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Posted at 3:57 PM ET, 02/22/2011

Bryce Harper: 'I'm trying to make this club'

By Adam Kilgore

Today, during the Nationals' first spring training workout, Jayson Werth approached Bryce Harper in the outfield and asked him, "You gonna make the team or what?"

The easy answer, and the actual answer, is no. Harper is just 18, and the Nationals have already begun making arrangements for his opening games to be played with low-Class A Hagerstown. That's where Harper will start the first full year of his professional career, period.

But that's not how Harper sees it. Before he enrolled at the College of Southern Nevada last year, nobody had left high school after their sophomore year to play at junior college. And so, he doesn't see why he can't make the Nationals.

"I'm trying to make this club," Harper said. "I'm going to come out here every day and make their choice hard. If it doesn't happen, then it's going to be great being up here and learning from these guys.

"Why can't it be realistic? Why can't I come in here and think that I can make this team? I've exceeded expectations my whole life. Everybody said I couldn't do it last year at CSN. I know this is a totally different level. Totally different people. But I'm going to make their decision hard. I'm going to come out here every day and play like I can. Until they send me to minor league camp, I'm going to try to make it hard."

During the workout, Harper drilled two home runs to left field in normal batting practices, his first oppo boppos of the spring. Harper faced two different pitchers in live batting practice, Shairon Martis and Rule 5 pick Brian Broderick, who Harper had actually faced in the Arizona Fall League, when Broderick was still in the Cardinals' organization. Harper swung and missed at two pitches, fouled off several balls, and poked a few line drives into the outfield. Nothing about his performance, good or bad, stood out.

When Harper finished facing Broderick, he walked out of the batting cage and knelt next to Ivan Rodriguez, who made his major league debut June 20, 1991, 484 days before Harper was born. Harper played catcher growing up, and he idolized Rodriguez.

"Pudge and I, we were talking," Harper said. "He said, 'Just do what you've been doing your whole life. It's a simple game. Go out there and play the way you can.'

"I grew up loving Pudge. I absolutely loved Pudge when I was younger. We were sitting there chit-chatting a little big. I don't really get star-struck as much as some other kids would. But sitting there with Pudge, it was really cool. I was talking to him, I go, 'I met you, so I'm done. I can go home now.' "

After the workout, Harper avoided the crush of fans who bombarded him yesterday with an intricate plan devised by the Nationals. Harper jumped on the back of golf cart - which he almost fell off when it began whisking him away - and was driven to a white van by the minor-league facility. Once in the van, Harper was taken back to Space Coast Stadium, where he could lift weights and take part in a team meeting.

For any other 18-year-old, it may have seemed like a bit much. For Harper, who appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated at 16, it was not big thing. "I've got hauled away in a golf cart before," he said. "So it's not that tough."

Harper may have only made one mistake all day. When asked what he was looking forward to most, he said he wanted to play the Yankees.

"I love the Yankees," he explained. "I've always loved the Yankees since I was younger. They have all the studs. They have a lot studs out there. You just want to see how everybody goes about their business. I want to see Pujols and how he swings it in BP, how he warms up. Jeter, how he warms up. There's a lot of veteran guys that you can learn from. There's a lot of veteran guys that I can learn from here. You know, Zimmerman, he's a great guy, and he's hilarious also."

Harper was asked if, since he, you know, plays for the Nationals, he would have to break that habit of loving them.

"Yeah, I want to beat the Yankees," Harper said. "That's for sure. If I could be the Yankee breaker, be the guy who breaks that streak of them winning, that would be great."

By Adam Kilgore  | February 22, 2011; 3:57 PM ET
 
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Comments

Seeing hwo the Nats did not go right to MLB with Stras -- who might have been the most ready for prime time prospect in the last 30 years -- they are very, very likely not going to blow Spuer 2 status on Harper either -- no mattter what he does to prove he should make the club this spring.

But, if the kid shows that he has real chops to play in MLB now (which may be the case) and if they can make a move here or there to make his presence on the roster make sense (i.e., get him PT pretty much every day in the bigs), then I wish that Rizzo would very seriously consider throwing caution to the wind to get him on the roster for Opening Day. The Nats desperately need some energy, some life, something invigorating. The park would be electric for this kid and IF he shows that he can play, given his make-up and history of meeting and exceeding expecations at every level, it is not likely that his psyche would be so fragile should he struggle in the bigs and get sent down. If ever there was a kid who did not so much require confidence-building, it is Harper. He does not need to go hit .385 in A ball to know he belongs up in the Majors.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 22, 2011 4:17 PM | Report abuse

>He does not need to go hit .385 in A ball to know he belongs up in the Majors.

Word!

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | February 22, 2011 4:23 PM | Report abuse

Real mixed feelings on this -- don't want to see him rushed but with Stras sidelined the team needs something to be excited about.

Probably smart to leave him in the minors, but damn, if he really turns out to be the next Mickey Mantle, how much fun will that be?

Posted by: Meridian1 | February 22, 2011 4:36 PM | Report abuse

As I recall, SS was very bummed out when he did not make the Opening Day roster, although he might have been the only one in the world who thought he had a chance at that. You would expect anyone with the talent level of SS and Harper to have a strong competitive spirit. Doesn't mean that the minors isn't exactly where such newbies will, and should, go for awhile.

Posted by: NatsFly | February 22, 2011 4:37 PM | Report abuse

A couple of weeks in AFL and a few weeks in spring training is a pretty small sample size to decide Harper's ready for the bigs.

Stras came up to the bigs in June after overwhelming the competition in the minors. If Harper can do that and get called up in June, it's fine by me.

As for the comparisons to Mantle, people forget that after all the initial excitement when he made his big league debut, pitchers figured out you handled him by going up the ladder on him. Drove Stengel crazy when he'd strike out repeatedly on shoulder-high fastballs. Soon he was struggling and got sent back down to AAA for 40 games to work things out.

Had a pretty good career after that...

Posted by: gilbertbp | February 22, 2011 5:14 PM | Report abuse

"You just want to see how everybody goes about their business. I want to see Pujols and how he swings it in BP, how he warms up. Jeter, how he warms up. "

Uh, Harper know something we don't? Albert Pujols is already a Yankee???

Posted by: snowking52 | February 22, 2011 5:49 PM | Report abuse

Please,Please, please don't use the term oppo boppo in public again. Hell don't even use it in private. Not everything has to have a shortened version or catchphrase ring to it, this is still a respected publication. That is just too damn ridiculous!

Posted by: swimmer11 | February 22, 2011 5:56 PM | Report abuse

I don't care if he bats .900 this Spring, Harper is not starting in Washington.

First of all, he's not ready. But even if he was, just like Strasburg last season, the Nats would keep Harper in the Minors until early June - at least - in order to push his eligibility for arbitration back a year.

But I'll tell you one thing... I'd hate to be a pitcher in Hagerstown's league. Low-A leagues are about as talented as a mid-major NCAA conference. Bryce Harper is going to torch those guys for the month it takes the Nationals to realize he is wasting his time that low.

Harper will be at Prince William by early May, and probably Harrisburg by August.

But, let's face it, people have been underestimating this guy's ability to play with older players since he was probably 5. Does anyone doubt that Harper could just absolutely crush so much that he doesn't give the Nats any choice but to put him in left field by August?

I'm not going to bet against him!

Kevin Olson
Manassas, VA

Posted by: noslok | February 22, 2011 6:23 PM | Report abuse

I dunno, I think it has a nice ring to it.
Oppo-boppo.
Ahh, po' bahpo.
O-Bop.

Posted by: Section3mysofa | February 22, 2011 6:26 PM | Report abuse

You are going to give swimmer hives, sec3 :)

Posted by: NatsFly | February 22, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I have a feeling, that Harper will be called up right around the, All Star break.

Posted by: Defund_NPR | February 22, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I believe Harper - forget the rest of you. He knows he should be on the team, especially based on the hodgepodge good ol Pants put together with two out of three (don't ask me ask Werth) outfield positions undecided. If you're Pants, this is what you do - you go to Dum Dum Davey Johnson and you ask him - 'Hey Davey how do you compare Strawberry and Harper and what does Harper need to work on and oh yeah should he make the team?'

And Davey will give you the answer. Especially after he's had a good month to look him. And if it's not a yes, then it'll be a damn site closer to yes than Hagerstown.

Posted by: Brue | February 22, 2011 6:39 PM | Report abuse

I think that Nats may have learned something form the Stras handling.

That kid was well more Nand last year everyone knew it. They did the safe thing by sending him to the minors to avoid the Super 2 and his gaining arb eligibility sooner. BUT, they left an estimated $5M per home start in revenue, maybe more had the club actually stayed in the race beyond May, on the table by keeping him in the minors for 3 months. Those minor league starts are starts Stras could have had in the bigs, starts that the club will never get back. And the Nats lost the arb year they tried to protect to injury anyway. (Maybe we can call it Lerner karma that led to that outcome.) Had they been less concerned with the long term arb money that the guy would earn and more concerned with placing the best club on the field, and the most exciting player in the game on the mound on Opening Day, they would have made much, much more money than they saved by stretching the kid's clock. Even had he remained healthy, the big money in their pockets would have been worth the extra Millions years from now.

So, maybe they'll take a different tact wih Harper -- it is a very long shot that they would do so (because they are very risk adverse and because the kid is so young and the roster does not easliy allow for him to play every day at this point anyway) -- but you never know.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 22, 2011 6:40 PM | Report abuse

Harper's a stud, too!!

Posted by: rpcv84 | February 22, 2011 7:00 PM | Report abuse

Woah -- I have no typing or editing skills, sorry. Typed: "That kid was well more Nand last year everyone knew it." Mean to type: "That kid was well more than ready to start Opening Day for the Nats last year everyone knew it." Wow, shockingly awful outcome from the intent. Yikes.

Posted by: dfh21 | February 22, 2011 7:14 PM | Report abuse

It's a done deal.
Hagerstown Suns webpage is already promoting Harper's opening game with them on Friday, April 15 vs. the Lakewood BlueClaws. Seems like it's already carved in stone. And they aint messin around. You've got to buy a mini plan to get opening day seats. They know a golden goose when they see it. They are calling it HarperTown.

Posted by: skins_fan_22 | February 22, 2011 8:23 PM | Report abuse

>>They know a golden goose when they see it. They are calling it HarperTown.

Posted by: skins_fan_22

And nobody deserves it like the Hag. The main attraction there won't be Bryce Harpy, but I designed a Parachute Facility (it's got a 60-foot high drying tower for the kids!) for the Guard, which is supposed to be next to the Hagerstown Armory. Which borders the penitentiary. Hagtown is mecca. It must be - because the facility will serve 5 other states. Hagerstown Hub Star Harper>

Posted by: Brue | February 22, 2011 8:40 PM | Report abuse

Couldn't sleep, my body finally realized it was spring training again.
This whole thing with declaring Harper off-limits to the major league roster wreaks of what Larry Bowa was talking about on MLB Network where he basically roasted five teams, including the Nats, on naming their opening day starters already without seeing them in spring - like he said, 'you're stuck with them going against the other team's ace all year'. Anybody that doesn't think JZimm isn't the #1 on this staff is incompetent. He's your best pitcher. By a LOT. Doesn't make any sense. But neither does Pants.

Posted by: Brue | February 23, 2011 12:54 AM | Report abuse

Anybody that doesn't think JZimm isn't the #1 on this staff is incompetent. Posted by: Brue


What does this mean? Hate double negatives.

Posted by: bosco3 | February 23, 2011 9:31 AM | Report abuse

Can we get our PR man, or whoever is in charge of what Harper says to the media, to tone down the Yankee-loving? Not a big deal, but I mean, come on. I'd like to see the future of our team talk up someone like Zim or Livan before he goes off on a soundbite about Jeter and Pujols.

That said, I think the team is making a good decision by bringing him up slowly. Let the man progress - and hey, if he kills it in the minors then he'll be up in no time (especially if Morgan doesn't improve). In all honesty, I'm viewing this year as sort of a holdover year where I'm hoping we improve by another 10 games. With Stras out I'm not hoping for the playoffs or anything like that, don't think we'll be in contention even. Next year though, fall classic here we come. Go Nats!

Posted by: dls5kk | February 23, 2011 11:11 AM | Report abuse

Why do you think Zimmermann is our #1 right now? He played DECENT at the end of last year, has no experience starting - being an ace that is, and riggleman has already said he's going to have an inning limit this season. How in the heck could our ace have a limit? That would look just terrible, and would basically crap on the rest of the rotation.

Do some research homie. Maybe next season he could be our number 2. I'm more excited about what Ross D is going to look like during spring training - been reading that he's looking like the best athlete on the field right now after he changed up his delivery

Posted by: dls5kk | February 23, 2011 11:18 AM | Report abuse

>Why do you think Zimmermann is our #1 right now? He played DECENT at the end of last year, has no experience starting - being an ace that is, and riggleman has already said he's going to have an inning limit this season. How in the heck could our ace have a limit? That would look just terrible, and would basically crap on the rest of the rotation.

Do some research homie. Maybe next season he could be our number 2. I'm more excited about what Ross D is going to look like during spring training - been reading that he's looking like the best athlete on the field right now after he changed up his delivery

Posted by: dls5kk

I didn't put a pitch limit on Zimmermann, Pants did. Or will. It's not my fault they have no idea what they're doing, and they want to stick the same guy that was there long before their 'regime' started as the opening day starter. You can pray for Detwiler to succeed all you want, but until he increases his upper body strength (he's a lazy bastard), he's going to drop his arm angle and all of his pitches will flatten out. Good luck with that. Homie. 100 losses. Suck on the worst starting staff in baseball and like it. After the first few weeks of watching them get the hell beat out of them I'll probably be watching something else.

Posted by: Brue | February 23, 2011 12:14 PM | Report abuse

Again, this guy is out of Washington after his first contract. He wants to play in New York. Nationals had better play him sooner than later.

Posted by: skinsdiehard | February 23, 2011 11:06 PM | Report abuse

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