Well, it took 19 games and 64 at bats but the wonder kid finally delivered. Bryce Harper, the 18 year old prodigy whose story has been well documented, smacked his first home run for Harrisburg last night in the Senators 6-3 win over Bowie, a Baltimore Orioles affiliate.
There was no admiring the shot, no blown kiss at the pitcher. Harper instead put his head down and circled the bases in about 16 seconds. Perhaps his recent slump instilled a little humility into the often brash phenom who has excelled at every level of competition since the age of 10.
Of course he did slam his helmet down in frustration after striking out in an at bat previous to the home run. But that isn’t showing anyone up- just the competitor inside.
After tearing up Class A to the tune of a .318 AVG with 49 R 17 2B 14 HR 46 RBI and 19 SB through 72 games, Harper was promoted to AA and a lot of people took that as a sign that he could be called up to the majors by year’s end. Washington Nationals GM Mike Rizzo strongly denied any such rumors stating Harper still had a lot to work on before making the jump. He noted his plate discipline, his defense and while he didn’t elude to it, his character needed some refining.
Over his first 12 games at Harrisburg, Harper went just 7-40 (.175) and didn’t record an extra base hit. He walked 5 times and struck out in 9 plate appearances. For the first time in his amateur career, the kid was struggling.
The National’s front office had to be looking forward to this in a way. Every player who has ever laced them up has struggled, it’s just the nature of the sport. Baseball and golf are two of the most frustrating sports in the sense that you are alone out there, no team mates to pick you up. Swinging a club and swinging a bat have so many variables involved, if one goes wrong, it all goes wrong.
In golf, you can develop a hitch to your swing. In baseball, your elbow drops a little too low, the timing of your front foot gets off track, mechanics start breaking down. You start to lose confidence, swing at pitches you normally wouldn’t, media criticism wears you down, and you can’t relax.
A hitting slump is born.
There are many ways to break out of a slump but the best method is to have the confidence of your coach to keep you in the lineup, allowing yourself to play your way out of it. Extra batting practice, watching game film and getting back to the basics are also necessary steps.
Harrisburg coach Tony Beasley played Harper through his slump and soon he broke out of it. Over his last 7 games, he is 9-24 (.375) with 3 2B 1 HR 2 RBI and 2 SB while only striking out 3 times.
Harper is going to hit. He is going to be a superstar at the next level- when he gets there. He is still just 18 years old and still has a lot of maturing to do, both on the field and off. Mike Rizzo and the Nationals know what they are doing and are being patient with him in the process. So should the fans.