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Harper already psyched for 2017 WBC
Here is good news for American baseball fans and bad news for the rest of the world:
Bryce Harper, the Washington Nationals’ emerging superstar, doesn’t plan to miss the next World Baseball Classic.
“In four years, absolutely I want to play, 100 percent,” Harper said Monday. “They can write my name down right now.”
Harper, 20, already has represented USA Baseball twice, winning gold medals in the 2009 18-and-under Pan American Junior Championships in Venezuela and 2008 16-and-under Pan Am Youth Championships in Mexico.
He gets it. He gets the whole thing.
“I’m all for USA,” Harper said. “I’m all for playing in the WBC and the Olympics, whatever. This year was just hard.”
Indeed, although it might be odd that a player as young as Harper is not participating, his reasons for missing the WBC are entirely valid.
This is his first spring training as a major leaguer; he started last season at Triple A, joined the Nats on April 28 and went on to become National League Rookie of the Year.
More to the point, Harper is moving to left field after spending most of last season in center and right. He said that he wanted to make sure he developed a good rapport with the Nats’ new center fielder, Denard Span.
(The Angels’ Mike Trout, the West Coast version of Harper, also is not playing in the WBC; his agent, Craig Landis, told the Los Angeles Times that the left fielder “just wanted a regular spring-training preparation.”)
“I didn’t think USA would be hurting with (Ryan) Braun in left and Adam Jones in center,” Harper said. “It was just a situation where I really need to work with Denard, get into the lineup every single day.”
It might sound not like much of an excuse. But the development of communication between outfielders, veteran Nats right fielder Jayson Werth said, is no small thing.
Werth recalls moving to right full time with the Phillies in 2009, and Phils center fielder Shane Victorino missing time that spring while playing in the WBC.
It was a problem.
“We didn’t play much (together) in spring training at all,” Werth said. “I had no feel. If you don’t play together, you (could) end up having a collision because you’re not communicating. Somebody can get hurt that way.”
Harper said that in left field, he is learning “how to get reads, how far Denard’s going to go, where he’s capable of getting balls in the gap, how we can work together . . . communication.”
Such things matter to Harper. He is best known for his offensive prowess, but he is quite serious about his defense and becoming the best all-around player he can be.
He said that although he likes playing center, he is fine with changing positions and relishes the idea of mastering all three outfield spots to protect the Nats if someone gets injured.
He also said that he wants to win a Gold Glove.
By 2017, the date of the next WBC, Harper will be fully established, and maybe even an MVP. Like many major leaguers, he’s watching this year’s tournament. Unlike some, he is not happy to be missing it.
“It sucks,” Harper said. “I love watching it. I love how the guys are playing, the way they play. It’s got to be fun playing with all those guys, David Wright, Adam Jones and (Shane) Victorino. It just seems like a blast.”
Harper’s teammate, shortstop Ian Desmond, is another young Nationals star who longs to play in the WBC.
Desmond, 27, was named to his first All-Star team and received his first Silver Slugger award last season. It’s not inconceivable that he could be the Team USA shortstop in ’17. And like Harper, he sees tremendous value in the event.
“Looking at it at home, watching on TV, not only is it a great opportunity to play for your country at a high level, but look at the players in the dugout, who’s in there. All-Star, All-Star, All-Star, MVP, MVP, Gold Glove, Gold Glove,” Desmond said.
“There are things that you can probably learn from picking people’s brains. That’s what excites me more. Being with a Joe Torre, whoever the manager would be. Larry Bowa. Willie Randolph. These coaches . . . Dale Murphy at first. Look at how much information you could gather in a month’s time. It would be awesome.”
Not all players are as enthusiastic about the WBC as Harper and Desmond, and teams will continue to fret over their biggest stars participating. But Harper, who is knowledgeable beyond his years about all things baseball, has definite opinions on why position players should play.
He noted that Latin American countries hold an advantage because many of their players play winter ball — and that Team USA likewise is at a disadvantage because its players “are still kind of in spring-training shape.”
“I understand why pitchers don’t go. They don’t want to blow out. They haven’t been throwing all winter,” Harper said.
“If all those guys aren’t going to go, that’s fine with me. But position guys, hey, let’s try to get going, try to score as many runs as we can for our pitchers. If we get four good innings out of our starter, that’s all we need, if we get runs on the board.”
Sounds like a man with a plan, a man who can’t wait for 2017.
“One-hundred percent. I love it. I’ve always loved it,” Harper said. “In four years, I’m going to play, for sure.”
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