Last season, Bryce Harper essentially learned to be a major league center fielder on the fly, adapting to his first extended stint at the position at any level on the way to winning National League Rookie of the Year. Of the moves the Nationals made this offseason, perhaps none impacts the 20-year-old Harper as much as the arrival of Denard Span via trade from Minnesota, which will likely send Harper back to left field.
During Saturday’s fan festival at Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Harper said he’s looking forward to playing beside Span in the outfield and batting behind him in the order, too.
Span’s “going to be great for us in center field, at the top of the lineup giving us some speed,” Harper said. “He gets on base a lot and that’s going to be good for our whole lineup.”
Next month, Harper will head to big league camp for the third straight season, and for the first time, he’ll begin the spring with a starting outfield spot. After being called up from Class AAA Syracuse last April, he put together one of the finest seasons by a teenager in major league history.
Looking noticeably more muscular, Harper met the local media on Saturday for the first time in months and said he doesn’t plan to alter his preparation for a full major league season.
“I don’t think it’s going to change a bit,” Harper said. “I’m going to go to spring training and work my tail off and work in the weight room and get things done and try to get ready for the season.”
In addition to the Span trade, Harper gave his approval on the team’s other major moves this offseason, especially the resigning of first baseman Adam LaRoche. He said he was “thankful” to have LaRoche back in the lineup, so he won’t regularly have to hit in the cleanup spot.
While the young outfielder said Manager Davey Johnson has not specifically spoken to him yet about his place in the lineup going into his second season, he said he’s planning to hit second.
Harper also revealed that he passed up the opportunity to play in the World Baseball Classic, saying he wanted to ease into his first full big league season without the added pressure of that stage.
“Coming off of the year that we had, I just wanted to get back and get back in the swing of things in spring training,” Harper said. “It’s the first spring training that I can really be up with the big league club. Hopefully in four years I’ll do the WBC then.”