x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper plays up to his top billing

The 19 year old is already starring the role of hero and villain; thrilling the fans of the Nats while driving their opponents mad.

Bryce Harper has become so good that fans of the Washington Nationals' opponents have taken notice. And boo.
Bryce Harper has become so good that fans of the Washington Nationals' opponents have taken notice. And boo.

Outfielder Bryce Harper was on the cover of Sports Illustrated at the age of 16.

He was drafted No 1 overall in 2010 in the amateur baseball draft, after skipping his final year of high school to go to junior college and become eligible at 17.

Now, at the ripe old age of 19, Harper is a month into his major league career and acting like he has been there much longer.

He is batting .274 with six doubles, four home runs, four triples, 11 RBI, with 21 runs in 30 games for the Washington Nationals.

Harper was in the spotlight long before he could make an impact on the major league level.

Now that he is finally making one he has become a player opposing fans love to hate.

Harper is a recognisable figure, and he is good, so he is an easy target for boos, like ones he heard throughout a weekend series against the Atlanta Braves at Turner Field last week.

But he also went 5-for-11 (. 455) with two home runs and two RBI in the series sweep, so the jeers came as a compliment.

Harper gave the Braves headaches not only with his home runs, but with his hustle on plays such as catching Jason Heyward, the Braves right fielder, napping on what should have been a single and advancing to second base on the ensuing error.

Those instincts, as well as his talent, are what excites.

Paul Ricciarini, a major league scout for the Houston Astros, watched Harper make that play in Atlanta. "He's so advanced for a young player in his game already," Ricciarini said of Harper.

"It boggles the mind to see a kid that young do things like that with some consistency ... He's going to take chances for the right reasons because he's got great instincts. He just needs that one quick observation. He knows what he's going to do.

"That's what great players do."

The Nationals have sent 12 players to the disabled list already this season.

Right fielder Jayson Werth broke his wrist and is out until at least August.

Catcher Wilson Ramos tore a knee ligament and is out for the rest of the season.

Yet the Nationals (29-21) were still in first place in the NL East heading into another weekend series against the Braves. That has a lot to do with their dominant pitching staff - who lead the majors with a 3.01 ERA.

And like it or not, it also has something to do with Harper.

"He's a polarising figure," Mike Rizzo, the Nationals' general manager, told Sports Illustrated.

"When he is on your team, you love him. When he is playing against you, you hate him - and you don't even know him."

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