Monday, June 07, 2010

Mike Rizzo/Roy Clark/Kris Kline Press Conference On Bryce Harper

Moments after Our Washington Nationals selected College of Southern Nevada's Bryce Harper with the Number One overall pick in the 2010 Player Draft, Team President Stan Kasten was standing around the gathered media members inside the Lexus Presidents Club at Nationals Park awaiting the official press conference discussing the much anticipated selection. Responding to a reporters question--"What's up Stan?"--Mr. Kasten stated: "Waiting for the press conference, just like you. Rizzo's got a lot of explaining to do over that selection!!" (laughter among the media)

The media was camped out in Presidents Club because Our Washington Nationals Baseball Operations Staff was using the adjacent Press Conference room as their 2010 Draft Room.

Moments later, Our General Manager Mike Rizzo walked out on stage alongside Assistant GM & VP of Player Personnel--Roy Clark and Washington's Director of Scouting--Kris Kline. Here is the complete transcript of the 18 minute press conference from Nationals Park tonight. With that here we go.

Mike Rizzo: The Nationals are very, very pleased to announce that the first pick in the 2010 Draft is the outfielder Bryce Harper from the College of Southern Nevada. We’ve scouted Bryce very, very thoroughly throughout the last couple of years. The two guys on the sides of me here (Clark & Kline) were instrumental in putting the (draft) board together. And we are very proud and pleased that this particular player will become a member of The Washington Nationals Family.

Roy Clark: Like Mike said, we’ve been scouting him extensively. We think he’s got the chance to be a special type player on the field and a special person off the field. We are delighted to have selected him with the first pick in the 2010 Draft. But from this point forward, we would like to pick 30th every year--and not (Number) One.

Kris Kline: No doubt. Yeah, I got to see Bryce play probably 20 games total--including the fall--probably about 80 at-bats. So we have a really high comfort level with what type of player he is. What type of player we think he is going to be. I think that we think this is the only bat in this draft that has the potential of being a three hole hitter. And of course, hitting from the left side only adds to the value. This is a very special player that brings a lot to the table. And I think you guys are going to enjoy seeing this kid play here in a couple of years.

Question: I noticed you introduced him as an outfielder. Will he play the outfield as a National. And what impressed you the most about him as a hitter and his character?

Mike Rizzo: Well, I think we made the early decision that we are going to take the rigors of the pressure of learning the difficult position of catcher away from him and really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game and let his athleticism take over as an outfielder. He’s got above average speed and a plus, plus throwing arm. We believe he could pull off being a Major League catcher. But we think his bat is well ahead of defense as a catcher. And with the rigors of the game catching, the squatting, the beating that they take behind the plate, we just think that this (approach) is going to accelerate his development in the Minor Leagues and also extend his career as a Major Leaguer.

Question: What about his character?

Mike Rizzo: We think this kid is a baseball rat. We’ve got a great foundation on where the kid is from. We know him as well as any team in baseball can know a player. We’ve been scouting him for a long time. We’ve done a lot of homework on his character, his family background and that type of stuff. The college coach over there is a good friend of Roy Clark’s and has been for many, many years. We know him (Harper) inside and out. This kid gets after it like few amateur players have since I have been doing this. He’s a great kid. He’s a very spiritual kid, solid family background, good parents and he’s the guy we have high expectations for, not only his tools, but also his makeup, teammates and his character.

Question: What you were just saying about catcher versus outfield, I assume you envision a timetable how quickly he would advance through the system as a catcher and a outfielder? What would have been the difference--you think?

Mike Rizzo: I really haven’t calculated it. It’s almost impossible to calculate the difference between the two. I just feel that allowing him to use his athleticism in the outfield will really take the pressure off his defensive game, so he can really concentrate on his bat. And his bat is, far and away, ahead of his defensive capabilities as a catcher. That combined, we think extends your career as a Major Leaguer once he does get here. I thought that was the prudent way to go with such a talented offensive player.

Question: Have you talked to him about that? Did you have to sell him on it?

Mike Rizzo: We really haven’t discussed it with him in the long term. I know his representative (Scott Boras) is aware of what our plans were. The player has acknowledged it and we are all on the same page as far as what this does for his player development.

Question: When did you decide for sure he was going to be your choice?

Mike Rizzo: On the plane home from (Las) Vegas, when I saw him play. The three of us (Clark & Kline) discussed it shortly after I landed. And it kind of cemented, he was the guy that we were going to take.

Question: When was that?

Mike Rizzo: About a month ago.

Question: Taking for granted he doesn’t sign until the deadline, do you have a timetable where you might shut him down or play him in the Arizona Fall League? Have you thought about that?

Mike Rizzo: I have not thought that far ahead. He’s a player that wants to get out and play. He’s the type of guy that does not enjoy idle time. We have hopes of getting him on the field sooner than August 15th.

Question: Can you talk about having the Number One pick each of the past two years? Not only having those picks, but being able to choose a Stephen Strasburg and now Bryce Harper-clearly impact and potentially dominant players?

Mike Rizzo: Well, I think it is a unique situation. First of all, it has never happened before in the history of the draft--to have the first pick two years in a row. It shows the struggles we have had on the Major League side the last couple of years. And the rule change that allowed us to get the top pick the last two years. But I can’t remember when there has been back to back years where two players have separated themselves from the rest of the field--in the way that Strasburg did in ’09 and Harper does in ’10. So in that respect, it is very, very unique. And I think it is a lucky time (For Washington) to have two number one picks overall, because there was such impact players. And the decisions were very cut and dry throughout the process.

Question: Do you project him as a rightfielder or are you considering other positions?

Mike Rizzo: Ultimately, he’s a prototypical package for a middle of the lineup, power hitting, strong armed right fielder. That’s kind of where I see him in my mind’s eye. A lot of things can change by the time he gets to the big leagues, but he certainly has all the capabilities in the package to be an impact corner outfielder.

Question: He is also a unique case in that he is 17 (years old) and he has also played one year in college with a wood bat. How does all that factor into the timeline as you compare him to kids of that same age?

Mike Rizzo: The junior college portion of it proves he can handle accelerated players, not only his age, but players that are much older than him. Utilizing the wooden bat is a big advantage he has over other 17 year old players. But the fact that he is a 17-year old, he is going to be 17 throughout the entire season. So he would even be considered a young 17-year old player in the draft. We are going to take into account, as you have seen with other players that we have developed, we are certainly not going to rush him. We are going to develop him the right way by our timeline, by our development curve. And we are not going to move him until we feel he has mastered where he has been. And when he does so, we will move him accordingly.

Question: Following up on that question. Being that he is 17, was there any hesitation that there might be some growing pains, some life experiences--was there ever the thought in your mind that, maybe, you might move away from him?

Mike Rizzo: We never had any discussions about that. I’ve drafted 17-year olds before. Justin Upton was about the same age as Bryce is at the time I took him with The Diamondbacks. He was a high school player, a high ceiling guy, and he was in the Big Leagues at 19 years of age as a result. Each player develops differently. Each makeup is different. And we are going to develop him specifically to the development needs of Bryce Harper. We pride ourselves on the way we scout and the way we develop our players and this case will be no difference.

Question: Mike, you sent Drew (Storen) to Hagerstown last year after he signed. If for some reason, Harper would sign early, where would you send him?

Mike Rizzo: I think he would probably start off in our lowest level--The Gulf Coast League. I think that is a prudent way to get his feet on the ground in professional baseball. Because as I have said, many, many times, the rigors of the professional game--the everydayness of professional baseball--is really the first thing that the professional players has to overcome.

Question: Is there anything you are going to do, or you have learned in the last year with Stephen Strasburg, that you can apply to Bryce about handling the hype? There is a lot of media attention with the Sports Illustrated cover last year.

Mike Rizzo: Well, we are going to protect the player. We are going to limit access if we feel it interferes with what we are trying to do. And we make no apologies for it. This is all about getting the players to maximize their development, to expedite their development, but in a careful, prudent, calculated way--to get them to the right place at the right time. And ultimately to help us perform in the Major Leagues.

Question: Is there hope to get him signed before the deadline?

Mike Rizzo: We are going to give our best effort forward. We know that we have a player that wants to play. We got a representative (Boras) that we’ve dealt with successfully in the past. So we are going to give our best effort on all sides.

Question: Looking down further in this year’s draft, are you looking more toward high school versus college players--pitchers versus hitters--the rest of the way?

Mike Rizzo: That’s a question best suited for these two guys, but our general philosophy is we are going to take the best player available--be that high school, college, junior college, pitcher or position player. it’s almost impossible in baseball to draft for need. We are certainly going to look at all avenues and whatever player we think is going to the most impactful type of player for us in the Big Leagues--will be the one we select.

Question: Mike, do you envision, looking back a few years down the road--today and tomorrow (Stasburg Debut)--these are historic days in this franchise’s history?

Mike Rizzo: Certainly, whenever you pick One-One, it better be an impactful day in history. We thought we had a good start in 2009. We had an impactful draft there. The years will tell us whether we were right or wrong. This year, we plan on having as impactful, or more of an impactful draft than we did in 2009.

Question: You said this is the only hitter in the draft that could project to a number three hitter in the Big Leagues. Can you describe him as a hitter?

Kris Kline: Very advanced for his age. Very polished. You look at him and he does things in the field, where you go, he’s 17-years old. Then, you can roll in there on another day and see him do things that you see 25 or 26 year old kids do. He has the ability to keep the bat in the strike zone. I think he sees the ball extremely well. Just very advanced, simple approach. And that knack for driving the baseball the other way, already, which tells me how advanced he is at this point. Overall, just a very good feel to hit for his age.

Question: Roy, do remember what your thoughts were the first time you saw him play?

Roy Clark: The first time I saw him play, I think he was 15-years old. It was in a tournament--that was when we started to develop the relationship with his family. So we have been tracking him for quite a while. And the first time I saw him, I said: “Oh my Gosh!! Who is this guy!!” Then, I found out he was 15-years old. You could see that he had a chance to be special back then.

Question: Who does he remind you of?

Kris Kline: Yeah, for me, and I don’t like to place expectations on guys--but when we see players we compare them to others we have seen over the years. The more players you see, the larger your data base is. But for me, if he is in rightfield, maybe a cross between a Larry Walker type guy. A little bit of J.D. Drew--the way his hands work through the zone. That type of guy.

Question: Is there a break even point, where if his power was not so big, you might turn him into a big league catcher?

Mike Rizzo: I can’t describe it as a break even point. We just feel to maximize the value of this player, we think to get him out from behind the plate is a prudent developmental move.

Question: There has been some question about his maturity level. He got tossed from his last game in college. When discussing that internally, what conclusions did you come to moving forward?

Mike Rizzo: There are no concerns about the player’s make up. We are sold on him and the family, the character of the player. He acts like a 17-year old at times. I don’t want to tell you what I did at 17. So, he’s mature beyond his years as far as performance on the field--tools, development, and even his social skills. This guy has been through, he’s had more hype and more publicity than most 25-year olds have had already. And I think he has handled it remarkably. Between the lines, he’s going 110 miles per hour all the time. He’s a baseball rat. I love the way he gets after it. A big mark you can look at as to what people think of this guy that know him--ask his teammates. His teammates, in honor of Bryce, all wore the warpaint, all gave the “3-4” as they crossed home plate. And they were very, very supportive of him--even though he did a thing that probably was not the smartest thing in the world--get kicked out of a game (his last game in college). Live and learn. We are satisfied and honored to have this guy in the organization. We think he is going to be a big character guy for us. And an impactful player--not only on the field--in the clubhouse--but in the community.

Question: Will he be allowed to wear the warpaint?

Mike Rizzo: No.

Final Question: Mike, when you went to Las Vegas, what was it you wanted to see that convinced you that he was your pick?

Mike Rizzo: I went there with a blank slate. I didn’t read the reports. I didn’t read anything. I saw a little bit of video on him. I just wanted to go in there with a clear slate and a clear mind to see what I saw. I kind of used my experience (as a scout) to put him in the slot I believe he went. And when I got back, the three of us discussed it. And decided it was a pretty easy decision on who we were going to take at Number One.

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