Apr 21, 2014, 6:28 PM EDT
They are linked by Rookie of the Year awards, two All-Star appearances by the age of 22, and a good deal of hype, but Monday will be the first time we see both Bryce Harper and Mike Trout on the same field for a regular season MLB game.
They are two young phenoms who could define the game of baseball for many years to come. The comparisons are natural, and both players understand the link.
“I kind of figured it,” Trout said. “Ever since the [Arizona] Fall League, ever since young guys get drafted, around the same age, same height, we’re always going to be compared.”
“I think a lot of people already know we played in the fall league together,” Harper said. “He’s a great player, a great person, has a great family. He’s one of the best players, if not the best player in baseball. He’s a lot of fun to watch.”
As teammates in the AFL in 2011, Harper and Trout forged a friendship they still hold today. Hours before the game Trout was out with his Angels teammates taking extra swings before his scheduled batting practice. Harper walked out of the Nationals dugout to watch, and also to catch up with his friend.
When Harper and Trout played together with the Scottsdale Scorpions, their team actually finished in last place at 14-22. The roster also included other young top prospects such as Will Middlebrooks, but it just didn’t click.
Trout reflected on playing with Harper before Monday’s game.
“There was a lot of hype. But we were terrible. It’s just one of them things. I’m sure if you gave us that team again the year after that, we would have done better because we would have had some team chemistry. There was a lot of great players coming in from all organizations and all on one team, you’ve got to have some good chemistry to win some games. I’ve made a lot of good friends there.”
Harper and Trout still text with each other and talk as often as they can. Trout says he reached out to Harper after the Nats’ outfielder was benched on Saturday for not hustling.
“He plays the game hard. He’s max effort every time – you know, besides the lack of hustle the other day,” Trout joked.
“But that’s the way they have it over there for that rule. And if you don’t obey the rules you pay the price. He respected it. I talked to him about it. He was comfortable with it, knew what he did wrong. Like I said, we both try to have fun and win ballgames.”
Harper shares a mutual respect for what Trout – a two-time runner-up for AL MVP – has been able to accomplish.
“He can roll. He knows how to run the bases really well and it’s exciting,” Harper said. “I think everything he does on that field is fun to watch. I think a lot of people know that and he’s a great player.”
Harper is not fond of the comparisons between the two, however. Several times during his pregame media session he tried to downplay the matchup.
“I really don’t care. I could care less about opinions. Everybody’s got one,” Harper said. “If they like him, they like him. If they like me, they like me. If they like both of us, then they know the game. And if they don’t, then they’re crazy… It’s fun to go out there and play, but people blow things out to bigger proportions. That’s how this world is now and that’s just how it is.”
Harper even brought up other young players in baseball to make it not just about him and the Angels’ star.
“I know I’m a damn good player, and he is too. We’re going to roll through baseball over the next 20 years hopefully and make people turn their heads. He’s going to do it, and hopefully I can do it, and [Yasiel] Puig and everybody else in this game. Matt Harvey. There’s a lot of great young talent and it’s just because it’s me and Trout. That’s the way it always has been and that’s the way it’s going to be.”
Harper’s manager, Matt Williams, also downplayed the direct comparison between the two.
“I don’t think it’s fair. Everybody brings a different set of tools to the table and Bryce is one of our main guys and we rely on him and the Angels rely on Mike. The comparison is natural, I think, because all that’s been written and all that’s been documented and their timelines and all that. It’s probably a little unfair to compare them because they’re two very different players.”
COUNTDOWN TO OPENING DAY
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
MON: 12:45 p.m.
TUE: 2:30 p.m.
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