What is it about Bryce Harper that has allowed him to have so much success at such a young age?
Well, he’s immensely talented, of course. At 20, Harper can do things on a baseball field that many players with a decade’s worth of experience cannot dream of doing.
Beyond that, however, is Harper’s work ethic, his drive, his desire to give his all in every single facet of the game.
Harper’s going to outwork you off the field, then he’s going to outhustle you on it. That’s his goal every day.
He’ll sprint down the first base line on a slow roller back to the pitcher. He’ll go first to third on a single to left. He’ll throw behind a runner at first base, trying to catch him napping after making too wide a turn toward second.
He’ll run into walls face-first as he tries to track down fly balls with the Nationals leading 6-0.
It’s that drive that, coupled with the raw ability that he possesses, has gotten Harper to this point. It’s all he knows.
He’s spent thousands of hours hitting batting practice pitches thrown by his father, competed in tournaments against kids years older than him and needed just 130 minor league games to make the transition from catcher to big league outfielder. The worth ethic and hustle has gotten him to this point.
And that’s why he’s not going to adjust that intensity level, why he’s not going to turn down the dial down a notch or two. At least not yet.
Last night, Harper needed 11 stitches to close a cut suffered during a collision with the Dodger Stadium wall. He was fortunate to emerge from the nasty incident without a concussion, and while he’s going to get X-rays to make sure there are no serious injuries, the Nationals seem to believe Harper will be fine.
If you expect Harper’s manager to have a talk with him and tell him to ease up a little bit, think again.
“That’s not in his nature, and I don’t want to change him,” Davey Johnson told reporters after last night’s game.
The Nationals won’t say this publicly, but at some point down the road, Harper’s going to have to pump the brakes a bit. If he wants to stay healthy and have a long, productive career, he simply can’t go all-out on every single play.
You can get away with things at 20 that you can’t at 25 or 28 or 30. Harper can play this way now, but when he has a few more seasons under his belt, when his tires have a little less tread on them, he’s going to have to make some adjustments. In essence, Harper’s going to have to learn to pick his spots.
He can lay out for a ball in a one-run game or dive head-first into home in a big spot. No one’s telling him not to do that. But at some point, Harper’s going to need to understand that in a 9-1 game, the best thing for the team is not having him crash into the wall trying to make a catch. The best thing for the team in a spot like that is having Harper back in the lineup the next day, and the day after that.
Right now, Harper is 20, full of life and has a body that can recover from multiple full-speed crashes into a chain-link outfield fence in a two-week span.
Eventually, that will change. And so (at times) will Harper’s all-in mindset, even if it kills him to make that adjustment.