No one has ever doubted the raw tools of Bryce Harper. We’ve seen amazing displays of them since he’s been in the majors, including Sunday’s jaw-dropping second deck home run. It was his maturity that many doubted. He’s still 19 after all, and we’re starting to see flaws in his makeup begin to really impact ball games. I realize what he’s brought to this team is incredible, and he’s been a joy to watch. Between what he’s doing right now and what his future holds, I don’t think I’d trade him for anyone in the game. But Davey Johnson and crew need to step in immediately and reel in some of Harper’s more unattractive qualities.
Harper is not the most elegant outfielder, and the Nationals have admitted that he is not a long-term solution in center field. He takes bad routes to balls, turning some routine plays into adventures. A lot of this will iron itself out as he becomes more familiar with the outfield; after all this is only his second year as an outfielder after catching in high school and college. It’s his arm that gets him into real trouble in the outfield. It’s so strong it’s been an amazing weapon against kids his own age or older, in college and the minors. But now in the majors, he’s not as heads and shoulders above runners as he was. He frequently throws to the wrong base, thinking he can catch runners he has no chance at, leading to other runners taking extra bases. He’s been so used to being so much better than everyone else on the field, he’s grown cocky. This flaw most manifests itself on the basepaths.
Sunday in the fifth inning with one out and the Nats down 3-2, Harper hit a missile to right, which banged off the out-of-town scoreboard, an easy double. Harper tried to stretch it to a triple and was thrown out on a close play. Runner at second and one out became instead no runners on, two outs, all with the heart of the Nationals lineup coming to bat. It was unclear on the replay whether Porter gave him the green light, but based on the game situation, it seems doubtful.
Saturday, also in the fifth inning, this time with two outs, Harper hit a single to left which Jose Constanza fielded cleanly. He came up throwing, knowing Harper’s reputation, and when Harper tried to stretch it into a double, he was out by a mile, even after a throw well off the mark. Thanks to his over-exuberance, he also slid well past the bag; had he beat the throw, he would have been out anyway when he left the base.
As with his issues throwing from the outfield, Harper is used to playing with boys, with talents far inferior to his own. He caught a lot of players sleeping early in his career, including when he embarrassed Cole Hamels and Jason Heyward. Major leaguers adapt pretty quickly, and the kid is not sneaking up on anyone anymore. His aggression is laudable and should absolutely be encouraged, but these two baserunning plays were borne from aggression while manifesting themselves as stupidity. When Harper was batting seventh in the lineup, that extra base becoming an out was not as painful. Now that he’s hitting in front of the 3-4-5 hitters, it’s a different story indeed. Harper’s trying to win every game he plays because he’s been able to in the past. What he needs is for Davey Johnson and crew to sit him down and explain that there are eight other players on the field, many of whom are (usually) capable of getting him in from second or third base. There’s a fine line between shackling and frustrating an overly-aggressive player and working with him to channel his aggression to the betterment of the team, and that’s the task in front of Johnson right now. I have every confidence he’ll get the most out of the young star.