Viera only first step in Harper's big opening season

The next couple of weeks will be a dream come true for Bryce Harper. The No. 1 prospect catcher-turned-outfielder takes the next important step to realizing that dream of playing baseball in the major leagues.

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That next step begins in Viera, Fla.

Similar to what he did last year at fall instructional league and in the Arizona Fall League, Harper will be learning from experienced coaches and players in the Washington system. But this month will be even better, because now he will be working out side-by-side with his Nationals' teammates in his first big league spring training.

Nationals manager Jim Riggleman says this first full season won't be an effortless endeavor for Harper because every opposing pitcher will try to make a name for themselves by beating him on the field. That is nothing new, though, for Harper.

"When (Harper) goes down to the minor leagues he will not be able to sneak up on anybody," Riggleman said. "Just like he has never been able to in the past. He comes in highly touted. He came into college highly touted."

Riggleman said Harper has shown he deserves to be in spring training because he has been able to take on every challenge presented him. With every successive league, however, the stakes increase and the challengers become tougher, more experienced.

"He answered all the questions in college," Riggleman said. "He went into the instructional league and the Arizona Fall League and met and exceeded all expectations there. But all eyes are on him. That is not easy.

"So when he goes into a full season of a professional minor league, every pitcher he faces will be taking this as a unique challenge and they are going to be at the top of their games."

Riggleman feels this upcoming experience at spring camp will be important, but it won't help Harper in the batter's box on an April night in Lexington, Ky. Just like every other prospect, Harper will have to do that learning on his own.

"All the help he gets in the major league camp is going to wear off after awhile," Riggleman said."It is going to be him against that (grizzled), veteran minor league pitcher on a lot of nights who is going to be trying to use every trick up their sleeve against him."

Then again, with the way Harper performed in Scottsdale, maybe it is Single-A Hagerstown in April and Woodbridge, Va., home of Single-A Potomac, in May?

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