Bryce Harper

Prospect on the Verge

The rush to bring Las Vegas baseball phenom Bryce Harper to the big leagues officially slowed down when his team, the Washington Nationals, spent $126 million to sign a player who plays his position. But that doesn’t mean Harper isn’t primed to make some big strides in 2011, his first full season as a professional baseball player.

Since making headlines all over the country last June when he was the No. 1 player selected in the draft, the 18-year-old has been quietly working on his game in the first year of a five-year, $9.9 million contract. His main action has been in the Arizona Fall League, where he batted .343 while helping his team win the championship. He ended at the top of writer Jonathan Mayo’s list of players who made a splash in that camp full of top prospects—many of whom have already had a couple of years of professional experience.

Harper, who left high school after his sophomore year and then played one season of junior college ball after earning his GED, seems not to be flustered by the speed of his ascent. “It’s been a great opportunity to play with some of the best guys,” he says. Besides, his first big test is still around the corner, when he will get at-bats in spring training games with the Nationals in Florida.

Harper will likely end up in Single-A ball as he transitions from catcher—his position while at College of Southern Nevada—to right field, which is the position the Nationals just signed ex-Phillies slugger Jayson Werth to play. Harper isn’t bothered by any of that, either.

“I’ve played outfield in the past,” Harper says. “It can be kind of boring out there, but at least I have the bullpen guys to keep me company. But I don’t really mind it. I’ll play anywhere they want as long as it gets me in that lineup.”