Harper focused on breaking camp with Nats

Harper focused on breaking camp with Nats

Harper focused on breaking camp with Nats
VIERA, Fla. -- Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper is only 19, but talk to manager Davey Johnson about his left-handed-hitting slugger and he talks as if Harper is ready to play in the big leagues now.

Johnson reiterated on Monday that he wants general manager Mike Rizzo to keep an open mind about Harper making the team out of Spring Training. If Harper were to make the team, he would be the Opening Day right fielder, while Jayson Werth would be switched to center.

"I mentioned to Rizz when I was named manager, knowing the roster and the talent that we had here, he should definitely keep an open mind for two reasons," Johnson said Monday during his daily news conference with the media. "No. 1, when [Harper] was 18, he thought he was going to make the club then, in his mind. I got the feeling that it wouldn't have been overpowering to him mentally, because his whole life, he's been competing with guys older than him ... and this was not a new scenario for him. Probably since he was age 12, he was competing with people who were more established than him and at a higher level.

"[No.] 2 is that if you looked at the talent at that point, prior to the Winter Meetings, we were short an everyday outfielder. And in the organization, he was in that mix, as a left-handed bat -- which I'd like to get more of a left-handed presence in the lineup. ... I would have said it regardless, because I felt like he could hit, his bat could handle the pitching if given the chance to compete."

Harper, who arrived at camp Monday morning, said he is going to make it hard for the Nationals to make a decision. He knows what he has to do to make an impression. Hitting is one thing, but he also has to show that he is a good baserunner and can make good throws in the outfield. Harper's goal is to win a Gold Glove Award.

Harper also plans to work even harder in the weight room during the season, a routine he didn't understand until last year. He wants to remain strong throughout 2012.

"If I can come out here, work in the outfield, work hard [on my] hitting, I'm going to try and make their decision hard," Harper said. "That's the most I can do. ... I want to be up here, I want to play, and I want to play in D.C."

Last year, Harper showed that he could play professional baseball after being drafted in the first round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. In 109 games, he hit a combined .297 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs for Class A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg.

The success in the Minor Leagues carried into the Arizona Fall League. In 93 at-bats for the Scottsdale Scorpions, Harper hit .333 with six homers and posted a .400 on-base percentage.

"When I'm out on the field, I think I play the game a certain way, I play hard," Harper said. "That's what they like. I go out there and I bust my butt every day. That's what they are going to get from me. I play 110 percent. I'm going to go out there and try to beat the team that is playing in the other dugout. That's the fire in me. I want to win every single game."

Off the field, Harper plans to continue to communicate with his followers on Twitter. Sometimes, people in the Nats' front office get perturbed when he speaks his mind.

"I like to interact with fans. I want them to know who I am and what I am," Harper said. "That's just the way I am. They will know the real me. I want everyone to know the real me."

Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.