VIERA, Fla. - The Nationals continue to say Bryce Harper has little chance of making it to the big leagues this year. The odds of him making the team at age 18, out of spring training with no minor league experience, are next to nil. But Harper probably wouldn't be Harper if he believed that.
In his first interview with reporters at spring training, Harper struck a confident tone, saying he wants to make a strong push to make the team out of camp. It's likely Harper even knows he's probably headed to the minors, but even in his press conference, he showed some of the drive the Nationals like about him.
"Let's make that decision harder," Harper said. "I'm trying to stay up here as long as I can. (Jayson) Werth came up to me today, and there were a couple guys that were like, 'Are you going to make the team or what?' I'm trying to make this club. I'm going to come out here every day and make their choice hard. If it doesn't happen, then it's going to be a great experience being up here with all the veteran guys."
Harper has taken some ribbing from those veterans already. When he was asked what they had said that stood out to him, he quickly responded, "Don't wear the eyeblack," referring to his now-famous eyeblack-as-warpaint look. But even as he talked about meeting Ivan Rodriguez - one of Harper's childhood idols who started his career before Harper was born - he didn't sound in awe of the situation.
"I don't really get starstruck as much as some other kid would," Harper said.
There was nothing special about Harper's first round of live batting practice today - he hit a couple hard balls that might have gone for hits off Shairon Martis, but couldn't add to the six homers he's hit against batting practice pitchers in the last two days. And even to sniff a September call-up this year, he would have to tear through the minors in almost unprecedented fashion. It remains to be seen if his game will be up to that challenge, but there's no question his bravado is.
"Why can't it be realistic? Why can't I come in here and think that I can make this team?" Harper said. "I've exceeded expectations my whole life. Everybody said I couldn't do it last year at (the College of Southern Nevada), and I know this is a totally different level, totally different people, and I respect that. But I'm going to make their decision hard. I'm going to come out here everyday and play like I can (make the team). Until they send me down to the minor league camp, I'm going to make their decision hard."