WASHINGTON -- Rangers infielder Joey Gallo has been working out with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper regularly for the past three or four years in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. They played travel ball together and grew up together along with Cubs third baseman Kristopher Bryant.As Gallo has trained with
WASHINGTON -- Rangers infielder Joey Gallo has been working out with Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper regularly for the past three or four years in their hometown of Las Vegas, Nev. They played travel ball together and grew up together along with Cubs third baseman Kristopher Bryant.
As Gallo has trained with Harper this winter, he has noticed something in him.
"At the workouts, he's as focused as I've ever seen him," Gallo said Thursday on MLB Network Radio. "He always is, but I mean, he's going through those workouts like nothing now. He's really focused, he's hitting and just the way he's talking, you can tell he's really prepared."
It's a fact that could be cause for intimidation in opposing National League pitchers. Harper altered his training programs a year ago, and he added 15 pounds of muscle before Spring Training. The results were easy to spot, as he spent the spring mashing homers. During the season, he quickly returned to form as a candidate for the National League Most Valuable Player Award before his season was interrupted by a hyperextended left knee. In 111 games, Harper posted a 1.008 OPS with 29 home runs and 4.7 Wins Above Replacement, according to Baseball Reference.
Yet perhaps Harper is motivated to reach another level in 2018, in what is set to be the final season on his contract with the Nationals. His pending free agency has already been anticipated for years, especially if he can add to his already impressive resume of five All-Star Games, a National League Rookie of the Year Award in '12 and the NL MVP award in '15 -- all before his 25th birthday this past October.
Gallo believes Harper's motivation is in part tied to getting injured last season, which halted a bid for perhaps another NL MVP Award. To what extent the knee injury or time off hampered Harper in the postseason is still unknown, but Harper posted just a .725 OPS in five games during the NL Division Series vs. the Cubs.
"I think what was tough for him was missing time last year with that injury," Gallo said. "Obviously, he didn't put up the numbers and they didn't win the amount of games that they wanted to win [in the postseason], and that was tough for him."
Whenever he has the chance, Gallo has been sure to point out that he actually hit more homers (41) than Harper (29) last season, regardless of Gallo's edge in games played. Gallo is sure to have his fun now, because he has seen the voracity with which Harper has worked out this offseason.
"He's just a competitor," Gallo said. "I think, this year, I've never seen him as focused and as ready to play as I have, and I've trained with him [for] 3-4 years, so I'm really excited to see what he brings to the table this year."
Jamal Collier covers the Nationals for MLB.com. Follow him on Twitter at @jamalcollier.