Bryce Harper is the Next Next Big Thing

June 14, 2010 – 7:30 am by Paul Bessire

Last week we celebrated Strasmas as the Washington Nationals, Major League Baseball, and the entire sports world ushered in the next big thing in pitcher Stephen Strasburg. The day before, the next next big thing, Bryce Harper was taken first overall by the Washington Nationals. At just 17, Harper is already a known entity following his Sports Illustrated cover, his mammoth blasts at Tropicana Field and his decision to leave high school early so he could attend a junior college in hopes of being taken first overall in 2010 (rather than 2011).

It all worked. By all accounts, Harper’s hype seems to be legit. Playing catcher for the College of Southern Nevada near his home in Las Vegas, Harper hit .443 with a 1.513 OPS and 31 HRs in 66 games. CSN played in a wooden bat league and competed for the NJCAA World Series. It’s not the big leagues or even the minor leagues, but it’s a step up in competition from high school.

There are a couple possible red flags though. Washington announced Harper as a right fielder, meaning he is not expected to ever play catcher professionally, ruining our dreams of a Strasburg – Harper battery and limiting his defensive impact. Harper was also ejected from the last game he ever played in. It came after a terrible call from an umpire who probably just wanted to prove a point or get his name in the paper, but it’s still not a great sign (Delmon Young anyone?).

Bryce Harper and his CSN manager (and now manager of the UNLV team) Tim Chambers joined Seat Williams on ESPN Radio Las Vegas to discuss Bryce Harper the person, the ejection, Scott Boras, playing right field, Stephen Strasburg, and eye black.

On how Coach Chambers would characterize Bryce Harper:

Coach: “I get asked that question a lot. To me, he’s just Bryce. I don’t believe that I treat him any differently than I do the other kids other than he gets to eat dinner with me every once in a while and he’s going to go to my three year old’s birthday party today. He’s just Bryce when he’s with us. But certainly we understand what he is going through. It’s been a whirlwind year for him. He got a lot of criticism for leaving early. One of the sayings in our video is that, ‘We play to prove them right, not to prove them wrong.’ Bryce played to prove some people right and he certainly proved a lot of people wrong… For the naysayers, I would say, ‘You don’t know him.’ His teammates and his coaches who were around him everyday for a year and some of us since he was a chubby little guy hitting in his football pads at the cages at CSN know him. They don’t know him. Certainly if you are going to make a negative comment, you’d better know the person you are making it about would be my opinion. We don’t really pay attention to those guys. We pay attention to the positives around here.”

On celebrating with Scott Boras:

Bryce: “He just gave me a handshake and hugged me. He teared up a little bit. He’s great people. They have great people at Boras Corp. They’re all for the baseball guys. They’re just trying to get what they can do to help you out. They’re great people down there.”

On being drafted as a right fielder:

Bryce: “I had no idea what they were going to do with me. It’s whatever they want me to do. If they think it’s best for me to play right field, then that’s where I am going to play.”

On not getting to catch Stephen Strasburg:

Bryce: “He has the talent to be one of the best pitchers ever to play the game. I’d like to watch the thing playing in right field. It might be a little boring because he is so good and he might strike a lot of guys out.”

On if anything behind the plate happened before his ejection in the 5th inning of his last game:

Bryce: “Not really. A couple things, but he didn’t really say anything that was too over the top or anything like that. I try to get a good relationship with my umpires before anything happens. Before the game even starts, I start by saying my name, seeing how they’re doing, tell them what my pitcher is throwing and things like that. They can take it how it is. Stuff didn’t work out that day and there’s nothing I can do about it now.”

On the ejection:

Bryce: “It’s something unfortunate that happened. It was a pitch on the outside half. I felt like my pitcher wasn’t getting it the whole game. It’s something I got to forget about and forgive. It’s just something that happened. It was the heat of the moment… That was his choice. I can’t really say that I shouldn’t have or should have (been ejected). It’s something that he did and I totally respect it. It happens.”

Coach: “Bryce is going to give you the right answers and be mature and respectful. I feel like, no, he shouldn’t have been ejected. It should have been a warning or they should have come to me to take him out and we’ll move on. If you watch the play, the reaction to me – yeah, he probably shouldn’t have did it – but once you see how far outside the pitch was, I’m sure if the umpire had it to do all over again, he wouldn’t have banged him either.”

On playing in a wood bat league:

Coach: “There’s no question the wood bat helps the scouts. There has been a whole lot of guys, especially at the college level, who hit for a lot of power with the aluminum and they got a wood bat in their hands and it made things a lot more difficult.”

And on if he is wearing eye black right now:

Bryce: “No. No I don’t. My face is clear… I’m not going to wear it (in the minors). It’s a different level. It’s a different stage of baseball. I didn’t wear it with Team USA. I’m not going to take it to the big leagues or with me or anything like that or in the minors. That’s in the past. I was fortunate to let Coach Chambers to let me wear it and be myself.”

Listen to Bryce Harper coach Tim Chambers on ESPN Radio Las Vegas with Seat Willams.

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