Bryce Harper won’t enter spring training this year with all eyes on him, like they were last year. He won’t enter spring training trying to impress manager Davey Johnson or trying to win a spot on the 25-man roster, like he did last year.
This time around, the 20-year-old outfielder will just go in trying to get himself in the best shape possible to be ready for the start of the regular season, when he’ll play left field and likely hit somewhere in the top third of the Nationals’ batting order.
Despite being an established major league starter after winning the National League Rookie of the Year last season, Harper doesn’t seem himself needing to do anything differently this spring.
“I don’t think it’s going to change a bit,” he said. “I’m going to go to spring training, I’m going to work my tail off and work out in the weight room and get things done and try and get ready for the season. We’ve got two weeks longer in spring training this season due to the (World Baseball Classic), so you just try to relax for a little bit and get going and take it easy.”
Speaking of the WBC, Harper said that he was asked to play for Team USA in the event, but declined.
“I just think it’s too serious of at-bats for now,” Harper said. “The year that we had, I just wanted to get back into the swing of things in spring training. That’s the first spring training that I can really be up with the big league club, and hopefully in four years, I’ll do the WBC then.”
The Nats have made a number of tweaks to their roster this offseason, and a few of them will directly impact Harper. Denard Span will play center and lead off, moving Harper to left field most days, and giving him a new on-base guy above him in the order.
Also back is Adam LaRoche, who will likely hit fourth or fifth, keeping Harper out of the cleanup spot.
“We’ve got a really special player in Denard for us,” Harper said. “He’s going to be great in center field for us and at the top of the lineup, give us some speed. He gets on base a lot. So that’s going to be good for our whole lineup, and getting (Rafael) Soriano deepens our bullpen even more. Our bullpen’s really good, and our starting pitching’s great. So to get him is pretty unbelievable. And signing back LaRoche, that was a huge thing I thought we should have done, and we did it. I’m just thankful I don’t have to hit four-hole.”
Harper was asked if he knows where Johnson will slot him in the order.
“I’m not sure,” he said. “I think we had a great lineup last year and I think the only thing (settled) coming in is Denard (hitting leadoff). So hopefully I can stay in that two-spot.”
The Nats will have one more shot to win a World Series for Johnson this season before he retires, and Harper says he’d like to send his skipper out on a high note.
“Davey’s been in this game for a long, long time, and for him to go out on top is something I think he wants, and I want to give that to him,” Harper said. “I don’t just want to give it to him, I want to give it to this whole city. It’s going to be a lot of fun to get back going and really trying to get back to where we were last year and further that also.”