Photo by Ian Koski / Nationals Daily News
If he were anybody else, 17-year-old Bryce Harper would be getting ready for his senior year of high school right now. Instead, the 2010 first round Major League Baseball draft pick is preparing for what he says is every ball playing kid’s dream — a successful career in the big leagues.
Harper took batting practice at Nationals Park this afternoon before speaking with the media. According to The Washington Post’s Adam Kilgore, the first word out of Nats hitting coach Rick Eckstein’s mouth after watching Harper slug a few was “wow.” Those who were there to watch him hit saw balls fly to every inch of the outer edge of Nationals Park including the visitor’s bullpen and the triple deck in right field.
The Nationals plan for Harper is “to develop him at a rate the maximizes his impactibility,” General Manager Mike Rizzo said. This includes starting him off at the Florida Instructional League in a couple weeks along side Harper’s fellow top prospects who signed on the August 16 deadline. Beyond that, Rizzo made it clear that the organization will take the process step-by-step with the goal of having Harper attend spring training in 2011.
“I’m like a little kid in a candy store right now,” Harper said about the day.
Face of the Franchise Ryan Zimmerman issued Harper his first Nationals jersey, number 34, before the press conference. Harper, who grew up idolizing Mickey Mantle, originally wore the slugger’s number 7 at the age of 10. He changed his number from 7 to 34 after he saw another kid wearing Mantle’s immortalized number thanks to the logic of 3 + 4 = 7 and has worn 34 ever since.
Harper’s impact on the organization at the major league level is on the distant horizon at the moment, but the Nationals have plans to cultivate what they have as best they can. “[Harper] was obviously drafted for the middle of the lineup corner bat and that’s what we think we’ve got out of him and he’s a very educated player,” Rizzo said. “He’s got a high baseball IQ, knows the game very very well and we think we’ve got a really good player here that’s an impact player.”