Craig Heist, wtop.com
DALLAS, Texas — Davey Johnson likes to remember his managerial days with the New York Mets in 1984, when he had a 19-year-old pitcher named Dwight Gooden and how he tried to convince then GM Frank Cashen to “keep an open mind” when it came to Gooden possibly making the ballclub.
“Let’s see what he does in the spring and then evaluate whether he makes the club or not,” Johnson told Cashen. “And after many conversations, I finally got him to agree to that, and the rest is history.”
Gooden went 17-9 that year with a 2.60 ERA while finishing second in the Cy Young balloting.
In 1985, Gooden won the Cy Young Award with a 24-4 record and a 1.53 ERA while throwing an outstanding 276.2 innings.
Johnson was right on with his premonition on Gooden, and he has never been afraid to give young players their chance if they are worthy and the circumstances are right for the team.
So could Bryce Harper be the next 19-year-old phenom if he makes the big league club out of spring training?
“I think I said in the spring when you guys ask me when you think Harper’s going to get there,” Johnson says. “I said I think he is going to have some quality at-bats in the big leagues when he is 19. So, he’s 19 isn’t he?”
That might tell you everything you need to know, but Johnson knows there will be other factors involved in the decision.
If the Nationals make good on trying to find another centerfielder, then the club could keep Jayson Werth in right field. If they play Werth in center, it could open up a spot for Harper.
“Is he the best candidate out there and is he going to make our club stronger?” Johnson asked. “I’d like another left-handed bat in the lineup, the rightfielder is probably going to hit seventh. I’d kind of like to have a more balanced lineup, so I’m open to him competing for a spot.”
Of course, the decision as to whether or not Harper makes the team is up to GM Mike Rizzo. He has always said he likes to have players progress throughout all levels of the minor league before getting the chance to play in the big leagues. That, and Harper’s age, could sway Rizzo’s decision, but Johnson looked at it from another angle.
“I think the big thing is, can (Harper) handle it mentally,” Johnson says. “I think in his mind, he already has (himself) starting on the club. I haven’t talked to him, but I know he has done everything in his whole life to succeed at a higher level.”
“I think he’s the kind of guy that probably puts even more pressure at Double-A on himself to perform and expedite the trip to the big leagues, so I think he would be that more relaxed if he was there competing.”
Either way, Nationals fans can’t wait for spring training. Neither can Johnson.
“I think this guy is pretty mature. I think he’s going to make this spring very interesting.”