Most every baseball player arrives at spring training having dieted, lost weight, packed on muscle and in so-called tremendous shape. Bryce Harper, at 20, is different. He’s still growing, he’s young, and standing in the Nationals clubhouse with a T-shirt and shorts rivaled perhaps only Roger Bernadina for players with the most built, linebacker-type bodies.
After the Nationals’ Game 5 loss, Harper went home to Las Vegas with his family, didn’t watch another pitch of a postseason baseball game (college football instead) and devoted himself to resting and working out. He said he weighed about 230 pounds — about 15 more than his listed weight last season — and by the end of spring training he figures to drop to 220.
“Going into the offseason, you try to put all the weight back on and work hard,” he said Thursday afternoon, the day he reported to Viera. “I take a lot of pride in my workouts. I try to work hard every single day. I lift as hard as I can, get as big as I can in spring training because I know I’m going to lose a lot of weight because I’m a guy who comes in and loses a lot of weight quick.”
“Every time I look at Harper, he looks to be getting bigger,” quipped Manager Davey Johnson later.
This spring training will be different for Harper, at least by feel. He isn’t fighting for a spot on the active roster or trying to prove that he belongs. He’s the National League reigning rookie of the year, and a chunk of the Nationals’ fortunes lie on his shoulders. He already meshed with the clubhouse and teammates last season (“like your second family”). He’s no longer a rookie, but he’s still the baby of the group. Nothing about his second season — his first full one in the majors — will change from the last, he insists.
“I’m still 20, so I’m kind of young,” he said. “It’s going to be the same thing. I’m going to treat every single guy on our team with respect. I’m still that young guy out there. I’m still going to play the same game I play, 120 percent every single day I’m out there. If I’m hurt, on my deathbed, it doesn’t really matter. I’m going to go out there, work hard and play the game the right way.”
Harper’s whirlwind rookie season had him playing nonstop from the spring through the all-star break and into the postseason. To unwind, he spent time with his parents, brother Bryan, sister Brittany and her husband and their five-month son. “And being able to hang out with my dog,” he said. “Hadn’t seen my dog all year so going back and hanging out with him was a lot of fun. It’s a sad time leaving but it’s good and bad at the same time.”
Johnson has yet to determine an ideal lineup, but he admits to kicking around a few in his mind. Where he bats Harper and Jayson Werth, whose wrist is still slowly gaining strength, he said, are still up in the air. But a potential lineup based on Johnson’s preference of alternating lefties and righties for balance could likely have Harper hitting third behind Werth and in front of Ryan Zimmerman.
“I like hitting in the two-spot,” said Harper, who didn’t mind playing left field while Werth plays in right. “I think it’s a good spot for me, especially with Denard leading off and Zim behind me. Wherever he wants to put me, that’s fine. Davey’s a great manager. He’s got a great mind, and hopefully I’m always in the lineup. That’s the only thing that matters to me.”
Harper’s goal for this season is clear, although he wouldn’t state it in the same way as his cocksure manager (“Word Series or bust”). The biggest goal in Harper’s mind? “World Series.” Personal goals, however, will be kept secret for now.
“I have things in my head, goals in my head, but I’m not ready to share those because people are probably going to think I’m crazy,” he said. “I like to exceed my expectations and those are the only expectations that really matter to me.”