Though not quite Gold Glove-caliber, Bryce Harper has quietly developed into an upper-echelon corner outfielder, grading sixth among qualified right-fielders in defensive metrics during his inaugural season with the Phillies in 2019 (3.0 defensive runs saved, per FanGraphs). The 27-year-old has manned the outfield for the vast majority of his career (game logs indicate he made a single first-base cameo in 2018), though long before the big leagues came calling, Harper was an accomplished catcher on the prep circuit.
Harper won’t be donning a catcher’s mask or chest protector anytime soon—All-Star J.T. Realmuto is entrenched behind the plate—though the former MVP has been trying a new position on for size at training camp this summer. After begging manager Joe Girardi to let him play third base, the Phillies skipper finally relented, slotting Harper there for two innings of Monday’s intrasquad scrimmage. Harper’s debut at the hot corner was largely uneventful, though he did see one ball come his way, cleanly scooping a grounder to the left side and firing to first for an easy out.
Relative to other positions, Philadelphia does carry some uncertainty at third base. A shortstop by trade, Jean Segura is the Phillies’ tentative starter at third (free-agent add Didi Gregorius has the shortstop job all but sewn up), though he’s never been known for his defensive prowess. Scott Kingery may ultimately be better-equipped for that position, though for now, the Phillies seem content employing him in a utility role. Exciting prospect and former first-round pick Alec Bohm could potentially factor into the Phillies’ third-base calculus this season. However, he’s proven a defensive liability and may be better suited for a less-demanding position on the diamond, perhaps at first base, where he drew a handful of starts (23) last season.
Which begs the question, could Harper, he of $330 million, be auditioning for a recurring infield role this season? Not likely, says Girardi, who downplayed Harper moonlighting at the hot corner. “I think it’s important the guys have fun,” Girardi told Jim Salisbury of NBC Sports Philadelphia. The former Yankees and Marlins manager made sure to establish a few ground rules before cutting Harper loose at third. “No diving. And make sure your arm is loose.”
We probably shouldn’t read much into this. Harper logged all of two innings in a July intrasquad game (likely Opening Day starter Aaron Nola was on the mound for both of them). But Girardi didn’t deny Harper’s third-base chops, commending the six-time All-Star for his slick glove work and strong throwing arm. “I saw him a week ago taking ground balls there and I was impressed. His hands worked well out front and he threw the ball across the field well. I told him, 'You look good there.’”
FYI, Harper only needs five games to claim third-base eligibility in ESPN fantasy leagues. Just saying.