Nationals’ GM says Bryce Harper could make the team out of spring training

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It’s no secret that Nationals manager Davey Johnson would like top prospect Bryce Harper to make the team out of spring training as the starting right fielder. Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo has played things pretty coy until now, but his comments to Jon Heyman of CBSSports.com yesterday indicate that he hasn’t dismissed the possibility.

“We’re take a look at him and see where he’s at developmentally. If we feel he’s ready to play at the major-league level, we’re not going to restrict him,” Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo said by phone. “We’ll be cautious yet open-minded. If he gives us the best chance to win, we’ll keep an open mind and see where it takes us.”

This idea continues to gain momentum, but unless Harper absolutely tears the cover off the ball during spring training and gives the Nationals no other choice, I still see it as unlikely. Harper batted .256/.329/.395 with a .724 OPS over 147 plate appearances after being promoted to Double-A Harrisburg last season and while that’s pretty darn impressive for an 18-year-old, some more at-bats in the minor leagues might not be the worst thing for his development.

Of course, the most significant reason to keep Harper in the minors to begin the year would be to delay his service time so that he doesn’t qualify as a Super Two player down the road. With that in mind, chances are we’ll see him when some of the game’s other top prospects make their way to the majors in late-May or June.

Report: Twins sign Erick Aybar to minor-league deal

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The Twins have reportedly signed free agent shortstop Erick Aybar to a minor-league deal, LaVelle E. Neal III of the Star Tribune reported Friday. FanRag Sports’ Jon Heyman adds that the deal comes with a potential $1.25 million if Aybar reaches the majors, with additional incentives based on plate appearances. He’ll be able to opt out on March 27. The team has yet to confirm the signing.

Aybar, 34, is now four years removed from his career year in 2014. He’s been in a state of steady decline since then, slashing just .234/.300/.348 with seven home runs and 11 stolen bases over 370 plate appearances for the Padres in 2017. His poor performance wasn’t helped by a fractured left foot, either, which cost him almost six weeks on the disabled list.

Still, the Twins see something promising in the veteran infielder, and reportedly intend to use him as another utility option this spring. Per Neal, Aybar will join fellow backup infielders Eduardo Escobar and Ehire Adrianza and may even (temporarily) take over for Miguel Sano at third base if Sano isn’t able to shape up for the role by Opening Day.