May 04, 2010

The Nationals, who have the first pick in next month's draft, are now working to hire possible No. 1 pick Bryce Harper's college coach as a scout, has learned.

The expected hiring of well-regarded College of Southern Nevada coach Tim Chambers will be viewed my many as a sign the Nats do indeed plan to select Harper, the 17-year-old slugging prodigy, with the top overall pick. And perhaps it is. But Nationals assistant GM Roy Clark said the hiring is unrelated, pointing out he previously employed Chambers for a decade when Clark was with the Braves. Clark said, "I promise you, I never heard of Harper when I hired (Chambers) 10 years ago.''

Clark said that hundreds of college coaches are employed by major-league teams as "associate scouts'' with no expectation of their players being drafted. Clark employed dozens of associate scouts while with the Braves and is working on setting up a similar program in Washington, with every expectation that Chambers will move with him.

"We're in the process of working on it,'' Clark said. "Officially, he's not under contract.''

While many will assume that Chambers' hiring is a precursor to the selection of Harper, and perhaps it is (most baseball people seem to expect the Nats to take Harper), it's also possible Chambers impressed members of the Nats organization during their frequent jaunts to Nevada to scout the heralded Harper. Under Chambers, Harper has developed superbly, hitting 21 home runs as easily the youngest player in a rare college wooden bat league.

Chambers, who has won six championships in nine years at the college and has had scores of his players drafted, said he's been "bird-dogging" for a decade for Clark, a prominent scouting executive who worked for the Braves until moving to Washington last year, and plans to move with him. Chambers said that while he'll be called an associate scout, he suggested the small role is really quite informal, as it was previously with the Braves. "I've been a bird dog for most of my career,'' Chambers said.

Nationals people aren't committing to who they will take No. 1 with a month to go -- Nats president Stan Kasten said via text message on Monday that it was "too early'' to say -- but people around baseball see Harper as the favorite. A year ago, he landed on the cover of Sports Illustrated for his extraordinary slugging exploits. He is a catcher with a strong arm and a pitcher as well, but some view him as a third baseman or right fielder as a pro.

Chambers isn't part of the Nats' decision-making process beyond offering his own opinion of Harper but when asked if he expects the team to take his player No. 1, he said, "I do." Chambers said he's been very impressed by how Harper's handled his year in the limelight. "It's pretty unbelievable that someone that young can have all that spotlight and pressure on him, and perform like he has.''

Chambers said he has known the Harper family for 15 years, and his hiring can't hurt the Nats' efforts to sign Harper if they do indeed choose him. Although, it won't necessarily help them, either. Chambers is thought to be close to both Harper brothers. Bryce's older brother Bryan is an exceptional left-handed pitcher for the College of Southern Nevada.

A Nats person said they have been considering about three different top prospects, including right-handed pitcher Jameson Taillon from the Woodlands High School outside Houston. Others under consideration could include Drew Pomeranz, a lefty pitcher from the University of Mississippi, high school pitcher A.J. Cole and Karsten Whitson, prep shortstop Manny Machado, and LSU righty Anthony Ranaudo.

The Nats also had the No. 1 pick last year, which they used to draft college pitcher Stephen Strasburg, eventually signing him to a record $15.67-million contract after choosing him last year. reported Monday that Harper is expected to seek to break that record.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo reportedly went to see Harper this week. Reports have suggested that Rizzo has no issue with Harper's personality, which was recently described as cocky in one article. And Chambers staunchly defended Harper, saying he is a normal 17-year-old with extraordinary talent who drives a Toyota with 100,000 miles on it to practice and goes to church with his middle class family on Sundays. He also said he recently has allowed more media members to meet and interview Harper and combat what he described as a false accusation about the kid by an anonymous adult or two.

Chambers suggested a couple early on-field incidents were overblown because of who Harper is. In one, according to Chambers, Harper was being subjected to taunting when he retaliated by pointing to his helmet after hitting two home runs against a rival team. Chambers said another incident was misconstrued. In that one, Harper was ejected for taking a bow after a particularly strong throw from right field to nearly gun out a baserunner who had singled, and that Harper only kiddingly took a half-bow in response to oohs and ahhs from his own dugout.

"I can't imagine how much heat is on him,'' Chambers said.

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