Bryce Harper optioned to Triple-A

Updated: March 19, 2012, 5:46 PM ET
ESPN.com news services

VIERA, Fla. -- The Washington Nationals optioned 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper to Triple-A Syracuse where he can get experience in center field.

Nationals manager Davey Johnson said after the team's 11-7 loss to the Detroit Tigers on Sunday that the timing wasn't right for the No. 1 pick in the 2010 draft to make the team out of training camp. When Harper is likely called up later this season he could play center field because the team is thin at that position. He played mostly in right this spring.

"I love everything about him," Johnson told ESPN The Magazine's Buster Olney. "He just needs to go to Class AAA and get a little comfortable there. ... He's the real deal. He doesn't need to work on anything. He just needs to get at-bats in Class AAA, so there won't be any naysayers.

"Plus, he needs more time in center field. Sometimes, you can get worn down over a full season if you're not ready. He's got the legs and arms to do it."

Jayson Werth, who played a lot of center field in camp, will go back to right field.

Harper was 8 for 28 (.286) in the Grapefruit League, including a 1-for-5 performance Sunday -- he struck out in his first four at-bats, then doubled.

Information from The Associated Press was used in this report.