On Monday, one year after being the No. 1 pick in the June draft, Bryce Harper pounded his 14th home run and drove in his 42nd run for Class A Hagerstown, numbers that had many Washington Nationals executives contemplating his promotion to Double-A Harrisburg of the Eastern League. After Harper admired his lastest blast by flipping his bat and watching his bomb, however, Greensboro pitcher Zach Neal showed displeasure for the action. Harper reacted by blowing a kiss in Neal’s direction as he reached home plate. During Harper’s next at-bat, he was brushed back on the first pitch, an up-and-in fastball from Greensboro reliever Grant Dayton.
The GM’s office in Washington should slow down the player-development plans to promote Harper to Double-A -- not because of talent but because of immaturity issues. A player's maturity is just as important as his talent, something the player must understand. Harper, who is 18, won't just have opposing pitchers throwing at him in the future; he also puts his teammates at risk. When you get to the major league level, blowing kisses won’t be tolerated. He'll see a high frequency of 95 mph fastballs that could put him on the disabled list. Like Barry Bonds in his prime, Harper needs to learn now that his response to taunting or comments from opposing players must be made with his bat, not gestures.
When learning of an incident like this one, the first thing I would do as GM would be to call my director of player development. Hopefully, he will inform me that the manager sat down with Harper, explained why his reaction was inappropriate and possibly fined him behind closed doors. After Harper confessed to the manager that he made a mistake in the emotion of the moment, I would accept his apology. My next suggestion, however, would be for the farm director to travel to Hagerstown, Md., to communicate eyeball to eyeball with Harper so he understands that his promotion to the next level would depend on his avoiding future incidents like the one Monday night. Then I would put the issue behind me and look forward to Harper's next bomb.
At last year's All-Star Game in Anaheim, Calif., Harper told me that the most impressive part of his visit to the American League clubhouse was learning how humble Josh Hamilton is. Harper needs to follow his own appreciation for Hamilton’s humility.
Harper is a child prodigy, the Doogie Howser of baseball. He’s one of the most talented young power hitters the game has seen since Alex Rodriguez. Hitting 50 home runs someday is a realistic projection. He has tremendous baseball intelligence that matches his love and passion for the game. He grew up a Lakers, Cowboys and Yankees fan, which is only significant for the glitz and glamour that comes with choosing those teams as your favorites. He will arrive in the show with the glitz and glamour. Hopefully, the GM’s office will make sure the maturity and professionalism match the talent when he gets the call.
Harper’s future big league career is going to come quickly, and when it does, the stadium light towers will have fewer lightbulbs and magazines will have a new player to plaster on their covers, not just for the talent but for the personality that goes with it. By then, it won’t include showing up pitchers or putting teammates at risk.
I love Bryce Harper. He’s a special talent and a special person. He will outgrow the immaturity he has as an 18-year-old playing in Hagerstown. The minor leagues are a place for players to grow, and not just as players.