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.

Video: Andrew Toles hammers grand slam in Cactus League win

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Dodgers’ left fielder Andrew Toles crushed his first spring training home run on Saturday afternoon. With the bases loaded and a two-run deficit hanging over their heads in the fourth inning, Toles stepped up to the plate against Oakland right-hander Jesse Hahn and unloaded a grand slam on the second pitch he saw.

Third baseman Justin Turner was quick to follow up with a solo jack of his own, bringing the score to a comfortable 7-4 lead by the end of the fourth. Another three-run outburst in the fifth and an eighth-inning RBI single by Austin Barnes raised the final score to 11-6… which, coincidentally, was the same score the Reds used to defeat the Athletics’ second split-squad lineup on Saturday (albeit with a few more RBI walks than grand slams).

Toles, 24, is approaching his sophomore season with the Dodgers in 2017. He slashed .314/.365/.505 with three home runs and an .870 OPS in his first major league season in 2016 and is expected to platoon with the right-handed Franklin Gutierrez in left field this year.

David Price’s season debut could be pushed back to May

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David Price showed “strength improvements” in his elbow on Saturday, but Red Sox’ manager John Farrell still doesn’t think the left-hander will be ready to throw by the start of the season — or for a few weeks afterward. According to ESPN’s Scott Lauber, the 31-year-old might not be ready to debut until May at the earliest.

Price hasn’t thrown off of a mound this spring after experiencing soreness in his left elbow on March 1. Surgery doesn’t appear to be necessary, but the Red Sox are playing it extra safe with their No. 3 starter in hopes that rest and rehabilitation will return him to full health sometime during the 2017 season. For now, Price has been restricted to short games of catch until he’s cleared to resume a more rigorous throwing program. Via MLB.com’s Ian Browne:

[There were] strength improvements to the point of putting the ball back in his hand a little more consistently,” said manager John Farrell. “Today’s the first step for that. A short game of catch. That’s what he’s going through. Not off a mound but just to get the arm moving with a ball in flight, and he will continue in this phase for a period of time. There’s no set distance and volume yet to the throws.

The lefty is coming off of a lackluster 2016 season, during which he delivered a 3.99 ERA, 2.0 BB/9 and 8.9 SO/9 over 230 innings for the Red Sox.