Tuesday, September 14, 2010, 5:47 p.m.
By Mark Zuckerman
ATLANTA -- After a brief-but-storied amateur career, followed by a summer away from baseball, Bryce Harper's professional career is finally about to commence.
The Nationals' top draft pick will report to the club's spring training complex in Viera, Fla., this week and begin working out with Washington's instructional league squad on Friday, the first of several steps toward his eventual arrival in the big leagues.
Harper, who turns 18 on October 16, has been working out on his own since the Nationals drafted him first in the country on June 7. He signed a five-year, 9.9 million contract seconds before baseball's August 17 deadline but did not play in any minor-league games before those seasons ended last week.
In Florida, Harper will be joined by several dozen Nationals prospects who play in the instructional league, often to get extra at-bats or innings after missing time during the regular season. Depending on how he handles his first foray into professional baseball, the catcher-turned-outfielder may then play in the Arizona Fall League (a finishing school usually reserved for top Class AA and Class AAA prospects).
Harper, who got his GED at 16 so he could immediately enroll in college and be drafted at 17, has made no secret about his desire to reach the major leagues as quickly as possible. He's also shown an ability to hit with a wood bat, having clubbed 31 homers in only 66 games as a freshman at the College of Southern Nevada.
Nationals officials will let Harper's performance dictate how quickly he advances through the minor leagues, but they aren't expecting him to reach Washington until late 2012 or early 2013.
Mark Zuckerman covered the Nationals for The Washington Times from 2005-09. In addition to regular work this season for CSNwashington.com, he also covers the team at www.natsinsider.com. Email Mark at email@example.com.