The video of the mimed, winking kiss-like gesture Bryce Harper made as he ran out a home run off a Greensboro Grasshoppers' pitcher last week and the countless stories that followed, overshadowed the announcement that Harper had been named to the Northern Division's roster for the South Atlantic League All-Star Game which takes place on June 21st at Salisburg, Maryland's Arthur W. Perdue Stadium, the home park of the Delmarva Shorebirds, Baltimore's Class-A affiliate. The HR that preceded the incident on the basepaths was the 18-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick's 14th in 59 games and 211 at bats. While the baseball world obsessed over Harper's admittedly ill-advised and inappropriate actions, the Nats' top prospect and future outfielder went 4 for 12 with a walk and four K's in his next three games, to leave the future Nationals' right fielder with a .341/.433/.607 slash, 14 doubles, 14 HR's and 12 stolen bases in 17 attempts in 2011...
A source with the Nationals told ESPN.com's Buster Olney (@Buster_ESPN), as he reported on Twitter, that the, "Bryce Harper exchange [was] used as a teachable moment for the whole Hagerstown team. It's been talked about, matter closed." The Nats' Director of Player Development, Doug Harris, told Washington Post writer Adam Kilgore the same in an article entitled, "Bryce Harper’s kiss is a ‘teaching moment’ in Nats’ eyes", and the Nats' GM Mike Rizzo repeated the message during his weekly radio show on 106.7 the FAN in D.C., as CSN Washington's Ben Raby reported in an article entitled, "Rizzo: Nats had veteran players speak with Harper", explaining that the Nats had also, "had several of our players who have reached the big leagues address it with him and tell him their side of it and how they would have handled it."
Case closed? Sorta...On Friday, Mr. Olney's colleague at ESPN, Jayson Stark, brought Harper up in the "Ready to Rumble" section of the most recent edition of his "Rumblings & Grumblings" column entitled, "Their 'Free Agent Meter' is running", writing that, "...scouts who cover the South Atlantic League have been raising eyebrows for weeks about [Harper's] sense of entitlement,":
"Tales of Harper showing up late for team stretching, and occasionally exiting those stretching drills before they were over, have been circulating in the scout community. And as talented as Harper may be, and as fun as he may be to watch on the field, he has often offended outsiders with his what-am-I-doing-in-THIS-league body language. That has to stop."
There are echoes in all these reports of what Baseball Prospectus' writer Kevin Goldstein heard last season, which led him to write in a much-maligned column entitled,"Future Shock: Bryce Harper", that, "One scout," he had spoken to, "...called [Harper] among the worst amateur players he's ever seen from a makeup standpoint, with top-of-the-scale arrogance, a disturbingly large sense of entitlement, and on-field behavior that includes taunting opponents."
D.C. GM Mike Rizzo addressed those concerns immediately after the Washington Nationals' selected Harper no. 1 overall in last year's draft:
Mike Rizzo: "We think, this kid is a baseball rat. We've got a great foundation on where's the kid's from. We know him as well as any team in baseball can know a player. We've been scouting for a long time, we've done a lot of homework on his character, his family background and that type of stuff. The college coach over there (CSN coach Tim Chambers) is a good friend of Roy Clark's and has been with him for many, many years, we know him inside and out and this kid gets after it like few amateur players have since I've been doing this. He's a great kid, he's a very spiritual kid, solid family background, good parents and he's a guy that we've got high expectations not only [for] his tools, but his makeup, teammates and his character."
Earlier this week, in the CSN Washington.com article quoted above, Mr. Rizzo said much the same, telling CSN's Mr. Raby that Harper's got a target on his back every time he takes the field, and will continue to as he moves through the organization, but, "cannot succumb to the catcalls and the chirping of other players." Harper, the Nationals' General Manager explained, "...just needs to channel it and control it a little bit better and channel it into his performance and I think that we’re going to be fine."
Harper might have a new group of prospects targeting him soon anyway, as many have pointed to the SAL All-Star Game as a potential "milestone" event after which Harper could make the next step to either Class-A Potomac or Double-A Harrisburg, and the Nats themselves have hinted that a move might happen soon, as Nats' Assistant GM & VP of Player Development Bob Boone assured Sirius/XM host (and former D.C. GM Jim Bowden) and Nats fans everywhere who are growing impatient that, "you probably don't have to hold your breath too long," for Harper's next move.