Manager Davey Johnson plows the road for Harper, even when he pretends he doesn’t.
“My mind is not made up. I want everybody else to be open-minded, too, including you all in the media and” General Manager Mike Rizzo, Johnson said about Harper being in Washington on opening day or soon thereafter. “If he can handle it, so be it. I’m not worried about him.”
How does “age 19” weigh in?
“It doesn’t. Did I care that Dwight Gooden was 18 when I asked the Mets to move him up from A-ball to the AAA World Series at the end of the season? I knew he could flat-out pitch,” Johnson said. “You can play or you can’t.”
Johnson’s not alone in his enthusiasm. In the Nats’ clubhouse, MLB Network plays on a huge flat screen all the time. Recently, the man on that screen was Harper himself. In a five-minute piece, he lifted huge weights, dreamed big about his future and was touted as “the best prospect” there’s ever been.
With teammates around him, Harper turned his back to the TV. But they didn’t. They cut their eyes at the screen, then back to the actual person; he stood, jersey off, some of the broadest shoulders looking like a V-shaped billboard for his vast potential. Harper has stolen Mike Schmidt’s physique at 25, but on a bigger frame.
Drew Storen, Stephen Strasburg’s buddy and a Stanford guy you might think would be skeptical of Harper’s bravado, soaks in the scene.
“Bryce is so much bigger than last year,” Storen said. “With all the lifting, he’s a monster. We’ve got big guys on this club, but he’s just ridiculous.”
Harper says he’s grown an inch-and-a-half since last spring and is 6 feet 3, 225 pounds; but, after watching his older brother grow to 6-6 in the past couple of years, he hopes that he may eventually be 6-5 and 250 pounds.
Last year, the Nats were slightly skeptical of the Harper hype. Now, they’ve seen and heard enough to believe. And with the “Joe Namath 12” tag that vets put in place of the nameplate above his locker, they’ve deemed him worthy of teasing — the best a rookie gets.
“That guy has had a target on his back for years,” Storen said. “Certain players enjoy the challenge. He’s been doing unbelievable things all his life. You read stuff, wonder what he’s like. Now he’s been around us a while. He’s got a good [baseball] make-up, and he’ll fight through [failure]. You love the way he goes after it.”
Harper has tried to blend, as much as is in his nature, since arriving in camp in an eye-catching black baseball hat with four vertical white bars on the front with a fifth diagonal bar slashed through them, as if you’d counted to “five” with chalk on a blackboard. Why? “Beckham and Kobe wear it.”