x Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 27 July 2017

Nationals leave it late again

For the second year on the trot, Washington wait until the last minute to sign No 1 draft pick.

Bryce Harper, above  playing for the College of Southern Nevada Coyotes baseball team, has been signed up as the No 1 draft pick by the Washington Nationals.
Bryce Harper, above playing for the College of Southern Nevada Coyotes baseball team, has been signed up as the No 1 draft pick by the Washington Nationals.

When the Washington Nationals agreed to a $9.9 million (Dh36.3m), five-year deal with No 1 draft choice Bryce Harper just seconds before the signing deadline, Stan Kasten, the team president, marked the occasion by smacking Mike Rizzo, the general manager, in the face with a whipped-cream pie.

Kasten said it something he does "when we celebrate victories here". On-the-field wins have been hard to come by for the Nationals in recent seasons, which is why they owned the first pick in the draft two years in a row. At least they are getting the hang of the routine. Harper and the Nationals finalised a deal right before the deadline of midnight on Monday night - a year after coming to terms with pitcher Stephen Strasburg, the 2009 top selection, on a record contract with a little more than a minute to go.

Harper and Strasburg are both represented by agent Scott Boras. "Suffice it to say, both sides gave up ground at the last second to get the deal done," Rizzo said. The Nationals owned the top picks in 2009 and 2010 because they finished the 2008 and 2009 seasons with the worst record in the majors. Strasburg's $15.1m, four-year contract was the highest for any player out of the draft, and the right-handed pitcher made his major league debut June 8, the day after Harper was picked.

Harper's deal is a record total for a non-pitcher signed out of the draft who had not become a free agent. Mark Teixeira, the current New York Yankees first baseman, set the previous record for a position player, getting a $9.5m, four-year deal from the Texas Rangers in 2001. Teixeira, too, is represented by Boras. Harper is a 17-year-old power-hitting junior college catcher the Nationals plan to convert to an outfielder. He is the first junior college player taken with the first overall selection.

"It gives us another impact player in the system," Rizzo said. "He's a guy who could possibly be a cornerstone in our line-up in the very near future." Harper hit .443 with 31 homers and 98 RBIs in his first season at the College of Southern Nevada, which plays in a league that uses wood bats. He skipped his final two years of high school and got his equivalency diploma, making him eligible for the 2010 amateur draft. He already has been on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, touted as "baseball's chosen one" and "the most exciting prodigy since LeBron [James]."

He was the first non-senior to earn Baseball America's High School Player of the Year award. And he was only the second junior college player, joining Alex Fernandez in 1990, to win the Golden Spikes Award, given in recognition of the country's top amateur baseball player. Two first-round picks received $3.2 million, four-year contracts: catcher Yasmani Grandal with Cincinnati and third baseman Zack Cox with St Louis.

Other first-round picks got minor league deals. Right-hander Jameson Taillon, the No 2 pick, got a $6.5m bonus from Pittsburgh. Shortstop Manny Machado, the No 3 selection, received a $5.25m bonus from Baltimore. Left-hander Drew Pomeranz, the No 5 pick, agreed with Cleveland at $2.65m. The Mets agreed with right-hander Matt Harvey, the No 7 selection, at $2,525,000. Outfielder Gary Brown, picked 24th, agreed with San Francisco at $1.45m.

Machado, Harvey and Brown also were represented by Boras. Last year, Boras and the Nationals agreed to a $15.1m, four-year deal for top pick Stephen Strasburg. Three right-handed pitchers selected in the first round this year failed to sign: No 6 Barret Loux with Arizona, No 9 Karsten Whitson with San Diego and No 14 Dylan Covey with Milwaukee. * Associated Press