The Washington Times - December 5, 2011, 07:41PM

DALLAS — The Nationals have been somewhat non-committal when it comes to Bryce Harper and whether or not he’ll have a legitimate shot to make the major league team out of spring training in 2012. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has said several times before that his preference is for players to spend time at every level of the minor league system and Harper has never played at Triple-A.

But Nationals manager Davey Johnson said he’s open to letting Harper compete for a job in the spring — and how tough a competition that is could be dictated by whether or not the Nationals acquire a bona-fide center fielder this offseason or if they go into the spring with Jayson Werth projected there. 

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Either way, Johnson has no problem letting Harper’s play tell him if he’s ready to say goodbye to the minor leagues.

“I think it’ll be pretty obvious in spring,” Johnson said Monday. “I think that the main thing is: could he handle it mentally? And I think in his mind, he’s already figuring to be on the starting club if you ask him… I know he’s done everything his whole life to succeed at a higher level and compete with the best.”

“I think he’s the kind of individual that… probably puts more pressure on himself to perform and expedite the trip to the big leagues,” he added. “I think he’ll be much more relaxed if he’s there and competing.”

Harper finished the season with Double-A Harrisburg, making the jump from low Single-A Hagerstown to Double-A on the morning of July 4. His season ended abruptly with a strained hamstring but Harper’s rookie professional season was, for all intents and purposes, a strong one. He assaulted the South Atlantic League pitchers to the tune of a .318 average, 14 home runs, a .423 on-base percentage and a .554 slugging percentage. His Double-A line was .250/.329/.395. He finished the year with a .297 average, .392 on-base percentage and .501 slugging percentage with 15 homers between both leagues. 

He continued to impress in the Arizona Fall League where, after a slow start, he hit .333 in 25 games with six home runs a .400 on-base percentage and a .634 slugging percentage. 

If the Nationals open the season with Harper on the major league roster (assuming he doesn’t shuttle back and forth to the minor leagues and acquire enough time there that way), they’d be setting themselves up for him to achieve Super Two status after the 2014 season and speed up his arbitration years as a major leaguer. In effect, he’d cost them a lot more in the long run.

From what Johnson said, that won’t be an overriding factor in their decision.

“It’s just: is he the best candidate out there?” Johnson said. “Is he going to make our club stronger? I’d like another left-handed bat in the lineup. Our right fielder is probably going to hit seventh in the lineup and I’d like to have a more balanced lineup. So, I’m open for him competing for a spot. 

“I think this guy’s pretty mature.  I don’t look at him age-wise like you probably should. But I think he’s definitely going to make the spring very interesting… I said (last) spring, you guys were asking me, ‘When do you think Harper is going to get there?’ I said ‘I think he’s going to have some quality at-bats in the big leagues when he’s 19.’ He’s 19.”