Harper unfazed by expectations of big stage
PHOENIX -- It could be intimidating, unsettling, even unnerving to be an 18-year-old phenom, somebody who was named by national publications as the next big thing at the same time other kids are just getting their driver's licenses.
This is not a problem for Bryce Harper. At 18 years of age, he is like a crown prince, waiting for the baseball kingdom to be his. He is in control of his environment. He is not awed, not cowed, not overwhelmed in the least by the stardom that is headed his way. This is where be believes he should be.
A large group of reporters crowded around Harper's locker Sunday, before the 2011 All-Star Futures Game. There was a roomful of potential future stars in the U.S. clubhouse, but Harper had received more media attention than the rest of the roster combined.
At the end of several minutes of routine questioning about his accomplishments, his exploits, his aspirations, Harper decided that enough was enough and said to the group of journalists around him: "We good?"
It was exactly what a 10-year Major League veteran would say, and exactly how he would say it, when he wished to terminate an interview without seeming to be completely impolite about it. This Bryce Harper is precocious in more ways than one.
To briefly review the back story on Harper, he left high school after two years to obtain a GED, and attend junior college. This was all done to accelerate his baseball career, making him eligible for the 2010 First-Year Player draft, two years before his normal eligibility.
This was a remarkable set of early-life choices and yet, Harper's game was so clearly advanced that the Washington Nationals made him the first selection of the 2010 draft.
This season, Harper lived up to the considerable hype with his performance at Hagerstown in the Class A South Atlantic League -- .318, 423, .524 -- with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. He is now four games into his promotion to the Double-A Eastern League.
Since the day he was drafted, there has been speculation about how soon Harper will hit the big time. There was more of that this weekend with the news that the Angels had promoted their own teenage phenomenon, Mike Trout, to the parent club. Trout, like Harper, is an outfielder, but Trout will turn 20 in August, while Harper will not reach 19 until October.
Harper was asked, in light of the Trout promotion, when he thought the Nats would call him up. "I have no idea," Harper said. "I'm just going to let them make their own decisions." Harper then spoke highly of the job being done by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo. And he wished Trout well in his career with the Angels.
When asked about his own performance this season, Harper replied: "The main thing was we won. I was on a team with really good players and the guys around me made it really easy for me."
Harper's offensive abilities have inspired awe among scouts. He is an outfielder, whose arm is strong enough for him to play right field, although he started in left Sunday for the U.S. team. His preference for outfield play lies elsewhere.
"I like center field a lot," Harper said. "But I'll play anywhere they want me, as long as I get in the lineup." Asked if the grind of playing every day in professional baseball had bothered him, Harper said: "Physically, no. Mentally, yes. You wake up in the morning and there are some times when you don't want to play."
Harper said he reminded himself what Brian Daubach, his manager at Hagerstown, would tell him: "The game is supposed to be fun. It's the game that you've played your whole life."
In the case of Bryce Harper, "your whole life" is still substantially short of two decades. But you know what he means. When it comes to baseball, Bryce Harper is 18 going on 30. He is a question of when, not if, a question of how big, not big or small.
Harper's legend was not padded by his performance in the Futures Game. He was 0-for-4 with two groundouts and two strikeouts. A throw he made from the left-field corner in an attempt to get a runner at the plate demonstrated arm strength, but was off-line and nowhere in the vicinity of a cutoff man.
But this was one day, and not representative of where this career is headed. When Harper was asked if anything about the experience of playing professional baseball was surprising to him, he said: "Not really." When you are the No. 1 prodigy in baseball, the game does not have to surprise you.
Mike Bauman is a national columnist for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.