Nats pleased with Harper's development
Harrisburg Senators outfielder Bryce Harper signs autographs before a game against the Erie SeaWolves on Wednesday. Harper's impressive stats with the Hagerstown Suns earned the 18-year-old a promotion Monday to Double-A as part of the Washington Nationals' measured approach with last year's No. 1 overall draft pick. (Associated Press)
Another grading point for Harper was his base running. Although he ran himself into some outs with the Suns, he showed an ability to steal bases, collecting 19 in 24 tries here, including five in the last week.
“On (July 2), he went out and stole two bases in situations when everyone knew he was going to be running,” Harris said. “He has been doing the finer things that the casual fan doesn’t normally see.”
Those are the attributes that fans will probably see more readily in Harrisburg as Harper continues his climb to the majors.
From here on, Harper will be playing with players who are more polished and more experienced. Harris said perceptions of Harper will begin changing.
“In Hagerstown, he was the guy everyone was out to beat,” Harris said. “In Harrisburg, he will be the guy who they have to get out just because he is batting in that spot of the batting order.”
It is possible that Harper’s numbers could actually improve at the Double-A level as he faces better pitchers with more experienced umpires behind the plate. Both would contribute to a more consistent strike zone.
He will also have the luxury of playing with more experienced teammates.
“Harrisburg has a great staff and a good team,” Harris said. “Those guys will rub off on Harper. (Former Sun) Billy Rhinehart is playing for Harrisburg. He has been playing there for a couple of years and is starting to round into his own. Bill is a left-handed hitter with power, like Bryce, and he can talk to him about pitchers and show him what to look for. It will only help him.”
One of the biggest raps against Harper is his off-field demeanor. He is considered arrogant because he has provided limited media sessions and hasn’t fulfilled the endless demands of fans for autographs. It has left an impression of entitlement, which has soured many.
The indelible mark came on June 6 — the anniversary of his draft date — with the now infamous kiss incident. Harper was caught on camera blowing a kiss to Greensboro pitcher Zac Neal after homering, and video of the incident made national news.
“The whole kiss thing went out of proportion,” Harris said. “The closer he gets and the more he moves north, people will finally know who he is. He is an awesome talent who has worked very hard and he is a passionate player. That’s maturity.
“He has done a magnificent job as a young man dealing with the things he faced in Hagerstown,” Harris said. “When he came to bat for the first time in Harrisburg, he was as calm as I have ever seen him. It was great to see.”