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Dusty Baker on Nationals' slugger Bryce Harper: "He's not at his best yet."

Dusty Baker said Bryce Harper is, "... not at his best yet." Baker said recently the sky is the limit. As Harper said this Spring, "Everybody says everything like, 'The sky is the limit,' but we've been on the moon. So, you can't really tell me that."

Jeff Curry-USA TODAY Sports

Bryce Harper celebrated the fourth anniversary of his major league debut earlier this week. Four seasons in, the 2010 No. 1 overall pick has hit 106 home runs, 104 doubles and put up a combined .289/.386/.527 line (before the start of play on Friday), compiling 20.8 fWAR over 531 games and 2,230 plate appearances.

Veteran skipper Dusty Baker, in his 21st year as a manager after a 19-year playing career, has only been around for 21 of Harper's games and 87 of his plate appearances, but the 66-year-old skipper likes what he's seen from his 23-year-old charge thus far. What does the future hold?

"I mean, it's hard to project where he's going, because the sky is the limit..." -Dusty Baker on Bryce Harper's potential for improvement

Baker, who has managed his share of young stars (Barry Bonds, Ken Griffey, Jr.) was asked before Thursday's series finale with the Philadelphia Phillies, how he thought Harper has done thus far and what lies ahead.

"I mean, it's hard to project where he's going, because the sky is the limit," Baker said. "Where he's been, he might have gotten there a little bit ahead of schedule.

"I think he was a little bit rushed, because he didn't have much -- I don't know much about him in the past -- but he couldn't have had much minor league experience, and then when he got here, he was overmatched a little bit in the beginning, as usual, and then he figured it out and he figured it out in a hurry and he actually figured it out quicker than Barry Bonds did.

"Because you look at Barry Bonds' track record and Barry was hitting in the .230s early in his career.

"So he's figured it out pretty good. He's a smart young man. And I'm just glad that I'm here to hopefully help him in a small way and to see his progress and his greatness in action."

Through Bonds' first four seasons (566 G, 2,388 PAs, 21.1 fWAR), he put up a .256/.345/.458 line with 124 doubles and 84 home runs.

When he really took off as a 25-26-27-year-old from 1990 on, he started getting walked regularly, as teams avoided letting Bonds beat them.

Baker was asked if that was what the future held for Harper?

"They're doing that now..." he said.

"But I mean, you've got to figure, I mean, Barry -- [Bryce] still has to a ways before he reaches Barry. That's to be expected.

"He reached this plateau sooner than Barry. It's hard in modern baseball to come up with a [Mickey] Mantle and [Roger] Maris or [Hank] Aaron and [Eddie] Matthews, or a couple superstars back-to-back-to-back.

"I was a good hitter, but shoot, dang, I was 23 years old and Hank [Aaron] told me, 'Don't try to hit a home run. Keep the ball off the ground. Stay out of the double play..." -Dusty Baker on hitting behind Hank Aaron

"Because how many teams can afford that. So yeah, they're going to walk him, but he's learning a lot in the process.

"He's learning about patience, he's taking his walks, it's just a matter if they can play on his emotions and patience to lose his concentration and stay in the strike zone."

Baker talked about the important role Jeff Kent played in making opposing pitchers pay for walking Bonds when the two were in the San Francisco Giants' lineup together.

"It was pretty nice having Jeff Kent there," Baker said. "Because Jeff Kent, if Barry left them out there or they walked Barry, Jeff Kent could drive them in, so I think Jeff Kent belongs in the Hall of Fame, personally.

"[Ryan Zimmerman], has a track record where he can handle it, I think. It's just a matter of not taking it personal.

"Cause Hank Aaron told me not to take it -- because I was batting behind Hank Aaron and everyone was talking about you have to get somebody to hit behind him and Hank Aaron had me.

"I was a good hitter, but shoot, dang, I was 23 years old and Hank told me, 'Don't try to hit a home run. Keep the ball off the ground. Stay out of the double play. Put the ball in play. Don't strike out. And get a whole pile of singles and doubles and that will stop them from walking me.' And that's what I tried to do.

"Because you take it personal and then you start trying to hit a home run and then you start to go out of the zone, you start swinging crazy and then next thing you know, you're accomplishing their goal. So, yeah, that's what you've got to do."

Harper went 0 for 3 with a walk last night in St. Louis, leaving him with a .301/.418/.753 line, six doubles, nine home runs, 16 walks and 12 Ks through 22 games and 91 PAs this season.

Baker said last night, not quoting Frank Sinatra directly, that the best is yet to come.

"He's not at his best yet, actually, and he's been very good so far.

"It's a pleasure to watch him play and a joy to watch how hard he plays. And he loves to play. I think that's the tip that most kids that are watching can take with them, is his passion and knowledge of the game."