In Bryce Harper's mind, hitting is as easy as "bump, bump, bump, bump, hit!". That's how Harper times a pitcher and what his hitting philosophy boils down to when he's at the plate. For Harper, who is working his way through the Low-A level South Atlantic League, hitting is a matter of doing what he knows that he can do and just making adjustments depending on who he's facing.
For all of the attention that he has had on him dating back to before he was even drafted, Harper doesn't really look for attention. He's willing to let his hitting speak for itself and has a respect for the game that dictates how he plays. His home run trot is more than a simple stroll around the bases. It's patterned after Pete Rose, who ran almost as hard after hitting a home run as he did on any other play.
"I learned to never disrespect the game or the pitcher. He may get me the next two times and I'll get him once, so I think you just have to run around the bases. Pete Rose ran around the bases every time, so that's how I'm going to do it," explained Harper.
But just because Harper has a respect for the game, doesn't mean he is against adding a little flash. Harper can be spotted pretty easily thanks to his bright orange shoes, which he insists are "just the ones that they sent me, so that's what I wear." Somehow, the bright orange doesn't look out of place on Harper, who first gained attention as a high school player. That attention went up when well-known baseball agent Scott Boras became Harper's 'adviser' and found a loophole that would allow Harper to enter drafted earlier than he would have otherwise been eligible. It was Boras who came up with the plan of having Harper take his GED so he could head to the College of Southern Nevada early. Harper passed the GED test and was in the starting lineup when the Coyotes kicked off their schedule in January of 2009. Just six months later, Harper's name was called by the Washington Nationals as the first player chosen in the draft.
Earlier this season, Harper rattled off an 18-game hitting streak and he's been impressive all season, begging the question of when he'll move up to the next level.
"The first couple of weeks, I just tried to see as many pitches as I could," explained Harper. "It's all going pretty well and now, I'm just looking to see as many pitchers as I can and find out what they can do. When I move up, I move up."
Over the last 12 months, Harper has gone through a lot; the lengthy negotiations prior to signing with the Nationals, a trip to the Arizona Fall League for his pro debut and then a winter of sharpening his skills before going to spring training with the Nationals to give him a taste of what it will be like when he reaches the majors. Looking back, Harper remembers staying cool on Draft Day, because it was a foregone conclusion where he was going.
"We were sitting on the bus the other day and the draft stuff came up and it was pretty neat to think back," remembers Harper. "I'm looking forward to this year's draft, actually. All my buddies are gonna be in it this year, so it's kind of cool to look back and I want to see where my buddies are gonna be in the first, second, third round."
Harper is good friends with high school right-handers Dylan Bundy and Archie Bradley, who grew up playing against Harper in high school prospect showcases. Both are projected as first-rounders by Scout.com National Baseball Expert Frankie Piliere and Harper is looking forward to seeing where they wind up. Of course, Harper will also be keeping his eye on older brother Bryan Harper, who was taken in the 27th round of last year's draft by the Chicago Cubs, but decided to return to college and hope for better things in the 2011 draft.
One big question facing Harper coming into his pro career was how he would adjust to playing the outfield after being a catcher throughout his high school and college days. So far, the adjustment has gone well and manager Brian Daubach thinks there doesn't need to be any concern about Harper's defense.
"He's got all of the talent to play in the outfield and he's adjusted well, so I have no concerns when he's out there," explained Daubach.
Harper also has no concerns about his new position.
"I feel really comfortable in the outfield. I try to make some plays for my pitchers and if I can dive a couple times here and there and make some plays, that's the fun part about it [being in the outfield]."
Harper has enough speed to get into the gap and sometimes surprises people with his speed both defensively and on the bases, where Daubach has given Harper the green light to run.
As well as Harper plays defensively and even though he can contribute on the basepaths thanks to his speed, it all comes back to his offense. Through Sunday, Harper is batting .349 with 10 homers in 41 games.
"Things are working out pretty well right now and I feel really good at the plate, so I just hope I can keep it rolling," said the 18-year-old.
For their part, the Nationals seem content to let Harper develop without rushing him and putting more pressure on him. Just last week Nationals' GM Mike Rizzo stated definitively that Harper would not play in the major leagues in 2011. Both the Nationals and Harper realize that the higher he advances, the more the spotlight will be cast upon a young guy who in a normal world would have just completed his freshman year of college. Instead, he's a rich guy, who figures to make even more money down the road. Fans never let him forget that the expectations are high, but Harper considers it all to be a part of his development for playing in the majors.
"Trying to get ready for Philly," joked Harper, referring to the sometimes harsh fans of the Nationals division rivals in Philadelphia."They're going to say stuff; it happens. The biggest thing is to just clear all that stuff out and just focus on me and the pitcher and driving the ball."
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