VIERA, Fla.- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper has one thing in mind as he enters his second big league camp, and it’s really not that much different than last year: Make the team.
The Nats top prospect spoke to reporters on Monday at Space Coast Stadium and talked with the same amount of confidence that sometimes is mistaken for cockiness.
In case you haven’t figured it out, that’s Harper. Take it or leave it.
And that may be of the reasons manager Davey Johnson has been wanting GM Mike Rizzo to keep an “open mind” when it comes to giving Harper every opportunity to compete for a starting job on this club.
“You know, it’s huge to have a manager on your side,’ Harper said. “I’m really excited to come in here and be with the guys. I am going to come in here, work as hard as I can, keep my mouth shut and play.”
That latter part might be the biggest obstacle for the 19 year old.
Whether it has been blowing a kiss to the opposing pitcher after a home run in the minors, or engaging with back-and-forth discussions with fans on Twitter about the Lakers, Yankees or whatever else is on his mind, Harper knows a lot of what he says and tweets can always get a response, and sometimes it’s not always favorable.
“You know, I’m going to get blown up either way,” he said. “If I say something right or say something wrong, that’s just how it’s going to be. There’s nothing I can really do about that. Maybe there’s some things I shouldn’t say, some things I just have to learn from and there is some things I should keep my mouth shut on.”
Johnson wants to give his prized youngster every opportunity to make the club.
“I mentioned to Rizz when I was named manager, knowing the roster and talent that we had here, he should definitely keep an open mind for two reasons,” Johnson said. “Number one, when he was 18 he thought he was going to make the club then, in his mind. I got the feeling it wouldn’t have been overpowering for him mentally because his whole life he has been competing with guys older than him and this was not a new scenario for him.”
“[Number two] is that if you looked at the talent to that point at the winter meetings, we were short an outfielder in the organization. He was in that mix for me. He’s a left-handed bat, which I would like to get a more left-handed presence in the lineup. I would have said it regardless because I felt like he could hit, his bat could handle the pitching if given the chance to compete.”
Harper feels like it’s up to him and what he does on the field as to whether he makes this team.
“If I come out here and work hard in the outfield and work hard on hitting and things and make their decision hard, that’s the most I can do. If they want to send me back down, you know, it’s them. I want to be up here, I want to play and I want to play in D.C.”
“When I’m out in the field I think I play the game a certain way, which is hard and if that’s what they like, they like it. I go out there and I bust my butt everyday and that’s what they’re going to get from me. I am going to play 110 percent and try to beat the team that’s playing in the other dugout.”