Nov 3, 2013, 11:17 AM EDT
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.”
ON THE RADIO
As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2014 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
WED: 4:30 p.m.
THU: 2:30 p.m.
FRI: 1:30 p.m., 5:30 p.m.
SAT: 10:30 a.m.
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