Giants duo remembers Harper before big league callup
Belt, Crawford talk about Nats' new star from when they played together in AFL
SAN FRANCISCO -- Bryce Harper consistently amazed Giants first baseman Brandon Belt and shortstop Brandon Crawford when they were Arizona Fall League teammates.Then the game would begin. Most of the Giants will receive their first look at Harper, the scintillating 19-year-old outfielder, when they begin a three-game series Tuesday against the Washington Nationals. Harper has helped galvanize the Nats, who lead the National League East, by hitting .274 with eight home runs, 22 RBIs and 38 runs scored, while compiling an .819 OPS in 57 games. None of this surprises Belt or Crawford, who played alongside Harper with the AFL's Scottsdale Scorpions in 2010 and '11, respectively. Harper was the second-youngest player in the history of the league when he joined Belt on the Scorpions' roster.
"He was 17 when I played with him, and he was hitting like he had been in pro ball for a few years already," Belt said."He's the five-tool type of player that everybody looks for," Crawford added. Though Belt and Crawford spent different autumns with Harper, their experiences were similar. The left-handed-hitting uber-prospect, who earned his GED after his sophomore year at Las Vegas High School so he could attend junior college for a year and then begin his professional career early, performed feats in batting practice that defied belief. Most contemporary players use 31- or 32-ounce bats. But as Belt recalled, Harper often swung a 35-ounce log during BP.
"He would just launch balls," Belt said. "It kind of got him into his rhythm."Crawford remembered that Harper's batting-practice routine featured precision as well as power.
"His first round would be opposite-field line drives," Crawford said. "And his next four would be deep home runs."But Harper impressed observers with more than just his hitting. "When he got in the field or on the bases, he did stuff the right way," Belt said. "He hustles everything out." Primarily a catcher until the Nationals selected him No. 1 overall in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft, Harper needed to gain polish as an outfielder.
"From what I've seen this year, he's made a lot of good plays and figured that out," Crawford said.
Last fall, Harper remained a work in progress defensively, needing to curb his enthusiasm for unleashing long throws."That was actually something I talked to him a little bit about, because he'd try to throw guys out from the fence," Crawford said. "With his arm, I understand why he would try. But there were certain situations where he needed to hit the cutoff man." Though Harper has been characterized as having an edgy attitude, Belt and Crawford firmly defended him. "He was a down-to-earth guy," Belt said. "Most people think he's pretty cocky, but he's not ... you could tell that by what he didn't do. He didn't try to stand out or bring attention to himself. He was just a pretty normal guy out there. It was nice to see." "He gets a lot of bad press for some of the stuff that he says, but for the most part," Crawford said, "he's a good guy with good intentions."
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.