years ago still considered himself a catcher.
And it’s something Matt Williams would like to avoid this season and down the road.
The new Nationals manager said Monday he plans to play Harper in left field and keep him there all year, barring any unforeseen developments.
“There are going to be days off for guys, so there may be opportunities for him in right,” Williams said. “There may be opportunities for him in center. But I would like for him to concentrate on playing left right now and see where we go with that.”
Upon drafting him in 2010, the Nationals converted Harper from catcher to outfielder, and the prevailing thought was that he would play right field to take full advantage of his arm strength. Then the franchise signed Jayson Werth to a 7-year, $126 million contract, and suddenly that position was clogged for the long-term future.
Injuries to Werth and others, though, prompted ex-manager Davey Johnson to move Harper around his outfield the last two seasons, resulting in those evenly-split stats. In his career, Harper has played 858 1/3 innings in left field, 776 2/3 innings in center field and 546 2/3 innings in right field.
There has been some thought all along that Harper will eventually end up in right, with Werth shifting over to left, but Williams suggested that won’t be happening anytime soon.
“I like the construction of our outfield right now,” the rookie manager said. “I think Jayson’s a fantastic right fielder. Denard (Span) is phenomenal in center. And Bryce is pretty special in left. Does it mean they’re not going to move around? No. But as we get started early on, I’m going to try to keep it that way and let them go play and get themselves in shape and ready to go.”
Williams also finds himself in a more advantageous position than Johnson was the last two years, with a well-established fourth outfielder in Nate McLouth who is equally comfortable at all three positions. That will allow Williams to make simple substitutions when one of his regulars is taking a day off or gets pulled from a game, with McLouth merely filling in wherever the vacancy exists.
“Nate McLouth is a huge piece to the puzzle as well,” Williams said, “because he plays all three.”
Harper’s surgically repaired knee, meanwhile, has been no issue thus far in camp, and the 21-year-old has been able to participate fully in all activities. Harper tentatively is slated to make his game debut Saturday against the Braves.
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