SALISBURY, Md. - Top Nationals prospect Bryce Harper just finished his group session with the media before tonight's South Atlantic League All-Star Game at Perdue Stadium. Harper met for seven minutes with about 15 members of the media and tackled a variety of subjects, from how he's fared during his first pro season to playing in the All-Star Game to how he reacts to criticism directed his way. Check back later on MASNsports.com for video of Harper's media session.
Many of what is expected to be a sellout crowd have come to see Harper, but the 18-year old surprisingly said that he isn't even the best player on the low Single-A Hagerstown Suns, much less the top Suns player at the All-Star game. That honor, said Harper, belongs to third baseman Blake Kelso, a 22-year-old right-handed hitter who was the Nationals' fifth-round selection in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft last June.
"He's our best player," Harper said. "He can play, he can swing it, he can hit for average. He's on base every single time. He walks (and) strikeouts (are) not bad. He plays the infield really well, utility guy. Great, hard-working kid and he's going to be a big leaguer some day, I hope."
Harper, the top overall pick last June, has been no slouch in his first pro season. He's hitting .330 with 14 homers and 45 RBIs, though he missed the last two games of the first half. The reason depends on who you choose to believe. Hagerstown manager Brian Daubach said he was resting Harper because he wouldn't be getting any down time during the All-Star break. However, Harper sustained a left thumb injury with a week to go in the first half, a problem that caused him to pull himself out of the home run derby that will be held before tonight's game.
"The thumb's fine," Harper said when asked about the injury.
Harper said he's planning with starting the second half with the Suns in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday, despite rumors that he'll get a promotion - either to advanced Single-A Potomac in the Carolina League or Double-A Harrisburg in the Eastern League - after the All-Star break. Harper deftly sidestepped a question about whether he was ready to move up a level, saying that decision was one to be left to Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo.
Nothing drew more attention to Harper than an incident a couple of weeks ago when he blew a kiss to Greensboro pitcher Zachary Neal after homering against him. The display drew worldwide attention to the teenager, much of it from people who had never met Harper or seen him play.
Harper seems to understand he's the center of attention on a large stage, but doesn't seem concerned that people may be getting a mistaken impression about the way he plays the game.
Those actions may be taken out of context, but Harper seems unfazed by any criticism.
"I could really care less what people say about me," he said. "Everybody's going to write what they want to write, people are going to think what they want to think. My family, my friends, everybody that's around me (and) has been around me since high school and college ... everybody that knows me knows what type of person I am. People are going to make assumptions, so they can do whatever they want. They don't know me."
One final note: that mustache that Harper has been trying to grow? It's disappeared, as he conducted his interview clean-shaven.