Puig had given Harper the bat, joining a long list of players Harper has borrowed lumber from. Harper said he has used bats given to him by, among others: Chase Utley, Michael Morse, Troy Tulowitzki, David Wright, Buster Posey, Todd Helton, Melky Cabrera and Miguel Cabrera.
“I mean, I swing everybody’s model,” Harper said.
Harper collects the bats not as artifacts, but as experiments. He likes to switch between bats to find out what feels best to him at a given time, or even against a given pitcher. When he finds a bat he likes, he’ll order their model with his name on it. He has no problem swinging a bat with another player’s name on it.
“Unless I’m playing against their team,” Harper said. “There’s no way, no shot.”
Harper said that by the time the Nationals play the Dodgers, he’ll have ordered a batch of Puig’s model – YP-66 – with his name on the barrel, so he can use it if he wants.
The other day, he used Puig’s bat because it is 34½ inches long, a half-inch longer than the model he typically uses. Against Wade Miley’s slider, which broke away from him, it gave him an extra inch to reach the pitch. He also used it for the same reason against Trevor Cahill, whose sinker breaks big away from a left-handed hitter.
All players are particular about which bat they use, but in different ways. Anthony Rendon sticks to one bat. Ryan Zimmerman has used Adam Dunn’s model – AD-44 – for years. Players choose an established model more than making their own. Harper keeps one of Ian Desmond’s bats in his locker, and even though Desmond’s name is on it, it’s an MR-24, the model Manny Ramirez popularized.
“Every guy in baseball, you get to a point where you get a bat that feels great,” Harper said.
Harper played in a wood-bat league in at the College of Southern Nevada, and there he used Utley’s CU-26 model for the entire season. He also used Utley’s model for the majority of his rookie season and the first half of 2013.
At the Home Run Derby last season, Harper met Yoenis Cespedes – who beat him in the final – and tried swinging his bat. He loved it. Cespedes’s model had the same measurements – 34 inches, 32 1/2 ounces – handle, and head as the CU-26, but a larger knob on the end. He now swings the YC-52 on a daily basis, but he ordered a batch, so it’s his name on the barrel.
Harper frequently orders an RC-24, the one Robinson Cano made. “He has a great model,” Harper said. “It’s similar to what I use.” But Harper likes Cespedes’s handle better, because of the way it tapers at the end. He’s borrowed one from Mike Trout, who uses a 243 model – “your most basic, standard model,” Harper said.
Harper has tried out a JG-30, from fellow Nevadan and top Texas Rangers slugging prospect Joey Gallo. This winter, Harper introduced Gallo to Cespedes’s handle, and he liked it enough to order his own model, with that handle and a standard head. Gallo then used the bat to hit three home runs against Class A Potomac, the Nationals’ affiliate.
Harper’s constant trying out of so many other stars’ bats raises the obvious question: When will he have a BH-34 of his own?
“I swing so many different models, I won’t have a BH-34, probably,” Harper said, laughing. “I mean, Marucci made a modified BH-34. It was a modified CU-7 head with a JR-7 handle. I mean, you get into all these different models. You can go on and on and on. Some bats just feel good some days, and some bats just feel terrible.”