Nationals top prospect Bryce Harper started and smacked an RBI single to left in Saturday’s Arizona Fall league championship game for the Scottsdale Scorpions after a pretty impressive month of fall baseball.
Despite being on the taxi squad (maximum two games per week), Harper went 12-for-35 (.343) with three doubles, two triples, a homer and seven RBI in nine games.
Scottsdale Scorpions batting coach Alan Zinter did not know what to expect when Harper arrived in mid-October, but he soon realized he was witnessing something pretty special.
“I had not seen him in person,” recollects Zinter. “I had heard all the hoopla on Bryce. I was very eager to see him. The first day here when he was taking batting practice, I was just standing there. I was saying, ‘you have got to be kidding me’. I couldn’t believe what I just saw.”
Zinter says Harper has shown all the tools.
“He has power and bat speed,” says Zinter. “I can’t believe an 18-year old kid has this at this time. It is incredible. He is something special.”
But what was more amazing was when Zinter watched Harper play when the games counted.
“I didn’t know what he would be like in the games,” says Zinter. “He has had great at bats. He has crushed the ball. He has hit a home run. He has crushed balls off the wall. He has hit balls the other way.”
Zinter has noticed Harper adjusting on the fly and getting better with each plate appearance.
“He does go at it really, really hard,” says Zinter. “He is making in at-bat adjustments, which I like to see. He is starting to lay off certain pitches. If he swings at it a couple of times, you are not going to get him the third time. He has struck out, but so does everybody else. He does make adjustments. That is what you want to see.
“For an 18-year old kid to come here and compete and hold his own is pretty special,” says Zinter.
Zinter says he hasn’t seen a player like Harper before, and there wasn’t a major league player that he has seen that compares right now because Bryce is just 18 years of age.
“I hear stories of Josh Hamilton when he was young like that but I never saw Josh Hamilton,” says Zinter. “So, I can tell you I have never seen anything like this from an 18-year old kid. His teammates want to see him play and are not jealous of him. He is a great teammate. He is enjoying himself. The guys have accepted him.”
Zinter says it would have been very easy for a player with this kind of talent to come into Arizona and feel entitled. Zinter says that is not Harper.
“A lot of times over the years you would see guys say ‘Oh, this guy is a hot shot rookie’ and it takes time for that guy to break in with the team,” says Zinter.
“But he fit in right away. The guys have been great with him and he has been great with us.”
Zinter has not had to change much in Harper’s approach at the plate, either.
“I haven’t done anything with him,” says Zinter. “I just watch him. I just tell him once and awhile to not go too hard. There is nothing to really do with him to work on. He is a hard worker and goes out there and does his stuff and his routines. It is fun to watch.”
Does Zinter think Harper will make it to the big leagues faster than two or three seasons?
“That is always hard to say,” says Zinter. “You see the talent and you say he could be there in a year or so. Baseball is a tough game. He is going to have to handle failure. It is how he reacts to certain situations. Can he come back. He has never really failed before.
“Does he have a good grasp on that?” questions Zinter. “If he does it is going to be sooner than later. There is a process to go through. He has the whole package. He has been awesome in the outfield. He has an accurate arm. He hustles. He beats out regular ground balls. He does all the little things. I think he knows what he wants in life. He has a great head on his shoulders. You hope he keeps it like that.”
Zinter, who played first base for the Astros (2002) and Diamondbacks (2004), feels Harper is humble despite all the accolades, and that will benefit him down the road as he pursues his dream.
“He knows he is not bigger than baseball,” says Zinter. He does a lot of signings, and he stays out late on the field. He knows his spot. I thought I would get there in three years, it took me 13 years.”
Zinter says Harper will make it to the big leagues when he is ready.
“I don’t want to put a particular date (on when he makes it to the majors),” says Zinter. “I hope he gets there when he is supposed to get there.”
Hear the complete interview with Zinter, including updates on Derek Norris, Stephen Lombardozzi and Michael Burgess at nationals360.com and at 7:00 a.m. Saturday on Federal News Radio, 1500 AM.