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Fellow All-Stars heap praise upon Harper

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Fellow All-Stars heap praise upon Harper

CINCINNATI — Inside a ballroom at the Cincinnati Weston on Monday sat the best players the game of baseball has to offer, dynamic young talents like Kris Bryant and Joc Pederson, recent MVPs like Mike Trout and Andrew McCutchen, one of the great hitters in history in Albert Pujols and 3-time World Series champion Buster Posey.

And not one of those guys will be batting third for the National League in Tuesday night's All-Star Game. Nope, the guy who gets that honor is the guy who was drawing rave reviews from just about everybody in attendance at the 86th Midsummer Classic.

The guy who will be wearing the curly W cap and blazing gold cleats when he's introduced at Great American Ball Park.

"I mean, he's the best hitter in the game," Braves right-hander Shelby Miller said.

There wasn't much dispute about that designation among the 67 other All-Stars here in town. Bryce Harper has taken that mantle over the last three months, a remarkable three months that has the baseball world abuzz.

"To see the success he's having right now, it really doesn't surprise anybody," said Miller, who has surrendered two hits to Harper (including a double) in six head-to-head at-bats this season. "He's a hell of a player. He's an athlete. He's a tough guy. Obviously being the first overall pick, a lot of expectations, and he's done well in that spotlight."

Few embrace the spotlight more than Harper, who has found himself the center of the attention since he was a teenager launching 500-foot home runs in high school showcase events and landing on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

And few know how to genuflect toward his fellow All-Stars in a setting like this like Harper, who may be as confident as anybody in baseball history but recognizes this isn't the time or place to show it.

"I'm excited to play in a lineup with these guys, a certain group of guys that are some of the best in baseball," he said. "I'm very excited, very humble to be in this lineup. Just excited to be part of the whole thing."

And who does Harper believe is the best player in the game?

"Right now? It's gotta be Mike Trout," he said without hesitation. "Everybody knows that."

Well, maybe in 2013 and 2014 everybody knew that. Now, it's not so clear-cut.

For all his remarkable achievements, Trout hasn't ever hit .339 with 26 homers and an 1.168 OPS before the All-Star break. Neither has anybody else in the last decade, for that matter, with Derrek Lee the last player to put up those kind of first-half numbers back in 2005.

And this is a very different game today, with offensive production at its lowest point in more than two decades.

"Especially with how great pitching is these days, for him to be able to put up these kind of numbers is pretty incredible," Yankees first baseman Mark Teixeira said. "Very scary. You've got to give Bryce a lot of credit. He knows what he's doing at the plate. He's not just up there swinging at everything."

Harper's remarkable plate discipline impresses his fellow All-Stars more than anything else. During his first three big-league seasons, he could be counted on to chase more than a few pitches out of the strike zone. Now, he patiently watches them fly by, happy to take his walks, leading to a league-best .464 on-base percentage.

"He's obviously got a good approach this year," Miller said. "He's looking for a good pitch to hit. Not saying he hasn't done that in the past. But this year, he's got it figured out. He knows what he's doing."

And he may not be done figuring things out.

"The thing is, he's still growing," teammate Max Scherzer said. "He's still learning the game. And that's what makes him exciting to watch, because he's going to continue to get better. He's not going to necessarily hit for a higher average or hit more homers. But he's going to understand the game more. As pitchers start to figure him out, he's going to have to do things differently. And that's a game he understands. We've talked about it. It's really exciting to see him grow in certain ways."

Wait, Scherzer isn't suggesting there might still be more to Bryce Harper than we've already seen, is he?

"Oh, there's still more there," the right-hander insisted. "I firmly believe it. That's how good I think he is. He's just going to be able to do more things more consistently and understand more situations to be more productive. It's not that he's going to hit the ball now 700 feet. He's just going to understand what the pitcher's trying to do and still be able to get the job done."

Watch out, baseball. You've been warned.

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With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

With Ross placed on 60-day DL, Nationals agree to 1-year deal with veteran reliever

WASHINGTON  -- The Washington Nationals say they have agreed to a one-year deal with 40-year-old reliever Joaquin Benoit.

The team announced the move Wednesday, along with placing pitcher Joe Ross on the 60-day disabled list as he recovers from Tommy John surgery in July.

The Nationals didn't release terms of the agreement, though a person with knowledge of the deal told The Associated Press on Monday that it was for $1 million.

The person spoke to the AP on condition of anonymity because the deal wasn't official at the time.

MORE NATIONALS: FULL 2018 SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE

Benoit is a right-hander who first reached the big leagues in 2001. 

He has played for eight teams, finishing last year with Pittsburgh.

He has 764 career appearances, going 58-49 with a 3.83 ERA and 53 saves.

RELATED: 2018 MLB BETTING ODDS

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It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

It's Day 1 of spring training and Bryce Harper is already done taking questions regarding his future

So if you have not heard, Bryce Harper is going to be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the 2018 season.

All off-season talking heads, baseball aficionados, radio hosts, etc. were speculating on where the outfielder’s destination will be next year.

And we are still a year away from it actually happening.

RELATED: VEGAS SETS OVER/UNDERS FOR 2018 MLB SEASON

Reporting to spring training on Monday, Harper did not waste any time telling the media how his press conferences were going to play out this season.

“If guys do [ask], or talk anything about that, I will be walking right out the door.”

Entering his seventh season with the Washington Nationals, the 25-year-old is coming off the second-best season, statistically, of his career. The 2015 NL MVP has hit .285 in his career, with 150 home runs and 421 RBIs. Unquestionably he is the face of the Nationals’ organization, if not, the best player in the team’s history.

If he does end the season without a contract extension, he will join Rafael Palmeiro, Alex Rodriguez, Randy Johnson, and Barry Bonds as the top sought out free agents in MLB history.

One thing is for certain in terms of Harper’s free agency; Harper has given no inclination on where his landing spot will be.  The top three cities are of course his favorite childhood team, the New York Yankees; joining with one of his closest friends with the Chicago Cubs; or just staying with Washington.

Wherever he does land, it does appear that it will be the largest contract given to a free agent ever.

As for now we just wait and direct any of your calls to his agent Scott Boras.

READ ALSO: NATIONALS FULL SPRING TRAINING SCHEDULE