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Bryce Harper makes everyone take notice

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The Washington Nationals's first overall draft pick took batting practice and shagged balls in the outfield before the team's first full-squad workout. The Washington Post's Adam Kilgore reports.

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Monday, February 21, 2011; 11:22 PM

VIERA, FLA.

After security men and Washington Nationals officials had pried Bryce Harper out of the middle of a scrum of autograph hounds who had the 18-year-old backed up against a fence, Manager Jim Riggleman walked back to the clubhouse, shaking his head at the rock-star mosh pit caused by a rookie.

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"It's just too much," Riggleman muttered, figuring out ways to protect Harper from being swamped as he leaves the practice field on future days.

Then, a tiny boy whirled up to Riggleman with a pen and paper in hand. "Are you Bryce Harpy?" the tyke asked.

"No, I'm not," the manager replied.

This spring, who is?

After watching Harper's first spring training batting practice, the harpies of fame are virtually the only force that has much chance of snatching a feast of stardom from the teen. It's unlikely many pitchers will blow him away.

In his first spring training day in a Nationals uniform, Harper lined the first pitch back through the box, smashed the second over the right field fence through a cross wind and then practiced hitting liners to the opposite field. Despite his size - 6 feet 3, 225 pounds - the left-handed Harper has a swing that's both short and quick to the ball, yet ferocious with a high finish.

Pat Corrales and Davey Johnson, who have 100 combined seasons in pro baseball, sat in a golf cart beside the cage, sagely evaluating last summer's No. 1 overall pick.

Johnson has known Harper since handing him the trophy in a home run hitting contest for teenagers.

"Bryce hit a ball 500 feet at Al Lang Field in St. Pete. He was 15," Johnson said. "I also wrote out his name on the [Nationals] draft sheet last summer. I was more nervous than he was. I wanted to make sure I spelled it right."

Corrales has followed Harper from Instructional League here, when he had to be disciplined once for not running out a ground ball, through the Arizona Fall League.


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