Bryce Harper joined the Free Kris Bryant movement on Twitter, calling it a “joke” if the game’s top prospect didn’t make the Cubs out of spring training.
But the Washington Nationals superstar is also a businessman, someone who left high school early to get his GED and play at a junior college, allowing him to be the No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft. By the age of 17, Harper had already found a way around the system, speeding up his arbitration/free-agency clocks.
Harper also grew up in Las Vegas, playing with and against Bryant over the years. The two prodigies aren’t particularly close, but they both are represented by Scott Boras, the industry’s most powerful — and quotable — agent.
Harper gets why the Cubs held Bryant down at Triple-A Iowa for almost two weeks, making sure the 6-foot-5 slugger stays under their control through the 2021 season.
“He’s a great player,” Harper said before the Nationals hung on for a 2-1 victory on Monday afternoon at Wrigley Field. “I think he needed to be in the big leagues. But I understand the business side of it and what goes on (there). If I was the Cubs, I would have done the same thing. I want him for another year, too.
“That’s how it is. There’s nothing you can do. But should he have been in the big leagues? Yeah, I think so.”
Yeah, Bryant probably didn’t need those extra 28 at-bats with Iowa in early April to prove he belongs in The Show. Seven games probably wasn’t enough time to get into a defensive rhythm at third base. But almost seven full seasons of Bryant will always be greater than six.
“When we were younger, we used to call him ‘Silk,’ because he was so smooth with everything he did,” Harper said. “He played third. He played short. He played a little outfield. He pitched, and he always hit very well. He’s a great talent. I’m excited for him. I always cheer for guys that are from my area.”
Bryant struck first by lining Tanner Roark’s 94 mph fastball over the basket in left-center, and it bounced back onto the field in the first inning for his sixth home run.
Bryant also hustled for an infield single in the third inning, again showing that he’s not just a one-dimensional power hitter. Bryant was left stranded after Washington closer Drew Storen hit his wrist leading off the ninth inning.
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“If you can beat the best, then I guess you can put yourself in that conversation as the best,” said Bryant, who has 30 RBI through 36 games and an .873 OPS. “Just as an individual, I think I rise up to my opponent. As baseball players, that’s instilled in us, and I know every one of us in here plays that way, too. So, yeah, we’re loving this series right now.”
The Cubs (24-20) are still a few years behind the Nationals (27-18) in their rebuild, but they view this as a litmus test. It will be fun to watch Harper and Bryant go back and forth, and interesting to see if “Baseball’s Chosen One” (Sports Illustrated’s words) has a little more edge in his voice when this rivalry really heats up.
“The Cubs got a lot of great talent, young talent,” Harper said. “To add a guy like Jon Lester, a guy who’s proven and done things in the postseason, to get a guy (like Joe) Maddon as a manager who loves young talent, loves his players, (you) can’t talk enough about the good (things in) the organization.”