I had a chance to catch up again with the Nationals number one draft selection, Bryce Harper, as he embarks on his first game for the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall league Wednesday.
Harper said he is pretty excited to get the invite to play in the AFL.
“I am really happy to be a part of the Arizona Fall league with the caliber of guys at this stage,” Harper said. “To be able to go up there and play with Lombo, Norris and Burgess, all those good guys, it is incredible. I am really excited to get going.”
As a taxi squad member, Harper is available to play only on Wednesdays and Saturdays, something he says he’s okay with.
“I need to go up there and work hard, and I am going to work hard in my off days also. Just to be up there and be with those caliber guys is astonishing to me. It is good for me to learn and be around those guys and learn what those guys have gone through. I will be sitting next to (manager) Randy Knorr the whole time. He will probably get sick of me (laughs).”
Harper spent time with the Nats instructional league in Viera, Fla. What did he learn about playing outfield at instructs?
“Being out there the first day I learned so much early on. Being smooth - being smooth is quicker. Being slower is quicker. Reading the ball off the bat, reading pitchers, watching hitters in the on deck circle. So many things that (outfield/baserunning coach) Tony (Tarasco) taught me that I had no idea. Having a big league guy like Tony out there was great.”
Harper went 0-for-2 in his debut with a pair of strikeouts, but says bad days at the plate happen.
“I just laugh. It happens. You are going to have 0-for-2 days, 0-for-4 days. Being out there and being dominated, it helps a lot. They are not going to throw a fastball down the middle. I had a lot of good at bats in my first 20 at bats. Being able to face those guys was good, to go out and see that. It was a great experience.”
So when you did connect for the those four homers at instructs after having some trouble, how did that feel?
“I just felt good. I try to get pitches I can swing at. I try to see everything up a lot. I got a lot of pitches I could drive. I got into the rhythm of hitting again.
“I always preach, ‘If you hit line drives they are going to go.’ I try to hit the ball oppo field, react on the fastball inside, and if it happens to go out of the yard, then it goes out.”
Some people are asking how Harper is going to handle life on the road in the minors, but he did experience driving all around playing junior college baseball last season.
“I think we stayed in a place in Colorado that had cockroaches everywhere. It was a bad deal. You have to deal with it. Our farthest drive was 16 hours. You get off the bus, you have practice. You go to bed and you get up the next morning for the game. There are times when you have to drive eight hours and play that night. Everything wasn’t perfect. It wasn’t like we were a top Division I and we were flying everywhere.”
“I got a pretty good feel of minor league baseball in junior college. It was a lot of fun being on those rides with the guys and just talking and (kidding around).”
Do you think playing in Arizona will accelerate your rise to the Nats in the next couple of years?
“I don’t know. We will see. It just depends on how I perform in the AFL. I will let the higher power deal with that and see where they want to send me after AFL and spring training. Hopefully I perform and make it hard for them.”
Harper said he likes the Yankees and Phillies in the World Series and that he’ll be working out with Shane Victorino of the Phillies, who he knows pretty well. How does the young prospect plan to handle trying to be better than the Phillies in the next few years?
“I think in the next couple years we will be the Yankees of the N.L. East. I have been telling everyone that. We are going to roll. We are going to win some World Series. That is everyone’s goal. (Field coordinator) Bobby Henley preached that from day one - ‘We are going to win the N.L. East someday.’ I really believe that. Hopefully, we bring a couple of World Series to Washington, D.C.”
To hear my complete conversation with Bryce Harper, check it out at nationals360.com.