The first introduction to Bryce Harper for many people following the prospect's rise to the majors, even before Tom Verducci's SI cover story, came in a video that made the rounds on the internet in 2009. Harper, then a high school sophomore, hit a 502 ft home run in Tropicana Field while competing in the International Power Showcase High School Home Run Derby:
Harper would, of course, go on to become the first pick in the 2010 Draft the next season, after graduating high school early so that he was eligible and playing JUCO ball. Though the Nationals' 2012 NL Rookie of the Year has wowed people who've seen him take BP in the year and half he's been in the majors, it's not all about hitting home runs in BP. Nats' skipper Davey Johnson told reporters earlier this season that one of the most impressive things about his young outfielder was the way Harper prepared behind the scenes and took BP so seriously.
"His approach," Johnson said, "And what he does, the way he does, his work habits, not just the way he plays the game, but his work habits have been great. His BPs, he takes BPs really like you want to write a textbook on it. He hits the ball where it's pitched, uses the whole field, stays within himself really. Seeing [his] work habits leading up to the game -- everybody sees what he does in the game, but his preparation is awful good."
Harper will be swinging for the fences again tonight though, when he steps to the plate in Citi Field in New York to take part in the 2013 MLB Home Run Derby. In an interview this afternoon on MLB Network Radio, Johnson once again talked about getting to watch the 2010 no.1 overall pick mature as a player. "I think he's one of the best-looking pure hitters -- and when I say 'pure hitters,' I mean one that will hit for average and also power. He's very strong and he's very direct to the ball and he tracks the ball very well. And he knows a strike from a ball, and from a very young age he's showed he belongs up here."
As for any concerns he might have about Harper swinging away and messing up his swing, Johnson dismissed that talk. "I don't care about him being in the home run hitting contest," the Nats' skipper said, "because every time he goes up there he swings as hard as he can. What the heck difference does it make?"
Ian Desmond warned the American League this afternoon that their 20-year-old competition was going to walk away the Derby winner:
Hitting alongside Harper for the NL will be the Mets' David Wright, the Pirates' Pedro Alvarez and the Rockies' Michael Cuddyer. Swinging away for the AL will be the Yankees' Robinson Cano, the Tigers' Prince Fielder, the A's Yoenis Cespedes and the Orioles' Chris Davis.
All the action in Citi Field starts at 8:00 pm EDT tonight. Can Harper hit the Shea Bridge? Will fans in the Pepsi Porch get some souvenirs? Do they still have the Mo Zone from Modells? Go Harp GO. Oh, and Harper's dad is going to be throwing to him...