WASHINGTON — There’s probably no position player in major league baseball — maybe ever — who can truly understand the hype that Washington Nationals 19-year-old outfielder Bryce Harper has encountered on a daily basis.
But Orioles catcher Matt Wieters might come the closest — or at least be the best-equipped big league hitter to offer a little wisdom in dealing with unreal anticipation.
“My advice would be just to be himself. I think the hardest thing is trying to worry about living up to expectations of other people,” said Wieters, the fifth pick overall in the 2007 draft and a first-time All-Star last year at age 25. “[Harper] has been a good player for long enough, so he knows what kind of player he can be. He can’t worry about checking out what the blogs are saying about you, what the sports pages are saying about you.
“It’s going to be great things, especially at first. But there’s also going to be some negative press that comes out,” Wieters added. “And the big thing is you can’t worry about that, positive or negative. That’s how you are going to be able to play your best.”
Wieters, like Harper, was ticketed for stardom before he was drafted, zipped through the minor leagues and joined the majors to amazing hoopla. Wieters, however, arrived in pro baseball after his junior year at Georgia Tech, not after one year in junior college at age 17 as Harper did.
And they’ve both graced the cover of Sports Illustrated — Wieters was 23 in March 15, 2010, when the magazine pronounced him “The Perfect Catch.” Harper, incredibly, was 16 on June 8, 2009, when he was coined, “Baseball’s Chosen One.”
“I definitely think he’s gotten more press than I ever got,” said Wieters, who shares an agent but has never formally met Harper. “I was fortunate in that I went to college for three years and got to experience a little bit of the process even before I got to the minor leagues. I mean, he was right out of junior college for one year. That’s a lot to handle when you are only 19 years old. But I know he has got good people around him that are helping him handle it.”
Two months before Wieters received his big league promotion in May 2009, Minnesota Twins catcher Joe Mauer — the “Next Big Thing” before Wieters — was asked about the Orioles phenom, and Mauer said he was excited to watch the young catcher play. Wieters said he had a similar feeling about Harper this weekend, when Harper’s Nationals played the Orioles.
“Every time you get young talent, you want to see it. Different players bring different things to the game,” Wieters said. “I still enjoy playing against Joe [Mauer] to see what he is going to do, and all the other great players in the league to see what their mindset is. So it’s the same with the young guys.”
But Harper’s addition to the Nationals added work for Wieters, who continually studies video of opposing hitters to help find an edge for his pitching staff.
“It’s harder for me in calling a game just to try and figure out what he is thinking,” Wieters said. “That’s one of the things you like to see with the great players in the game, how they actually prepare and how they go about each at-bat.”