By David Heck, Special to CBS Local Sports
CBS Local Sports will be profiling one young player from each Major League Baseball team every day for the next 30 days as part of our “30 Players 30 Days” spring training feature.
Bryce Harper, Outfielder, Washington Nationals
2012 season: 139 G, 533 AB, .270 BA, 22 HR, 59 RBI, 18 SB, .817 OPS
One of the big questions heading into last season was about how much of a role Bryce Harper would play for the Nationals. He didn’t make the team out of Spring Training, but that didn’t matter much. An injury to Jayson Werth opened the door for Harper to get some low-pressure experience in the big leagues, and he took advantage.
Harper had long been hyped – he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated when he was 15 – but he wasn’t necessarily expected to immediately succeed in the Majors. He had only gotten a handful of at-bats at Double-A and Triple-A, and he didn’t shine particularly brightly either time; he hit .256 with a .724 OPS in 37 Double-A games and .243 with a .690 OPS in 21 Triple-A games.
But when then-19-year-old Harper reached the Majors, something clicked. He hit the ground running, batting .271 with four homers and an .860 OPS in the month of May. He had his share of inconsistencies, as is the norm for young players, but Harper finished the year with a line that was very similar to the one he put up in that first month. It’s also worth noting that Harper’s best month came in September, when he hit .330 with seven longballs, four steals and a 1.049 OPS.
Though Harper is known for his power, perhaps the most impressive aspect of his rookie season was the fact that he contributed in just about every other facet of the game as well. He played good center field defense, he hit for a decent average, he took his fair share of walks and he stole bases at an acceptable clip. Harper also drew praise for his hard-nosed style of play, as he became known for going all-out all the time.
The future will only get brighter for Harper, who has a good chance to develop into a perennial All-Star and MVP candidate. The former No. 1 overall pick has immense power potential and could put together 40-home-run seasons if everything goes well. The fact that he’s already got a mature approach at the plate bodes well for both his average and on-base percentage. And at just 20 years old, he’s going to be athletic enough to play center field and run the bases well for a long time. Harper is going to be a key player for the Nationals this year and for years to come. This season, expect him to take another step forward as he travels the road to superstardom.
Next up on March 19: Miami Marlins