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Roster preview: Bryce Harper

Jan 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EDT

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Age on Opening Day 2014: 21

How acquired: 1st round pick, 2010 draft

2014 salary: $2.15 million

2013 stats: 118 G, 497 PA, 71 R, 116 H, 24 2B, 3 3B, 20 HR, 58 RBI, 11 SB, 61 BB, 94 SO, .274 AVG, .368 OBP, .486 SLG, .854 OPS, 6 E, 2.6 UZR, 3.8 WAR

2014 outlook: Harper’s 2013 hardly was a disaster — he did post the 9th-highest OPS by a 20-year-old in MLB history — but it was a disappointment, mostly because he was plagued by injuries throughout. After knee surgery in October, the Nationals expect Harper to report to spring training 100 percent healthy. Now it’s up to him to keep himself healthy all season. Harper may have to alter his game a bit to avoid major collisions, but more importantly, he’ll need to know when to take a day or two off with a nagging ailment and not risk it becoming worse.

Aside from keeping himself on the field, Harper’s biggest challenge in 2014 will be to continue improving his hitting approach against left-handers. He hit only .211 last season, but his .327 on-base percentage showed he did learn how to become more patient and not flail at every breaking ball out of the strike zone. If he can take the next step in that regard, he can become as productive a hitter as anybody in the majors.

Best-case scenario: How high are we willing to aim here? Might as well go all the way. If Harper keeps his body close to 100 percent, there’s no reason to think he can’t be everything he — and we — expect him to be. So, let’s say … 40 homers, 120 RBI, a .300 batting average and National League MVP.

Worst-case scenario: It would probably involve injury, which is always a concern with Harper. He also would get frustrated at the plate and start pressing, trying to do too much. He ends up hitting .260 with 15 homers, 60 RBI, 125 strikeouts … and plays in only 110 games.

Most-likely scenario: If he’s on the field, Harper is going to be productive. There’s really no reason to believe otherwise. He’ll probably have to deal with some minor injury along the way — like most players do — but he still ends up playing in 140 games, hitting .285 with 30 homers and 90 RBI and finishing in the Top 10 in MVP voting.

  1. Faraz Shaikh - Jan 20, 2014 at 1:12 PM

    well he was posting NL MVP-caliber numbers before running into the wall so yes, NL MVP (or Cy Young) is the best case scenario.

    • bpjoyce10 - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:17 PM

      it’s very unlikely he wins the cy young. how long have you been watching baseball?

      • Eugene in Oregon - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:59 PM

        Faraz Shaikh was clearly making a joke. From his many intelligent posts over the years, he clearly knows baseball.

      • bpjoyce10 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:46 PM

        i realized that the author of the article probably accidentally said cy young and then edited his mistake after faraz’s comment once i posted that

  2. Eugene in Oregon - Jan 20, 2014 at 1:49 PM

    On or about New Year’s Day, ESPN was offering ‘outside the box’ predictions from their various experts. I don’t recall exactly which expert it was (but it was a baseball guy), but he suggested quite seriously that Bryce Harper would put up triple-crown numbers and win the MVP. I’m not quite ready to go that far — especially in terms of batting average — but I do anticipate that this will be the break-out season folks were predicting for last year. And now I’m going to go knock on wood (or, at least, imitation wood grain).

  3. sjm308 - Jan 20, 2014 at 1:55 PM

    I know Bryce is talented but I think the Cy Young might be a bit tough.

    To me, he is the most important player in our franchise, and its not even close. He plays every day, he is an impact player, He is the kind of player you want to take your kid to see. You don’t want to miss his at-bats and you hope that the ball is hit near him to see what kind of catch or throw he will make. We were an American League team back in the 50s and 60s so I did not get to see Willie Mays BUT, I did get to see Mickey Mantle and we went to see the Yankees often. Mantle was that kind of player and he played hurt pretty much his entire career. I am hoping that will not be the case with Bryce but the reality is, he goes hard when he is on the field.

    I have said it often and will say it again. My first job as faux GM is to sign Bryce for 10 – 12 years right now!! I am not concerned with annual salaries and I think if you do this now, the money at the end of his 12 years will not be as impactful (not sure that is a word?). In 12 years he will be 33 and hopefully still have more in his tank. By then, I am also hopeful that he will not want to change teams as he has led us to multiple World Series and several championships.

    Yes, I am definitely all in for Bryce

    Go Nats!!!

    • Eugene in Oregon - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:02 PM

      Just as a thought experiment, what it would take to convince Scott Boras to recommend a 10-year extension to his client? I’ve got to believe it would have to be a number we can’t even imagine.

  4. Doc - Jan 20, 2014 at 2:55 PM

    Bryce gets back to his ‘pre-hitting wall’ HR pace and smacks 40+

    Gooooooooooooooooooooooooooo Harps!!!! Gooooooooooooooooo Nats!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  5. edshelton2013 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:10 PM

    I’m hoping Williams will sit Bryce occasionally against tough left-handers. (as well as Laroche).
    They won’t like it but it will give TyMo some ABs and we’ll find out if he’s a keeper.

  6. chaz11963 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:37 PM

    Totally agree with sjm- as goes Bryce, so go the Nats. If Bryce can play in 140 games this year, along with Werth and Ramos, I can’t see them not playing in October.

    • unkyd59 - Jan 20, 2014 at 3:50 PM

      Paraphrasing Ralph Houck (on Mickey), if I’m not mistaken …..? ;)

      • sjm308 - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:16 PM

        Nope, those are my thoughts as I got to see him as I was growing up and becoming hooked on this game.

  7. cayucosbaseballconservancy - Jan 20, 2014 at 4:45 PM

    Or? He learns to hit left handers throwing those sliders by getting his brother Bryan pitch hours of batting practice to him.

    He hits .385, 45 doubles, 35 homers, 140 RBI, 100 BB, even with some minor injuries. People compare him to Ted Williams.

    • sjm308 - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:18 PM

      Would you really compare him to Williams over Mantle? I watched both and Williams was almost like he didn’t care about his fielding. He made the normal plays but never really extended himself. Mantle was all over the place and of course he was playing CF. I see Bryce more like Mickey but man could Williams hit.

  8. chiefwj - Jan 20, 2014 at 5:50 PM

    Like sjm308, I saw Mantle a lot growing up. I think the potential comparison is valid. Three big differences–

    1) Bryce has yet to prove he can hit left-handers nearly as well as right-handers; Mantle, of course, was a switch-hitter who absolutely killed righthanded pitching.

    2) While Mantle was an amazing physical specimen in the pre-weight lifting era (ever see him with his shirt off?), Bryce is simply much bigger, even without the weights (6′ 5″” v. 5′ 11″ (maybe)) Whether that translates into more production remains to be seen.

    3) Mantle came never took care of himself and, while he broke a foot trying to make a catch against a chain link fence, at least some of his other injuries were due to not training, playing hungover, etc.. Also, if you look at Mantle’s monthly splits, he was significantly less productive in July than May or June, less productive in August than in July, and much less productive in September than in any other month. Some of that has to be attributed to the cumulative effects of too many late nights and booze over the course of the season. As good as he was, I think it’s inarguable that he would have been better if he took better care of himself. Bryce (so far) is totally the opposite, and there’s no reason to suspect that will change.

  9. Another_Sam - Jan 20, 2014 at 6:27 PM

    I think that the best case above is the most likely. Of course, I’m in a spring training frame of mind.

    And if there’s any position player who could sweep the awards, including the Cy Young, it’s Bryce. I guess the only award he’s not eligible for is rookie of the year.

    SJM, I’m with you regarding the comparisons. But for me, the staggering number for both those guys — Williams and Mantle — is unbelievable, astounding number of seasons that they dominated. [My entire childhood and then some, btw.] Bryce has a long way ahead of him to get there.

    • Another_Sam - Jan 20, 2014 at 6:29 PM

      Of course, Bryce has one staggering, astounding number already, and I quote from above: “Age on Opening Day 2014: 21″ When I was 21, . . .

  10. David Proctor - Jan 20, 2014 at 7:36 PM

    FWIW, Bryce has similarity scores most similar to Tony Conigliaro (956), Ken Griffey (954) and Mickey Mantle (954). His wRC+ is actually better than both Griffey and Conigliaro during their age 19-20 seasons. From his rookie to his sophomore seasons, he cut down his strike out rate, increased his walk rate, increased his ISO and his avg flyball distance. And that was on a bad knee.

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