Nats' Harper says he's not 'leader'
VIERA, Fla. — Bryce Harper is a lot of things, including the Washington Nationals' best player and reigning National League MVP.
One thing he's not is the team leader.
Harper arrived at Nationals spring training early and quietly took his place in the corner of the clubhouse with Ryan Zimmerman, Jayson Werth and Danny Espinosa. Even after being a unanimous MVP selection, the 23-year-old Harper would rather leave the leadership responsibilities to those veterans.
"I don't think I'm a leader. I think I'm more just a guy playing the game," Harper said Monday. "I'm still at that stage of where I'm still looking at J-Dub, I'm still looking at Zim to do everything they can to make the best moves for this team and play as hard as I can out there and lead by example. That's the best thing I can do.
There's not a much better example a player can set than Harper did last season. He hit .330, drove in 99 runs and led the NL with 42 home runs, 118 runs scored, a .460 on-base percentage and .649 slugging percentage.
Yet Harper is humble and deferential to older teammates heading into his fifth major league season. He expects Werth, or J-Dub to his teammates, to continue to set the tone in the clubhouse, and he'll continue to do his job at the plate and on the field.
Manager Dusty Baker agrees with that. Baker sees "leadership potential" in Harper but doesn't think the star outfielder is a leader yet.
"How many people are going to follow the youngest kid in the room? And just because you're the most talented doesn't mean that you're the leader," Baker said. "I've always said that leaders are anointed, they're not appointed. People gravitate toward leaders. Ted Williams was the MVP, but I never heard Ted Williams was a leader."
Harper didn't take much time to reflect on 2015 during the offseason, nor was he bragging much about one of the best statistical seasons in recent history. Several months removed from it, Harper said he was humbled to be the unanimous MVP but mentally over it.
"That's all in the past," Harper said. "The 42 homers, .330 average, .4-whatever on-base, I'm not even worried about that now. I'm worried about what we're doing as a team this year."
That's an approach Baker can get on board with. Harper repeatedly mentioned his primary goal for 2016 is to win, which is music to the ears of a 66-year-old still gunning for his first World Series as a manager.
Of course Baker knows that the Nationals' regular-season and playoff hopes hinge greatly on Harper. But he's not setting unrealistic expectations.
"I expect for him to just continue to grow as a player and as a man," Baker said. "How many people 23 years old have been where Bryce has been? Let's not forget he's 23 years old. Where were most of us at 23 years old? I'm not putting any limitations on him; I'm not going to put any pressure on him. I'm just (going to) let him be Bryce."
Harper certainly doesn't plan on setting any limitations for himself. For all his humility about his numbers and role in the clubhouse, Harper echoed his "don't sell me short" comment from a recent radio appearance when asked about potentially being a $400 million player in a few years.
"You can't put a limit on players," Harper said. "You can't put a limit on what they do. If that's on the field, off the field, everything they do. Everybody says the sky's the limit. But we've been on the moon. So you can't really say that."
That extends to the rest of the Nationals. Talking about the team, Harper sure sounded like a leader.
"I'm excited to see Joe Ross do what he can for a full year, I'm excited to see Lucas Giolito hopefully get to the big leagues this year throwing a billion," he said. "I'm just very excited about the guys we have, such great minor league system that we have. I'm just looking forward to seeing J-Dub play every single day, Espi playing every single day. I'm excited about (Daniel Murphy) hitting homers off lefties hopefully. I'm just very excited to be part of it."