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Harper isn't included in PDC deal, yet

September 23, 2010|By BOB PARASILITI

Hagerstown owns enough attributes to be put on the Washington Nationals' map.

Proximity, community and a new ownership all had a hand in helping the National League team decide to re-sign the Hagerstown Suns on Wednesday to a two-year Player Development Contract as its low Single-A affiliate.

Time will tell if Washington prospect Bryce Harper -- the No. 1 overall selection in June's amateur draft -- will travel through Hagerstown to find his way to Washington and a spot in the lineup at Nationals Park.

Doug Harris, the Nationals' Director of Player Development, had high opinions for what Hagerstown offers to Washington's farm system, but fell short in proclaiming the team's newest prospect jewel as a sure member of the 2011 Suns.

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"It's too early to project where he will end up," Harris said Wednesday in a phone interview from Florida. "He is just starting his professional career. He is as advertised. He is very driven, focused and talented."

Harper took his first steps as a professional player last weekend when he began at the start of the Nationals' instructional league workouts in Viera, Fla. He was drafted as a catcher, but he will be getting work as an outfielder during the offseason.

Coincidentally, the Suns are replacing the entire outfield surface -- turf along with the irrigation and drainage systems -- as part of the offseason improvements at Municipal Stadium. The moves are made to help raise the facility standards for the Nationals, but there are also hopes a newer -- and safer -- playing surface might convince the Nationals to bring Harper here to play for the Suns.

One factor which could play into the Suns' favor is Harper's age. He will turn 18 on Oct. 16, which might allow the Nationals to work him through each level of the farm system until he reaches Washington.

"If you go back and look at (Arizona's) Justin Upton, he was on the same type of career path," Harris said. "Somewhere along the way, (Harper) will have to play (Single-A) ball."

Harris also said it was too early to tell if Nationals pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the Washington phenom who was the No. 1 pick from the 2009 draft, will make a rehabilitation stop in Hagerstown when he begins his comeback from elbow surgery late next season.

The reasons for re-signing Hagerstown to the PDC could also be factors to bring the two stars to play here.

"The geography made it logical for us," Harris said. "Hagerstown has a strong community and I like the way it interacts with the players. And (new owners Bruce Quinn, Tony Dahbura and Mitesh Kothari) will be great owners for this town. They showed us that they had vision for Hagerstown and their involvement was part of what we wanted. Bruce is a dynamic personality and Tony and Mitesh add the stability of being local ownership."

The new ownership group has said it would like to sign a long-term lease to play at Municipal Stadium. That, and the moves to improve the facility, would make the Nationals consider to keep their affiliation here.

"So many things seem to get neglected over time," Harris said. "Sometimes cities get comfortable with having a team in town and tend to neglect things in the facility. This should be an exciting time in Hagerstown. I hope they respond to what Bruce, Tony and Mitesh would like to do."

Harris said the Nationals will do their part by supplying good players.

He pointed out that Triple-A Syracuse had a good season and Double-A Harrisburg made the playoffs. And while Single-A Potomac won the Carolina League title and half-season Single-A Vermont challenged for a playoff spot to the end, there was a special feeling about the Suns -- even though they finished 65-75 for the season.

"If you ask anybody, Hagerstown was considered the most exciting team we had in baseball, hands down," Harris said. "Hagerstown has a lot of young talent on the team. With this next class, we are building a wave of talented players."

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