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.

Nathan Eovaldi to make 2018 debut for Rays soon

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Rays manager Kevin Cash said that pitcher Nathan Eovaldi will join the starting rotation on Monday or Tuesday to face the Athletics, Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times reports. Eovaldi’s rehab outing with Triple-A Durham went well, even though he gave up eight runs in four innings.

Eovaldi, 28, hasn’t pitched in the majors since 2016 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. He had arthroscopic surgery in March to remove loose bodies in his elbow. It’s been a long road back. Knowing Eovaldi needed to recover from surgery, the Rays signed him to a one-year, $2 million contract in 2017 that included a $2 million club option for 2018 that they exercised last November.

When Eovaldi last pitched, he ranked among baseball’s hardest throwers, particularly among starters. He averaged 97.1 MPH on his fastball in 2016. Among starters who racked up at least 100 innings that season, only the Mets’ Noah Syndergaard had a higher average velocity (97.9 MPH). It remains to be seen if he still has that velocity after undergoing two procedures on his elbow.

The Rays will be glad to have Eovaldi back. The club has sustained injuries to Jake Faria, Yonny Chirinos, and Jose De Leon.