Hadn’t visited with my friend Rick Eckstein since he worked with the kids on the anachronistically named Vermont Expos of the New York-Penn League in 2006. Tonight, as for all this year and in spring training of 2011, Eckstein now works with Bryce Harper with the Washington Nationals.
Well what exactly can you DO with Bryce Harper?
“His swing gets a little big sometimes. I point that out to him,” Rick said with a smile, not long after Harper hit a seemingly low line drive that appeared to just clear the batting practice pitcher and then wound up around 440 feet away, and 30 feet up, on Shea Bridge in right-center here at CitiField. “He’s great about it. He constantly asks. He constantly wants to know if I’m seeing any little things he’s not.
“And of course I work with him with his prep for each night’s pitcher. Talking knuckle balls in advance of R.A. Dickey tonight, for instance,” added Eckstein, who is whipsaw smart and has a kind of directed version of his brother David’s frenetic energy. “But your implication is correct. I don’t have to fix a lot with him. And,” he interrupted himself with a chuckle, “obviously I don’t have to motivate him.”
There is, however, one fascinating component to The Care And Feeding Of Bryce Harper that figures to keep Eckstein busy, at least as long as the Nats continue to rank somewhere near their current fifth in NL team slugging and fourth in NL team OPS and he remains content to be their hitting guru: “People forget he’s still growing. I mean, he’s nineteen. He’s likely to grow another inch at least, and with that he’ll fill out and when he fills out he’ll add power. There will be adjustments to make.”
Which leaves Rick Eckstein trying to come to grasp with the intimidating realization that the 19-year old who has opened his career with 75 games of 9 homers, 29 RBI, and a .272/.343/.449 and as fast a pair of hands as anybody in the bigs is actually just the compact version of Bryce Harper.