Jan 20, 2014, 12:00 PM EST
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.
FINAL NL EAST STANDINGS
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As ESPN-980 AM's Nats Insider, Mark makes daily appearances on the station's various shows. Here's the 2015 schedule (subject to change)...
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