District on Deck had the pleasure of talking with ESPN’s Baseball Insider about the Washington Nationals and their superstar slugger.
When the Washington Nationals tangle with the New York Mets, it is a big deal.
How big? ESPN selected the last game of the series for Sunday Night Baseball. As part of the run up for their weekly showcase game, District on Deck spent a few minutes with their MLB Insider and SNB on-field reporter Buster Olney to talk about the series and the Nats.
Now, a recording glitch on my end cut the full conversation in half but, in the video below, we discuss how important the series is and what changes he sees with Bryce Harper and the superstar’s future.
Olney feels last year’s slump was not based on injuries for Harper, but anxiety:
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"“I don’t think that [injury] was the case. After talking with the folks in the Washington Nationals organization, I think it’s a classic case of a young player who puts a lot of pressure on himself and sort of overrun by it.”"
"“Anyone who’s watched Bryce in the past saw he would fly open in his hitting mechanics. Almost falling towards the first-base dugout and never really having balance or a good position to hit.”"
Olney feels he has his balance back, citing a home run to deep center against the Atlanta Braves as an example. The biggest change, however, might be Harper’s approach at the plate. Olney drops a story of a conversation the slugger had with ESPN’s Tim Kurkjian this spring:
"“He learned not to look for one particular pitch in one particular spot. He is looking just to swing at strikes and he is hammering them.”"
Another key factor in the return of Harper is the cut down on swings and misses. Olney explains:
"“As of two days ago [Wednesday] his swing-and-miss percentage was 7.8 percent. That is easily the best in his career. What it effectively means is he’s making opposing pitchers put the ball in the strike zone and, when they do, he’s hitting. That’s the maturity of approach.”"
When asked about what Olney was most impressed with about Harper, he talked about physical talent and drive to win. He specifically mentions Harper’s 2012 rookie season:
"“He was still in that stage where you run into fences. You aren’t doing that if you don’t want to be great.”"
Olney expands on that:
"“He does not shy away from comparisons to guys like Mickey Mantle. That desire just shines through everything he does. He’s not afraid if the spotlight, not afraid of the big moment, loves the big stage and I think we’ll see more and more of that as he continues to play in the postseason.”"
Where he plays in the playoffs after 2018 is likely not in Washington. One does not hire Scott Boras as their agent not to maximize their money. With the Class of 2018 free agents potentially the best, including Manny Machado and Harper, Olney feels the New York Yankees are the best fit for Harper.
"“He’s absolutely the perfect fit for the Yankees. They have more payroll flexibility. He’s the perfect fit as a left-handed power hitter for Yankee Stadium. He’s someone that can market and they can pay him a lot of money.”"
To be fair, Olney mentions the Philadelphia Phillies too, but the Yankees are the better choice.
You can catch the Nationals and Mets Sunday night at 8:00 Eastern only on ESPN with Dan Shulman, Jessica Mendoza and Aaron Boone in the booth with Buster Olney on the field.