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Williams on Harper: ‘I love the way he plays the game’

Nov 3, 2013, 11:17 AM EDT

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As Matt Williams takes over as manager of the Washington Nationals, he knows he’s got a roster with talent top to bottom. They won 98 games just two seasons ago and you don’t have to follow them closely to know they have star players. Whether it’s Stephen Strasburg, Ryan Zimmerman or Bryce Harper, the Nats are loaded with either current or former All-Stars.

Harper in particular will be an important guy for Williams to get to know, as the 21-year-old is in a key stage of his development. The next few years of his career could determine whether he becomes one of the game’s best players or just merely a big name.

Williams himself was a star as a player – though not to the extent of Harper – and he believes that experience will help him in doing his part to make sure Bryce reaches his potential.

“I’m here to help him,” Williams said. “I’m here to help him become the MVP and a Hall of Fame player. I want that for him. I want him to be that guy. I want him to be our leader. I want him to be the star that everybody wants him to be.”

Harper has been historically good for his age through two seasons. He’s already a two-time All-Star with two years under his belt of at least 20 home runs, an .800 OPS and 70 runs scored. But the potential remains for Harper to become one of the best players in baseball, and Williams will oversee his progress.

Coaching Harper isn’t just limited to the field as well. Williams knows Harper deals with an unprecedented amount of scrutiny and attention from media and fans for someone his age. He will have to defend Harper from the hard questions and explain his youthful mistakes. Davey Johnson had plenty of experience dealing with young superstars, Williams does not.

“You just have to understand it, and that’s my job: to understand what Bryce does, understand the microscope he’s under,” Williams said. “It’s not easy being Bryce Harper. Who wouldn’t want to be Bryce? But it’s not easy. I understand that side of it for him.”

For Harper on the field, part of Williams’ job will be finding the right balance for how the outfielder should play. Harper’s effort and aggressiveness on the field can be a good thing, but we’ve also seen it backfire. Sometimes he will make the wrong throw when the safe play is hitting the cutoff man, sometimes he will get a little greedy on the basepaths. Oh, and he also has a problem with running into walls.

Williams can’t praise Harper enough for the edge he brings and does not plan to temper it too much. He wants to find the happy medium.

“I love it, I love the way he plays the game. He plays the game the way it should be played,” Williams said. “He is all-out, every day, all the time, every game. He’s paid for it by getting injured and running into walls.”

Williams was busy with his old job last year as the Diamondbacks third base coach when Harper collided with the wall in Los Angeles, but saw the highlights. He also heard a story about the incident.

“The greatest compliment I have heard is Mr. [Mark] Lerner, the night he ran into the wall in L.A., asked how the wall was. Everybody loves that about him,” Williams said.

It’s interesting to look back on and may enhance Harper’s legend someday, but of course they don’t want him to run into walls anymore. That brought Williams to an important point, how Harper can be more aware next time. He did say, however, he doesn’t want to pull him back too much.

“Now can we be a little smarter sometimes? Sure. And not necessarily run into that wall? Of course,” he said. “But the kid’s 21 years old. Let him go – this is a stallion. This is a guy that is ready to just explode. We’re  going to try to give him the game plan to do that.”

  1. Ghost of Steve M. - Nov 3, 2013 at 11:47 AM

    Somewhere Scott Boras read this and is smiling. I hope Matt Williams can be there to mentor Bryce.

    • Joe Seamhead - Nov 3, 2013 at 6:08 PM

      In the case of Bryce Harper coming into the league at such a tender young age, I really think that Bryce was very fortunate to have had the combination of Davey Johnson and Jayson Werth to guide him through those first two seasons. Now, Matt Williams is getting a veteran entering basically his third year in MLB. Bryce, though still only 20, is not a baseball baby anymore. As Williams said, it’s not easy being Bryce Harper, but the worst of that should be behind him. It’s now time for Bryce Harper to grow into Bryce Harper’s shoes, if you will.

      • nats128 - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:23 PM

        You missed it. Bryce recently celebrated his 21st birthday.

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:33 PM

        Oops, you’re right, he turned 21 about 3 weeks ago.

  2. David Proctor - Nov 3, 2013 at 12:01 PM

    Harper’s effort and aggressiveness on the field can be a good thing, but we’ve also seen it backfire. Sometimes he will make the wrong throw when the safe play is hitting the cutoff man, sometimes he will get a little greedy on the basepaths. Oh, and he also has a problem with running into walls.

    See, I have a problem with this line. When is the last time that Harper made a bad throw? Honest question, I don’t remember. In fact, I can’t remember any overly aggressive plays on defense except running into the wall–which wasn’t so much an aggressive play as it was a simple lack of spacial awareness. In 2012, Harper had those issues. He cleaned many of them up in 2013.

    • Fakey51 - Nov 3, 2013 at 2:38 PM

      Threw a ball away at first in September trying to throw behind the runner. Bad decision and ended up costing a run…

      • Joe Seamhead - Nov 3, 2013 at 6:19 PM

        Bryce still has a lot to learn before he will be a premier outfielder. Sometimes he needs to not just trust his instincts, but actually think. He’s improving, but a lot of folks, especially sports writers forget that unlike other ML players, Harper basically did not grow up playing the OF.

      • David Proctor - Nov 3, 2013 at 7:06 PM

        When was that? I don’t remember it.

  3. Joe Seamhead - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:10 PM

    David, I think Fakey51 was referring to this play:
    http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/nationals-journal/wp/2013/09/17/bryce-harpers-ill-advised-throw-tyler-clippards-rare-gaffe/

    • David Proctor - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:16 PM

      Oh okay, I remember that play now.

  4. nats128 - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:54 PM

    http://www.mlbtraderumors.com/2013/11/2014-top-50-free-agents-with-predictions-1.html

    Matt Garza to the Nats? I hope not.

    • David Proctor - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:00 PM

      I wouldn’t hate it, but if it got in the way of extensions for Zimmermann or Desi, I’d be absolutely 100% opposed to it. If the Lerners want to spend on a starter in addition to that, then all the more to them. You could do worse than Garza.

      • nats128 - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:30 PM

        Id rather go after Nolasco as the serious health issues havent been there.

  5. Section 222 - Nov 3, 2013 at 8:59 PM

    Bryce has played two full seasons in the majors in the outfield, a total of 257 regular season games, plus the spring training, the minors, and the postseason in ’12. That’s enough that I think we can retire the “don’t forget he was a catcher until he was 19″ excuse. I agree with DP that his decisionmaking has improved a lot. Certainly, there were fewer cutoff men missed in ’13 than in ’12.

    To be honest, I’m not wild about the “he’s a stallion” comment. He doesn’t need a manager to encourage him to play all out. He needs a manager to impress upon him the importance of protecting his body for the long haul. Lerner’s comment was stupid. The Atlanta and L.A. wall incidents were one of the top 3 reasons that the Nats season was a disappointment. [Insert pre and post April 30 stats here.]

    That said, I’m still not convinced that the LA wall incident wasn’t more due to him being disoriented by the lights from that scoreboard than to playing recklessly. And the Atlanta collision (in a game that was already pretty much lost) may have had a bigger impact on him physically. Indeed, he played the next seven games, and 8 of the next 10, before the LA game. His numbers in those games: .120/.233/.240/.473 with 3 hits and only 1 HR. Let’s hope in a similar future situation Williams notices he’s not himself and makes him sit and get better, stallion or not.

  6. nats128 - Nov 3, 2013 at 9:27 PM

    Rays Exercise Club Option On David DeJesus, Discussing Extension

    By Jeff Todd [November 3, 2013 at 8:13pm CST]
    The Rays have exercised the club’s $6.5MM option on outfielder David DeJesus, tweets Marc Topkin of the Tampa Bay Times. Meanwhile, the sides are also discussing a multi-year extension, Topkin further tweets.
    ____________________________

    Take him off the FA list. I have to saying Im extremely surprized. I thought there would be no way the Rays would spend that type of cash on him. He immediately becomes one of the Rays most expensive players.

  7. Section 222 - Nov 3, 2013 at 11:17 PM

    Stanton doesn’t have to prove anything to bring in a huge haul for the Marlins if they put him on the market. And if the Nats could get him, Ghost’s dream of Werth moving to 1B could yet become a reality!

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