Baseball

WASHINGTON SELECTS JUCO SLUGGER AS THE NO. 1 DRAFT PICK

SECAUCUS, N.J. —The Washington Nationals got their ace a year ago. Now, they think they've found their slugger.

The Nationals selected the much-hyped Bryce Harper, a 17-year-old with prodigious power from the College of Southern Nevada, with the No. 1 overall pick in the baseball draft Monday night.

"It's what I've wanted since I was 7 years old," Harper said.

A year after taking similarly hyped right-hander Stephen Strasburg, the Nationals took Harper, who can play catcher but was announced as an outfielder at the draft site at MLB Network studios by commissioner Bud Selig.

Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo envisions Harper as a No. 3-type power hitter with a strong arm in right field.

"We're going to take the rigor and the pressures of learning the position, the difficult position of catcher, away from him," Rizzo said, "and really let him concentrate on the offensive part of the game and let his athleticism take over as an outfielder."

Harper hit .443 with 31 home runs and 98 RBIs in his first college season in a wood bat league, after skipping his final two years of high school and getting his GED.

Harper showed solid defensive instincts behind the plate and called pitches much of the time, but his path to the majors will be in the outfield.

"I can get better out there, I think," Harper said. "Anywhere they need me, I'll play. I just want to make it and we'll see what happens when I get there."

The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Harper surpassed former big league pitcher Alex Fernandez, who went fourth overall to the Chicago White Sox in 1990, as the highest-drafted juco player.

With the second overall pick, Pittsburgh selected hard-throwing Texas high school right-hander Jameson Taillon. He was considered by many the top pitcher in the draft with a fastball in the mid - to upper-90s that overpowers hitters on a regular basis.

"There's a lot there to like," Pirates general manager Neal Huntington said.

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