VIERA, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals have optioned top prospect Bryce Harper to Class A Hagerstown, saying the top overall pick in last year's draft needs to get more playing time to prepare for the season.
The 18-year-old Harper, who hit .389 in 13 spring games, was disappointed but determined to make it back to the big leagues as soon as possible.
"He needs to go down to the minor leagues and get four or five at-bats per game to prepare himself for the season," Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said. "And that was the reason we got him out. He was getting one or two at-bats a game here, playing in spurts, and he needs to get prepared for the season and get plenty of at-bats and plenty of reps in the outfield."
Harper was a catcher for most of his high school and college career, but the Nationals drafted him as an outfielder, and used him exclusively as a right fielder in spring training.
"Nobody likes to leave the big league club," Harper said. "This is the life that you want to live every day, and it's just the process. I'm still going to go down there, to the minor league club, and I'm going to go bust my butt."
Veteran Rick Ankiel said Harper blended in with the team, despite some pretty big expectations.
"He's 18, and you have to remember what you were like at 18," Ankiel said. "Not only that, but put yourself in your shoes of what he was going through and what he dealt with every day. I'm sure it's not easy. But it's fun having him here, and it'll be fun to get him back."