Last year when we made our trip down to Viera, Fla. for Spring Training, the one thing I was really most surprised to see was how the other players fawned over Bryce Harper. I had expected the 22, 23, and 24-year-olds in minor league camp to be slightly put off by the bravado-filled teenager in his first spring camp, but instead they were completely enamored by him. He was just 18, at the time, but he was clearly the big dog on campus.
Groups of players running PFP drills on other fields in the complex we overheard chattering about Harper. In the shaded batting cage, Jack McGeary and Sammy Solis were seen imitating his swing during their batting practice drills. Personality be damned, Harper had an essence about him that turned players who should be his contemporaries, or even his mentors, into grade-school fan club members.
Apparently, that affect has developed even more, and Harper has spent the past 12 months growing into even more of a monster. Literally. As Tom Boswell of the Washington Post writes, the man is a spartan.
“With teammates around him, Harper turned his back to the TV. But they didn’t. They cut their eyes at the screen, then back to the actual person; he stood, jersey off, some of the broadest shoulders looking like a V-shaped billboard for his vast potential. Harper has stolen Mike Schmidt’s physique at 25, but on a bigger frame…
Bryce is so much bigger than last year,” Storen said. “With all the lifting, he’s a monster. We’ve got big guys on this club, but he’s just ridiculous.”
Harper says he’s grown an inch-and-a-half since last spring and is 6 feet 3, 225 pounds; but, after watching his older brother grow to 6-6 in the past couple of years, he hopes that he may eventually be 6-5 and 250″
It’s hard to believe that a player who was considered to have such raw power last year has added height, weight, and physique so easily. But when you remember that he isn’t even 20-years-old, you realize that he is still a man-child coming into his adult body. So when you watch clips of him in batting practice wowing Harold Reynolds, a player who played with Alex Rodriguez and Ken Griffey Jr., you have to extrapolate that and imagine what could be in just three, four, five years down the road.
Size of course isn’t all that matters when it comes to baseball. One has to look no further than Elijah Dukes, Wily Mo Pena, and Daniel Cabrera to see that coordination, talent, and work ethic must be woven and combined with raw physical ability to make a great player. And there’s no question that Harper has those characteristics. What’s important is that the body building, the physical training, doesn’t outweigh the importance of development, practice, and learning.
While his body may look like a superstar Major Leaguer’s, I sincerely hope that the organization still keeps its focus on his on-the-field development. We can’t forget his brief Double-A appearance last year, and we have to know that if he doesn’t learn to fail at every level of the minor leagues, then he will never be able to make adjustments in the Majors.