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Flaim’s Forum: Do The Nats Have A Harper Headache?

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Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

Credit: Christian Petersen/Getty Images

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Wednesday on the Junkies we were joined by the COO of the Washington Nationals Andrew Feffer. During our interview we talked about the Nats “Take Back the Park” promotion as well as the current state of the team. Optimism abounds and that is deserved.

First and foremost, Stephen Strasburg is healthy again and last season he proved that he’s still special. Strasburg struck out 24 batters in just 24 innings of work after recovering from Tommy John surgery while maintaining a 1.50 ERA. Beyond Strasburg, the starting rotation is much improved with the additions of Gio Gonzalez (16-12, 3.12 ERA in Oakland last season) and Edwin Jackson (12-9, 3.79 ERA in Detroit last season).

Potentially as important, Bryce Harper, 2010’s number one pick, has a shot to make the opening day roster and start in right field. But will Harper’s youth and immaturity become a headache for the Nats?

Nationals manager Davey Johnson has said this offseason that he would like general manager Mike Rizzo to keep an open mind when it comes to outfielder Bryce Harper making the 2012 Opening Day roster. “I think that the main thing is … could he handle it mentally? And I think in his mind, he’s already figuring to be starting on the club, if you ask him,” Johnson said recently about Harper. “And I haven’t talked to him, but I know that he’s done everything in his whole life to succeed at a higher level and compete with the best. But I think [Harper is] pretty mature. I don’t look at him age-wise, as I probably should.”

I’m sure Johnson would love to have Harper’s bat in the lineup as soon as possible. Harper tore up the minor leagues as an 18-year-old hitting a combined .297 with 17 home runs and 58 RBIs for Class A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg. He played well in winter ball too batting .333 with 6 home runs in just 93 bats for the Scottsdale Scorpions. But a recent interview with MLB.com may have raised some eyebrows within the Nationals organization.

Harper told MLB.com that he wants to live his life like Joe Namath during his heyday in the 60’s and 70’s. Harper noted, “He had that city life and everything like that, but he was one of the best quarterbacks to play the game. I can’t say I’m like Joe Namath… He went out, he played, but he had fun. He had a night life, he had his own place, I think it was called Bachelors III. He had his own thing that he wanted to do. He was in the style, he did all those commercials, things like that. He loved it. I think that’s huge. That’s one side of me that I like. I’m not your typical, ‘Hey, I’m going to be Johnny Good.’ You are a baseball player … I’m going to have fun off the field, too.”

Bryce Harper is still just nineteen years old and the Nationals cannot expect him to be as mature as some of their veteran players. Still, they’ve invested a lot in Harper and they have to be worrying about some of his comments and behavior. Last season, Harper made waves when he blew a kiss to an opposing pitcher after hitting a homer. Now he seems to be calling his shot that he’s going to enjoy the nightlife when he lands in DC. Wouldn’t that scare you?

Maybe the Nationals will have to assign a mentor to him the way the Texas Rangers have done with Josh Hamilton? To be fair, Harper hasn’t gotten into any legal troubles. Yet. I may be reading into his comments too much but I’m almost getting a Dennis Rodman vibe from Harper. That worked for years for the Detroit Pistons and Chicago Bulls. Regardless of what Rodman did off the court he always produced between the lines. Still, I wonder if Harper is setting himself up for some problems down the road. Let’s hope not, because if he’s as good as advertised, this Nationals team could be a contender very soon.

J.P. Flaim

Twitter.com/GlassJoeJP

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