“I take a lot of pride in my workouts,” he said, sitting in the clubhouse at Space Coast Stadium this week. “I work as hard as I can to get ready for the season.”
The Nationals’ grandiose hopes for this season rest, in part, on the broad shoulders and unspeakably high expectations for 20-year-old Harper. As a rookie, he injected life and power into the Nationals’ lineup and, despite some growing pains, helped propel them to their first NL East title. He recorded one of the greatest teenage seasons in baseball history, smashing 22 home runs, posting a .817 on-base plus slugging percentage, scoring 98 runs and evolving into an strong defensive player.
The goal this year, though, is higher. “The World Series is the biggest thing on my mind,” he said.
As for his personal ambitions, Harper has been mum since arriving in Viera for spring training. If he were to share them, he insists, people would think he is crazy.
“More extra-base hits,” Manager Davey Johnson said, jokingly, earlier this week. “Probably with more stolen bases, more runners thrown out. You name it, there’s probably a litany of lists. . . . It’s probably .390 with 50 [home runs]. But whatever I get, I’m going to be happy with.”
Tim Soder, who has trained Harper for the past two offseasons, has heard Harper talk about his personal goals for 2013.
“I don’t think he knows how to spell second,” Soder said. “He wants to be number one.”
Harper built his body as big and strong as he could during the winter, an offseason activity he has made a mission since high school. He loses weight quickly; playing baseball nearly everyday for the next eight months, especially the hell-bent way Harper does, can do that to a body. By the end of spring training, Harper figures he will lose 10 pounds.
Since mid-November, when he started lifting again, Harper set his alarm for 4:50 a.m. four times a week, was up by 5 and was at Soder’s training facility in Las Vegas by 5:30 to join a group of minor league and major league players. The intense, non-stop workouts last between 90 minutes and two hours, a little longer on leg days. His older brother, Bryan, 23, a Nationals minor league pitcher, accompanied him.
“It gives me a good time to relax and hang out and clear my mind,” Harper said. “Lifting and stuff really helps me clear my mind. I love it.”
The Nationals wanted to move Harper out of center field as soon as possible, to prevent the mental and physical wear and tear on his muscular body. That was part of the reason for the late-November trade for Denard Span, the type of leadoff hitter and center fielder the Nationals have long coveted. But to Harper it didn’t matter where he was going to play, he was going to show up to camp at 230 pounds even if he was the everyday center fielder.