Heading into his seventh major league season, Bryce Harper is in the process of getting to know what will be his fourth manager. Though change has been the one constant on the bench in the nation’s capital so far in Harper’s career with the Washington Nationals, he has tried to make the best of the opportunities he’s had to learn from mentors with a ton of experience in the game.
It’s not just the managers in D.C. (Davey Johnson, Matt Williams, Dusty Baker, and now Davey Martinez) who have influenced and guided Harper’s development.
“I think with the organization that we have had,” Harper explained in a press conference from Spring Training on Monday, “... throughout the minor leagues as well with [Assistant GM] Doug Harris, [Director of Player Development, Mark Scialabba], of course Tony Tarasco helped me a lot with my outfield stuff coming up through [the system] and then once I got to the big leagues with Davey Johnson, I mean he had all the faith in the world in a 19-year-old. And I couldn’t appreciate him enough for allowing me the opportunity to be in the big leagues. And then, of course, Matt Williams helped me with my approach and how I thought up there, and everything like that, helped me a lot. And then Dusty taught me how to have fun and enjoy the game more than anybody.”
“I’m looking forward to having Davey around, looking forward to learning from him and learning what he’s all about.”
His early impressions of the Nationals’ seventh full-time skipper since 2005?
“I talked to Kris Bryant a couple times this offseason about him, and I think he had a lot of great things to say about him. Really excited to get to know him a little bit more, talked to him a couple times this offseason and talked to him a little bit while we’ve been here, so really excited to see what he brings to the table. I know a lot of the pitchers like him a lot, with all the stuff they’ve got going right now, so excited to start Wednesday and see what he brings for the position guys.”
“I think he’s going to bring an analytic side of the game that we haven’t seen before,” the 25-year-old outfielder continued.
“He’s going to bring a little bit more of a front office stat kind of thing to the team as well.
“I think that’s great. I think baseball is turning to that side a lot more. So I’m looking forward to it.”
“I was excited,” Harper said. “Got a call from [GM Mike] Rizzo earlier in the offseason and he talked about Davey and the staff and who I wanted and what I thought about the guys that he was looking at, and was really excited to put Kevin Long’s name out there. When he talked about that, I was like, ‘Wow.’
“Didn’t even think that his name would come up at all, as the hitting coach, because of the Mets and everything like that, but was super-excited about that and looking forward to working with him.”
Martinez is obviously excited about the opportunity to work with Harper, who is set to potentially hit the free agent market next winter.
Harper declined to talk to reporters about his future when he spoke in West Palm Beach, FL, but he has had conversations with his new manager, discussing how to deal with the drama.
“I talked to Bryce a little bit about it, and we worry about today, we really do,” Martinez explained.
“And he’s excited about getting going and having a good 2018 season, that’s his concern, and that’s all we can ask. Do I wish he could be here? Yeah, of course. Who wouldn’t? But he understands and he’s just worried about — I told him, let’s just get through the day and we’ll go from there, and you know what you can do, like I said, ‘I’m looking forward to watching you play every day.’ I’ve seen him play from the other side of the field, and I know what I have, and I’m looking forward to just watching him every day.”
His early impressions of the Nationals’ right fielder now that he’s on this side of the field?
“He likes to have fun,” Martinez said. “Everybody sees this hard-nosed gamer every day, but he’s very loose, he likes to have fun, and I told him, I said, ‘Hey, that’s part of it. I want you to have fun, I want you to enjoy it, you’ve been doing this your whole life, and you’ve had fun doing it, so why change now?’ And he is, he’s very loose and very energetic, and I like being around him.”
Both Harper and his manager agree that if the outfielder is able to stay healthy this year, he’s headed for yet another big season in 2018.
“He wants to stay healthy all year,” Martinez said, “and if he does that he’s going to put up some big numbers.”
“Stay healthy,” Harper said. “That’s it. That’s all I want to do. I just want to stay healthy. If I stay healthy I can be one of the best players in the game.”