Thursday, March 1, 2012

Eckstein on Harper: "He's awesome"

Associated Press photo
Bryce Harper takes batting practice during today's workout.
VIERA, Fla. -- Rick Eckstein and Bryce Harper were having a conversation around the batting cage, talking about how to approach certain pitches in certain parts of the strike zone, when Harper brought up a prominent hurler from another NL East club he's sure to face at some point this season and beyond.

Eckstein was stunned Harper already had an intimate understanding of a pitcher he's never faced before.

"He's like: 'This is what he's going to do. And when he does it, this is where it's gonna go,'" the Nationals hitting coach said.

Eckstein could only laugh and respond to his young protege: "I think you're right."

How unusual is it for a 19-year-old with zero major-league experience to have that kind of advanced approach to his craft? Plenty. But as he spends more and more time in big-league camp and shares more and more of his knowledge with coaches and teammates, it becomes more and more obvious that Harper is no usual 19-year-old.

"He's awesome," Eckstein said. "He really is. That's all his credit. He's very mature and very in tune with everything and every aspect of his game. That's pretty impressive for a 19-year-old."

Whether he makes the Nationals' Opening Day roster or not -- and there's still more reason to believe he won't than he will -- Harper has quickly made an impression on the club's coaching staff this spring.

Following an early position player workout last week that Davey Johnson didn't attend, the manager asked a couple of coaches who were there for reports on various players. They ran through everyone in attendance ... well, except for one guy.

"They were talking Rendon, LaRoche, Lombardozzi, Espi, damn near everybody over there," Johnson recalled. "I asked them, I said: 'I didn't hear one word about Harper? Is he there?' They said: 'He's okay, he's fine.' They don't want to make a comment. Because they like him. They don't want to try to influence me in any manner."

One reason the staff likes Harper so much is because he combines his natural ability with a studious and inquisitive nature that makes him easily coachable.

"He's a student," Eckstein said. "He's worked at his craft. And he's challenged himself as hard as you can challenge yourself to go."

Harper is far from a finished product. He still has much to learn and needs experience against more big-league pitchers, especially left-handers, to better understand what he'll be up against at this level.

For that reason, the coaching staff plans to give him plenty of playing time early this month. Harper is slated to be in the Nationals' starting lineup and batting third for tomorrow's charity game against Georgetown, then in the lineup again Saturday for their Grapefruit League opener against the Astros.

"As we get into games, we watch that and evaluate what adjustments he's making and what we need to talk about, and take it from there," Eckstein said. "He's always shown the ability to make the adjustment against the competition that he's facing. So take it one step at a time. It's the one thing I think he's done his entire career: Face competition that's so-called 'older' than him and make the necessary adjustment to compete at the highest level."

One aspect of Harper's swing doesn't need much refinement at all: His ability to hit for power. During today's batting practice session, he crushed several balls to the opposite field, including one laser of a home run that struck a light standard beyond the left-center field fence.

How does he generate so much power?

"He just -- for lack of a better term -- his entire body's in sync," Eckstein said. "Everything's in sync. He utilizes every ounce of his ability, and it's in sync and all comes together right at impact. It's pretty unique how he utilizes his entire body, his legs and everything. I mean, it's pretty impressive."

Impressive. It's a word that seems to be used more and more each day to describe the Nationals' 19-year-old star-in-waiting.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

April 25, or whatever the date he ends up in DC, cannot get here fast enough.

dfh21

RPrecupjr said...

Wow, a first...I'm first!! Usually I get to these things two days later after everyone has moved on. Other than that, not much to say about this, just can't wait to see him in action in person....no earlier than April 26th.

RPrecupjr said...

Argh....here's lookin at you dfh

Best 25 Go North!

Grandstander said...

During yesterday's batting practice session, he crushed several balls to the opposite field, including one laser of a home run that struck a light standard beyond the left-center field fence.

Should we start calling him The Natural?

SonnyG10 said...

This is going to be awesome watching him play at the major league level.

Anonymous said...

Impressive

sjm308 said...

Heard a story that maybe has already been mentioned here. Harper was being interviewed, can't remember who and he was asked if he knew about Al Kaline. He looked up at the guy and said "of course, he won his first batting title at 20 right"?

You have to love a guy who is not only a student of the game but knows his history as well.

Again, this is just an exciting time and I am now in the camp of bringing him up with the original 25 if he is indeed earned a starting role. If he has, we can worry about an extention in four years. If he is our 4th outfielder then we can let him learn at AAA for those 21 days.

Doc said...

There were a lot of MLB scouts who thought that Prince Oppo Boppo was ready to play in the Bigs last year, so I guess he's ready this year---Davey The Hitter thinks so!!!!

Not just with Harper, but reading Mark's posts about other Nats' hitters, it's obvious that the team is getting a lot of emotional support from Davey's insights into hitting. That kind of stuff goes a long way towards supporting the player, and Eck's efforts.

Guess we don't have to worry about The Beast being pinch hit for against righties!!!!

Goooooooooooooo Nats!!!!!!

Steve M. said...

"He's like: 'This is what he's going to do. And when he does it, this is where it's gonna go,'" the Nationals hitting coach said.


We spent a lot of time last season talking about failed approaches in the batters box. Too many disccussion about Nats batters walking into the batters box in a critical situation and swinging at the 1st pitch and rolling over a ground ball.

A planned out approach is needed. Now I respect Bryce doing his homework and research but I won't be jumping up and down with excitement until I see him in action.

This is where Ryan Zimmerman excels with his approach with the game on the line.

Eugene in Oregon said...

First, we recently reconnected with an old friend who we hadn't seen in a couple of decades. She lives in Las Vegas and mentioned that her now 20-year-old son had played baseball against (and sometimes with) Bryce Harper for years in various upper-level kids leagues. She had nothing but praise for him as a person, spoke highly of his character/politeness, etc. And, as you would expect, said she had seen him do some amazing things on a baseball field.

Second, in the category of acknowledging error, I admit that I was one of those who wrote here early last winter that the Nats should seek to acquire Grady Sizemore (although I did include some caveats about contracts and physicals and such). I just saw on MLB Trade Rumors that Mr. Sizemore is now having back surgery and will be out two to three months, at least. Thank you, Mr. Rizzo, for not listening to my advice.

NatsJack on Florida said...

Steve M.....get ready to do some serious jumping up and down.

MicheleS said...

NatsJack..
You are making me want to seriously reconsider not coming down to Spring Training this year!

Anonymous said...

Mark, Harper is going to make the team and go north as the starting right fielder. The only thing standing in his way is that extra year they get if they keep him in the minors until the end of April. If they keep him in the minors until late June and let him tear up AA/AAA he doesn't get super 2 status.

But then there's Davey Johnson, the coaches and Rizzo's FO that know they need an impact left-handed bat. TODAY, RIGHT NOW. And it sure has heck isn't Adam LaRoche period. My money is on Morse at first with LaRoche on the bench.

Mark, you are betting on the Lerner's overruling Johnson. They should have overruled Bowden when he brought up Detwiler early. They didn't. Why would you think they would overrule Johnson if his goal is the playoffs and beyond?

More than any lead-off CF which is a bunch of hokem BS; as Werth, Ankiel, Brown, Bernadina, etc. can play the position and Desmond and Lombardozzi can certainly lead-off ... they need an IMPACT LEFT HANDED bat. That is what the stats seem to say and Johnson is a mathematician.

The sooner Harper becomes that bat the better for the Nationals now that they have eschewed signing Prince Fielder. While hoping that Espinosa is right in his belief that he will be a lot better from the left-side. Perhaps, given that the power is there? After that? They got nothin'.

David said...

I admit to being wrong about Sizemore as well. On another note, I'm still hoping for Corey Brown to have a breakout spring.

SweetBlues said...

All I know is I've got Opening Day tix - a 22 game plan & a five flex. Whoever is playing, I'm cheering!!

Anonymous said...

Ya know, we are all allowed to be wrong occasionally. If you offer a forecast or an opinion, and a reason or two for why you believe what you believe, I appreciate what anyone here has to offer.

Corky

Feel Wood said...

Mark, you are betting on the Lerner's overruling Johnson. They should have overruled Bowden when he brought up Detwiler early. They didn't. Why would you think they would overrule Johnson if his goal is the playoffs and beyond?

(a) Because the Lerners and Rizzo are smarter now than they were then. Look at how they handled Strasburg, even though he was clearly ready to pitch in the bigs on Opening Day and the Nats needed pitching on Opening Day.

(b) No one cares when Detwiler reaches free agency. He was then and still is now a B list prospect at best.

Anonymous said...

I've read similar stories about Ted Williams and Barry Bonds knowing the opposing pitchers' tendencies better than most hitters. Though maybe not at 19. I want to see him playing on Opening Day. The sooner he gets used to Major League pitching, the better, and if we're going for the playoffs, I'd rather have him at his sharpest in September and not April or May of 2013. I assume the Nats didn't sign Jackson to a 1-year deal just so they'd win a few more games than next year. Harper will help put a lot of fans in the seats.
--Tom

jeeves said...

'Detwiler then and still is a B list prospect at best' In your expert opinion, of course.

bdrube said...

@Feel Wood - Detwiler a "B prospect?" Hardly. He was taken No. 6 overall and was viewed at the time as a potential No. 1 or 2 starter in the rotation. Bowden totally screwed the pooch on that one.

There is no way Harper starts the season with the big club, and here is another good reason why nobody has mentioned: he has started slow for every team he has played for so far. Let him have his slow start at Syracuse and push his FA date back a year. Delaying him for a month means definitely having him another year. It only make sense.

Young Pitchers said...

for a guy like Harper if he reaches his full potential and you know he's going to walk when hitting FA do you trade him 1.5 years before that or let him play out the contract?

Cwj said...

Zimmermann, Strasburg, Gonzalez, Jackson, and one day of rain. Are you kidding me?
Add in ANY hitting and the Nats are a playoff team.

Anonymous said...

I think the 21 days is not a Super Two issue, it is a service time issue. It seems to me the Nats care about the service time issue, not as much the Super Two.

JaneB said...

I am getting giddy.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

for a guy like Harper if he reaches his full potential and you know he's going to walk when hitting FA do you trade him 1.5 years before that or let him play out the contract?

If I'm not mistaken, that's called Gin Rummy General Management. You *don't* know he's going to walk. You can't possibly know that. Yeah, when he was 19 he wanted to play for the Yankees. Why wouldn't he? He can't do that for at least five years, a lot can happen in five years. Waaaaaaaay too long to worry about it.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Now, if it's a small market club and you know you can't pay him, that's probably different. But this ain't that.

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

Even then, what kind of a GM sets up his payroll so he can't pay a kid like that, five years from now?

Sec 3, My Sofa said...

I think the 21 days is not a Super Two issue, it is a service time issue.

Anon is correct. Mark explained all this about a month ago--sorry, too lazy to look up the link.

Joe Seamhead said...

Like everyone else here, I can't wait to see the kid play, but I have a feeling that Livo is going to take him out to the back of the wood shed on Sunday.

Sunderland said...

Joe Seams, good thought. As much as I want Harper to succeed, it would be fun to see him flail at Livo's finest 68 MPH teasers.

natsfan1a said...

Agreed, Sunderland, but we'll probably have to imagine it, as that game will be broadcast on radio only, I believe. But, hey, I'll take it!

natsfan1a said...

btw, how's your Natitude this morning? :-)

Rabbit said...

Let Harper come north with the team and don't worry about free agency down the road. By that time the Nationals will know if they want to keep him or not and one year, more or less, won't make any difference.

N. Cognito said...

Rabbit said...
"Let Harper come north with the team and don't worry about free agency down the road. By that time the Nationals will know if they want to keep him or not and one year, more or less, won't make any difference."

Face Palm!

Sunderland said...

Rabbit, if one year at age 25 with 5 years of MLB experience makes no difference, how in the world could 4 weeks at age 19 with no MLB experience make a difference?

MicheleS said...

1A. Thanks for the link.. I especially like this from Drew! I would add this to the collection..

The team has started introducing players to the new campaign, asking them to design t-shirts that express their own particular Natitude. Drew Storen has already come up with his concept, featuring the phrase “Attention fans, the bottom of the 9th has been canceled.” The most popular player shirts will be used either as team giveaways or sold in the team store

Joe Seamhead said...

Love the idea of the "Natitude" theme that's coming, natsfan1a! First thing we gotta do is come up with a better battle cry then "Let's Go Nats."

natsfan1a said...

Okay, I'm putting on my thinking cap, Joe Seamhead.

natsfan1a said...

btw, just picked up some more Phillies series tix (for October this time). You have to go the Take Back the Park route to order, 'cause they're not available on the "Insider" presale. As Nelson Muntz would say, ha-ha! :-)

Unkyd said...

O.M.G.... My Natitude is ON, BABY!!! I LOVE this... Now, let's see Teddy deck the other three, stomp on the finish line, and pose like the Hulkster, at the Home Opener! How 'Bout It?!

natsfan1a said...

Maybe they should do a "Got 'tude?" t-shirt along the lines of the "Got Wilk?" shirt of old. :-)

Unkyd said...

Teddy going 81-0...., THAT'S NATITUDE!!!

natsfan1a said...

That's the spirit, Unk! Listen up, Teddy!!

320R2S15 said...

I just changed my mind. Bring him up on day one if he looks like he can handle it. Screw the future, we been saying that for 8 years.

I don't get excited about much any more, I really don't, but guess what, I'm excited.

Section 130 said...

Who will in each corner outfield position in 2013 assuming the Nats acquire a starting CF? Will it be Werth or Harper in Left. I assume Morse will be manning 1B.

JamesFan said...

No way should we trade 21 days in the major leagues for a year when Harper is in his mid/late 20s. That would be stupid beyond words. Super two status is another issue.

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