Bryce Harper's first batting practice session at Nationals Park had plenty of observers, many of them in a position of influence in the Nationals organization and all of them impressed. One of them was Nationals hitting coach Rick Eckstein, the man who will be overseeing the hitting philosophy used with Harper in the minors and, he hopes, will eventually be working with Harper in the majors.
Where most saw only the majestic homers Harper was launching into the second and third decks at Nationals Park, Eckstein saw the technical minutiae behind it - the 17-year-old's ability to create leverage, his compact swing and the fact he's already swinging through the ball to all fields. To a layman or a trained eye, Harper's gifts are rare.
"He's not just guiding the ball around, but he's swinging the bat and putting a very powerful, compact swing on the ball and reacting to where the ball is pitched," Eckstein said. "Usually, young hitters typically hit to one side of the field. They don't understand what staying through the ball is, truly staying through it, and all these little terms we talk about a lot. The things he was talking about were definitely a more advanced thought process and feel for hitting."
Eckstein said there will be times when he works with Harper directly while he's in the minors, but most of the plan will be distilled through minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu, who is in regular communication with Eckstein about hitting plans for the Nationals' prospects.
"There's a definite philosophy in place," Eckstein said. "I think that keeping those lines of communications open about what's going on, how we're trying to make progress - 'These are his issues right now, good or not so good, these are his issues, this is who he is, process-wise; OK, what's our plan? How do we go about it?' As long as you keep all those lines open, and everybody's above board, you've got something great."