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Thursday, October 7, 2010

Harper learning the professional ropes

The first three weeks of Bryce Harper's professional career have been, not unexpectedly, a mixed bag. In the Florida Instructional League, the Nats are realizing what they originally thought: He is incredibly refined for a 17-year-old, and yet still raw by the standards of even the lowest levels of professional baseball.

Harper, a catcher for most of his life, has spent much of his time in Florida learning the outfield, and he is facing the most advanced pitching of his life.

One day this week in Lakeland, he turned a 95-mph fastball into a tape-measure home run. There are also games when strikeouts pile up more than highlights.

Minor league instructor and Class A Hagerstown coach Tony Tarasco has drilled into him the basics of playing in the outfield: reading the ball off the bat, throwing to the proper base, where to set up before certain pitches.

"He's so athletic," Nationals Director of Player Development Doug Harris said. "It's fairly natural for him. You could probably put him at any position, and he's going to look like he has a chance to play there."

Harper, a self-described "baseball rat," is fitting in with his new teammates after missing several months while waiting to sign his contract. Despite the obvious attention on him, Harper has not stood out, according to Harris.

"He's having a blast," Harris said. "The best part is here, this group of kids that are around him, I think it's a special group. There's no separation. There's no sense of, 'he's the big man on campus.' He's blended in exceptionally well."

- Adam Kilgore


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