Harper fine-turning skills in triple-A

Apr 12 2012 - 10:58pm

ALLENTOWN, Pa. -- Bryce Harper is one of the few minor-league players who are major attractions. Despite being in only his second year of professional ball, the Washington Nationals farmhand creates the suspicion that he will be playing at Citizens Bank Park, Citi Field, and other major-league venues before the season is over.

The road show for Harper took the 19-year-old this week to Coca-Cola Park, where his triple-A Syracuse Chiefs will conclude a three-game series Friday with the Phillies' affiliate, the Lehigh Valley IronPigs.

Harper, the first pick of the 2010 draft, signed a five-year, $9.9 million deal, which included a $6.25 million signing bonus.

There has been so much interest in Harper that the Nationals are limiting his time with the media. To minimize his distractions, the Nationals don't make him available for pregame interviews, and he does postgame interviews only if he had an impact on the game.

The 6-foot-3, 225-pound Harper is considered along with Mike Trout of the Los Angeles Angels to be among the top prospects in baseball. While Harper isn't talking much these days, others sure are.

"He looks like a young man on the outside but is young on the inside, and part of my job is to nurture his talent," said Syracuse manager Tony Beasley, a former third-base coach with the Pittsburgh Pirates. "He's going to be a man very soon."

Harper was in the starting lineup Wednesday in center field (he also can play right field) in a game the IronPigs won, 7-6. He's still getting used to the outfield after being a catcher through high school and his one season in junior college.

Harper, who bats left and throws right, made an impression in spring training, when he went 8 for 28 (.286) with two doubles. But he also showed his youth by striking out 11 times.

There had been speculation that he would make the Nationals out of spring training, but he is at triple A to fine-tune his skills.

"This level will challenge him," Beasley said. "He will be up for the challenge."

When Harper first hit the scene, he was perceived as brash, someone who never lacked confidence and didn't mind showing it.

Nationals third baseman Ryan Zimmerman, a former first-round draft choice who signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension in February, said Harper came back a somewhat humbled athlete this spring.

"He matured mentally a lot," Zimmerman said Tuesday at New York's Citi Field before the Nationals game against the Mets. " ... That first year he said things that you would say when you are 18 years old."

Like most baseball people, Zimmerman believes the sky is the limit for Harper.

"He loves baseball and really respects the game and always plays hard," Zimmerman said. "There is nothing that you can really say about him the way he plays the game. It's more the off-the-field stuff, dealing with the media, learning things at 19 that are tough to learn."

Lehigh Valley leftfielder Domonic Brown, once considered the No. 1 prospect in the minor leagues by Baseball America, understands heightened expectations for young players.

"I had my share of hype, but nothing compared to what he is going through," Brown said.

Harper went 1 for 5 with a triple and three strikeouts on Wednesday. He is far from a finished product, but few doubt he eventually will have a major impact in the major leagues.

"He is one of a kind," Zimmerman said. "Bryce is only 19 years old, and a lot of people forget this fact."

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