Harper Hoping Experience Pays Off

COLUMBUS, OH - During the final months of the 2006 season, Brandon Harper experienced his ultimate dream playing in the big leagues. After spending two months with the Nationals last season, Harper is now trying to regain his productivity with Columbus. Although he is splitting time behind the plate with fellow teammate Juan Brito, Harper hopes to play his way into the lineup on a regular basis.

Drafted by the Florida Marlins in the 4th round of the 1997 draft, Harper spent nine seasons in the minor leagues before finally getting his call to the majors in 2006. Promoted from former Triple-A affiliate New Orleans to be a quality backup for catcher Brian Schneider, Harper batted .293, going 12-for-41 with six RBI in 18 appearances with the Nationals last season. His performance at the big league stage was nothing to frown upon.

"I think I did pretty well," said Harper, who felt confident with his efforts in the major leagues. "Obviously, I think my bat did better than the organization thought it would. I felt I did well working with the pitching staff. Although I didn't throw too many guys out, I believe I have a strong arm."

The call to the major leagues was a lifelong dream for Harper. Recalling his experience with the Nationals, Harper told CapitolDugout.com, "It was unbelievable. After nine years in the minor leagues and sticking with my game, it felt great to finally make it. I enjoyed every moment of the experience and I took it all in because I knew it might be the only two months I have up there."

As Harper took his cuts and worked behind the plate during his stint with the Nationals, he received great help from bullpen coach Randy Knorr and catcher Brian Schneider. "A guy that really helped me was Randy Knorr," Harper stated. "He was great because he was in the backup role with the big leagues for awhile. He let me know that I needed to get my work in to stay sharp since I wasn't playing much. Brian Schneider was good to me too because he talked about our pitchers and the hitters. Those two guys really made it easier on me."

Following a successful 2006 campaign, Harper now finds himself in an unfamiliar situation this season. He is now splitting time behind the plate with fellow Clipper Juan Brito, who signed with the Nationals organization last November. The coaching staff has taken a unique approach to playing their two experienced catchers. Both catchers have alternated starts throughout the entire season thus far.

"It's been very disappointing," said Harper, referring to his decrease in playing time. "I knew me and Brito would play every other day until one of us started outplaying the other. It's disappointing not getting a lot of opportunities and big league chances. It took me awhile to get my mind where it needed to be."

Early into the season, splitting time between Harper and Brito has paid off for the Clippers. Their experience behind the plate has been a great help dealing with the Clippers' young pitchers.  The starting rotation has been outstanding, mainly guided by three young and talented pitchers. Felix Diaz, Emiliano Fruto, and Joel Hanrahan have shown great promise with the help of the sensational catching duo. Harper has the knowledge and confidence to make his own decisions when calling a game. His approach to calling a game varies depending who is pitching on the mound.

"With an experienced guy, I trust them more than maybe I would a younger guy. If there is a younger pitcher, I feel like I am the one that needs to be in control and be in charge. I am not necessarily saying whatever pitch I call, he has to throw; however, I have a really good idea what I am doing behind the plate."

Although the pitching staff has struggled at times early into the season, the trio of Diaz, Fruto, and Hanrahan has prospered with the guidance of Harper. In eleven starts combined, these three starters each have an ERA under 2.50. Harper understands each pitcher's strengths and weaknesses which enables him to call a great game. Besides calling the game, Harper contributes an aggressive approach and a coach mentality behind the plate.

"I feel I am aggressive, and if I have the opportunity to pick someone off at first base or third base, I will," said Harper. "Mainly, I try to keep the pitcher focused and on track with our game plan. I try to be his biggest cheerleader and keep him alert."

A large reason why Harper has not been called to pick up the everyday duties behind the plate this season has been his lack of production at the plate. In ten appearances, he is batting .111, going 4-for-36 with 11 strikeouts. Harper hopes to regain his old form and provide a consistent bat in the lineup. With both minor league and major league experience, Harper has the ingredients and knowledge to make it back to the big leagues. Although he hopes for another chance at the next level, Harper must now worry about getting more playing time with the Clippers.

"I have been working on my mindset," said Harper. "Mentally, it took me a couple weeks to get focused. I need to get up to the plate and be ready to compete. If I start thinking too much about mechanics, I start thinking about that instead of just hitting the ball. Being mentally tough is the key for me."

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