Harper seeking spot on Opening Day roster
Last year's No. 1 pick fitting in with Nats at big league camp
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo announced recently that outfielder Bryce Harper would most likely start the 2011 season in the Minor Leagues. However, Harper has other ideas. He wants to be on the team's Opening Day roster.
Harper, 18, has every reason to believe he can pull off the unexpected. In addition to being the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft and being labeled baseball's version of LeBron James, Harper has proven that he can play with professionals. He hit .319 with a .407 on-base percentage for the Nationals in the instructional league. He also led the team in several offensive categories, including hits, homers, RBIs and walks.
He then went to the Arizona Fall League and didn't disappoint, hitting .343 with a home run and seven RBIs for the Scottsdale Scorpions.
"I want to make that decision harder," Harper said. "I'm trying to stay up here as long as I can. [Outfielder Jayson] Werth and several of the guys came up to me and asked, 'Are you going to make the team or what?' I'm trying to make this club. ... If it doesn't happen, it's going to be a great experience being up here with all the veteran guys."
Harper, who is expected to begin the season at Class A Hagerstown in the South Atlantic League, participated in his second Spring Training workout Tuesday and didn't look overmatched during batting practice. He faced right-hander Shairon Martis in the first two rounds. In Round 1, Harper took four pitches, fouled off one pitch and hit a ball up the middle for a hit. In the next round, Harper swung and missed at a pitch, took three pitches and hit a hard grounder to first base.
In Round 3, right-hander Brian Broderick was on the mound. Harper fouled off three pitches, took three other pitches, hit a soft liner to second base and hit a grounder to third base.
By the time the workout ended, the Nats learned their lesson from Monday afternoon in which Harper was mobbed by at least 100 fans. They had Harper avoid the fans by riding a golf cart back to Space Coast Stadium. Harper wanted to get to a clubhouse meeting that was starting at 1 p.m. ET.
"I would rather have people who want my autograph than not want my autograph," Harper said. "I want to take care of the little kids and things like that, but they have to know, I'm out here to do a job and this is my job."
Several of Harper's teammates had their way of making him feel welcomed during his second day. Several of them told him -- jokingly -- not wear the war paint that he was known for prior to being drafted.
"I heard that a couple of times," Harper said.
"He is a good kid," Werth said. "He is not very old. He has a pretty good size for that age. Maybe he will be able to help us sooner rather than later."
Harper also had a conversation with catcher Ivan Rodriguez who told him to be himself on the field.
"He just said, 'Do what you have been doing your whole life. It's a simple game. You are going to go out there and play the way you can.'" Harper said. "I grew up loving Pudge. I was a catcher. We chit-chatted a bit. I don't get star struck like some other kids would, but sitting there with Pudge, it was real cool. I just sat out there, I was talking to him and I go, 'I met you, I'm done, so I can home.'"
When he plays on the field, Harper wants to emulate his baseball heroes -- Mickey Mantle, George Brett and Pete Rose.
"Those are three guys that I love," Harper said. "They went about their business every day. They played as hard as they could every day. If you didn't hustle down the line, George Brett was going to get in your face and tell you, 'You need to hustle a little more.'"
The Nationals already have a game plan for Harper during the exhibition season. He isn't likely to start many Spring Training games and will see most of his action on the Minor League fields, playing both left and right field.
"We may give our regular outfielders a day off and have a start for him [in the Major Leagues]," manager Jim Riggleman said. "In the next week to 10 days, he will get some at-bats."
Harper would like to see action against his favorite team, the Yankees, who play Washington on March 5 in Tampa, Fla., and at Space Coast Stadium six days later. Harper loves the Yankees because of what he read about Mantle.
"I'm excited to play New York," Harper said. "I want to see Robinson Cano, Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez. I loved the Yankees since I was younger. They have the studs and you want to see how everyone goes about their business. If I can be the Yankee breaker and break that streak of them winning, that would be great."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.