Nationals outfield coordinator Tony Tarasco has worked with Bryce Harper from Day One on getting the No. 1 prospect to make a smooth transition from his early days in high school and college as a catcher to his time now as a professional outfielder.
"His progress has taken huge leaps," Tarasco said. "It is pretty impressive considering that he has only played outfield for about a year and also considering that he is coming from behind the plate and going to the outfield. A lot of times you will get infielders to move out there and a lot of their foundation and fundamentals in the infield help carry them to the outfield. Their transition is a lot smoother for an outfield coach to (be able to) switch them."
Tarasco said that with a position change such as this, mechanics are crucial, but the mental focus it takes as the field widens is also critical to how the player adjusts after being used to throwing usually just to second base. Now, Harper is learning to be accurate on longer tosses to the cutoff men and occasionally to home plate.
"Going from behind home plate I thought it would be difficult to switch him," Tarasco said. "But you take his athleticism and you take his intensity, his determination to be the best and you put that together the right kind of work and we (witnessed) some really good progress last year both physically and mentally.
"That is the other part of outfield play that has to constantly be improved on. A lot of it only comes from playing time. I can't preempt a lot of mental mistakes. They have to kind of happen first then I can address and attack them so that they don't happen again. (Now) he is aware of them."
Tarasco said the Nationals love Harper's aggressiveness and don't worry if he tries to make a play on every ball. But they do work to find a happy median.
"I think that is a delicate balance in itself," Tarasco said. "It is the same thing when it comes to base running, (Harper) is such an aggressive base runner and such an aggressive player. You don't ever want to lose that because that is hard to get back. It is a blessing and a relief sometimes when your (task is) trying to get a player to relax. It is much easier to get a player to relax then to get a player to give you his all or to want it."
Tarasco said the Nationals are also impressed with Harper's arm and have made a slight adjustment in his mechanics so the young phenom can take full advantage of that tool when making longer throws from the outfield grass.
"His arm is great," Tarasco said. "It is different mechanics from the outfield than it is from behind the plate. He had a tendency early on to try to throw the ball too hard. Once we showed him how to get rid of the ball at a consistent and quick pace from the outfield, he started realizing that the efficiency in his three-count, or Crow Hop, allowed him to get more loft on his ball because of the sequence in which he threw the ball (improved)."
Tarasco said that Harper gained confidence in the Crow Hop throwing technique and that allowed him to become more efficient with his throws from the outfield.
"He realized he could get rid of the ball like this and still have a lot of life on it, (so) he has kind of taken to it," Tarasco said. "He has learned from mistakes. I tip my hat to him. Everybody has to learn from mistakes in this game."
Tarasco believes another reason Harper has improved so much is that the youngster has a willingness to be taught and is learning to adjust when a play doesn't go as planned.
"I don't care how good your talent is, how advanced you are or what age, you are going to make mistakes," Tarasco said. "That is one thing I like about Bryce is he is fearless when it comes to that. He is not scared to make mistakes."