CLEARWATER, Fla. — Long before Bryce Harper signed the contract that could keep him in Philadelphia for the rest of his career, he was a highly touted draft pick with major-league prospects.
Harper will earn $318.5 million over the next 12 seasons, but first he had to ride buses to towns such as Charleston, W.Va., and Moosic, Pa., as he climbed the minor-league ladder. His sprint through the minors was quicker than most, but it still provided Harper with an appreciation for the journey.
And that is why the highest-paid player in Phillies history has taken a lot of interest this spring in minor leaguers such as Bryson Stott, Spencer Howard, and Alec Bohm.
“I’ve been there. It’s tough,” Harper said. “You’re going to grind through the minor leagues. You’re going to grind through the college ranks and things like that. I want them to be as comfortable as they can walking into this clubhouse every single day. And if they’re able to do that, then they’re going to help us perform.
"They’re part of our group, and it all starts here in spring training. It’s not something where I want to bring them in and be like, ah, what are you doing here or anything like that and getting on them. There’s no point. They belong here. They should be here with us. They’re going to help us this year possibly, and I can’t wait for that.”
Harper is under contract through 2031, which provides him with a vested interest in knowing who will be his teammates in seasons such as 2025. He monitors the draft each June — “A lot of good pitchers in this year’s draft,” he said — and even follows the Arizona Fall League. He picks the brain of Johnny Almaraz, who oversaw the previous five Phillies drafts, and checks minor-league box scores. The team’s superstar is also a baseball junkie.
“As a player that’s going to be here for a long time, I want to be able to do that,” Harper said. “I want to be able to be here and let them know that they’re part of our team and they’re a part of our organization. And I want them to feel welcome. I want their families to feel welcome. That’s the Phillie Way, I believe.
"Anybody that can help us in the minor leagues, he can be off the top 10 or off the top 30 and be our 50th-best guy down there, but we could strike gold with him. You never know. There’s been many guys like that in the league, undrafted guys, things like that. So, anybody that can help us, I’m all for it.”
Harper spent Tuesday’s Grapefruit League game — his first of this spring — in the dugout next to Bohm, the third-base prospect who should reach the majors this season.
Bohm had a .896 OPS last season over three minor-league levels and will likely begin the season at triple-A. Harper mentioned Bohm last September when he detailed his hopes for the future. He brought Bohm up again earlier this month — along with Howard and pitching prospect Damon Jones — when listing the prospects he would have a hard time trading.
Bohm is getting a taste this spring of major-league life before he returns to the minors. He chatted during Tuesday’s game with Harper about college baseball, which Bohm played at Wichita State, and Harper’s Under Armour cleats, which both players are wearing in camp. Harper already had a scouting report on Bohm, but this spring allows him the chance to meet the person, instead of the prospect.
“We don’t really talk baseball much, man. I just want to get to know him as a person,” Harper said. “Get to know what he likes. What his interests are, things like that. The baseball stuff will come. I’m not really a hands-on person where I’m like, ‘Dude, you’ve got to do this, you’ve got to do that.’ He’s here for a reason. I want to let him be himself. When you’re able to let a guy just be themselves and go play to the best of their ability, like I said, he’s here for a reason. I think he’s going to be successful as a player and as a person as well.”
Bohm and Harper were joined in the dugout Tuesday by Stott, who was just 12 years old when Harper left their shared hometown of Las Vegas to begin his professional career. Stott was then the spiky-haired son of the woman who coached Harper’s sister in cheerleading, and Harper was about to become baseball’s biggest attraction.
They were teammates Tuesday after Stott was plucked for the day from minor-league camp. The Phillies had drafted Stott out of UNLV in last June’s first round. The shortstop will begin the season in the lower levels of the minor leagues and is likely two seasons from reaching the big leagues. But he’ll soon be riding the same bus routes that Harper once did. And the team’s biggest star will be keeping an eye on his journey.