October 25, 2014

World Series or Bust–Washington Nationals 2013 Roundtable Part II: Expectations for Harper

With opening day right around the corner, each day until then District Sports Page’s Nats staff will take a look at one of the biggest issues concerning your 2013 Washington Nationals. We borrowed a quote for the title of the series from Nats manager Davey Johnson’s Spring Training proclamation that he expects a “World Series or Bust” in Natstown this season.

We’ve also invited the other credentialed blogs to chip in with their answers. Then on Opening Day, look for the results to the DC Chapter of the Internet Baseball Writers Association Preseason Survey, where we polled The Natosphere on various topics related to the Nats, as we have for the last several seasons.

Participants:

Dave Nichols, Editor-in-Chief, District Sports Page
Alyssa Wolice, Staff Writer, District Sports Page
Ted Starkey, Contributor to DSP, author and Editor at SBNation.com
Ryan Kelley, DSP Prospects Writer and founder of BaseballNewshound.com
Patrick Reddington, Editor, Federal Baseball
Joe Drugan, Managing Editor, The Nats Blog
Tom Bridge, Editor, WeLoveDC.com

Part I: Grading the Offseason, can be found here.

Part II: After his mostly spectacular Rookie of the Year campaign, what do you expect from Bryce Harper this season?

Dave: Denard Span’s arrival will allow Harper to slide to left field, with Jayson Werth in right. Left is a less-taxing defensive role for Harper, who you have to remember was a junior college catcher two years ago. But the sky is the limit at the plate for him. He’s been crushing everything in spring training, and while spring stats are no indication of future success, all projections for Harper have him continuing his path toward superstardom. I wouldn’t expect him to win a batting title with his strikeout rate, but a .280/.345/.510 line with 30 bombs out of the Nats’ three-hole wouldn’t be out of the question for the second-year player.

I hope we’ll see Harper continue to mature as a person and player, especially on the base paths. He trended toward reckless in the running game last season, and while that might be exciting to watch, hopefully he learns to pick his spots and can stay aggressive but under control. Regardless, he will be one of the most exciting players to watch in all of baseball as he grows into the mega-star he seems destined to be.

Alyssa: I expect consistency from Harper this year – at the plate, in the outfield and in dealings with the media. I expect he’s going to make some blunders – I think we’ll even blame the Sun Monster for a few of them – but I also want to see him gun runners out at first like he nearly did on at least one occasion in spring training (had Adam LaRoche been paying attention at first, he could have succeeded).

Call it wishful thinking – or setting the bar high for someone who has set it high enough for himself – but I expect to see a more patient Harper, perhaps one that reads the outside breaking ball with a little more clarity. It’s already clear that the sophomore bulked up a bit in the offseason – perhaps this will translate into greater power at the plate, resulting in more RBI. He’s in good company no less with Span and Werth likely ahead of him and a healthier Ryan Zimmerman behind him. This is a Bryce Harper that can handle pressure better than most guys nearly double his age – and this is a Nationals ball club that has finally experienced what it means to face high-pressure situations as a unit. Harper is too young to be deemed a clubhouse leader, but he’s not too young to lead by example. He helped rejuvenate this ball club, after all – and I anticipate nothing less this year.

All that is to say – I expect fewer intentionally shattered bats.

Ted: Harper played with a lot of confidence in his rookie season, and certainly, you will expect that he should do well in his second season. Although tape of his at-bats will make their way around Major League clubhouses and pitchers will look to find any holes in his swing, he certainly seems to exude enough confidence and ability to adjust his own game to prevent a regression in his production, and could have another big step forward in his career in 2013.

Ryan: Barring anything unforeseen—like a steroid bust or a serious injury—Harper looks like an All-Star this year. Sophomore slumps are extraordinarily common, but my money is on Harper to overcome one.

Harper is moving to an outfield corner, which will allow him to focus more on developing his bat. And that’s important, because that’s his best tool, no matter how good he looked in center. Look how hard it is for guys like Tulo and Mauer—guys that play demanding positions—to reach their full potential with the bat and stay healthy. You have to wonder, if they were playing less-demanding positions, how much better could they be at the plate?

Harper was already a plus defender as a rookie in centerfield, so there’s a good chance he’ll be an elite gloveman in left field this season. His arm is top-shelf and his a tremendous athlete.

At the plate, his left-handed bat is scary-good for his age, and he’s on the perfect team to capitalize. The Nats’ lineup, with Zimmerman, Werth, Desmond (and Rendon soon), offers plenty of right-handed protection. He not only showed incredible power last year, but also a nice batting eye. He started hitting outside pitches with authority later in the season, and even turned the corner in September—the time of the year when most rookies are falling apart. He absolutely hammered right-handed pitchers last year, and considering his talent, should be a .280/.360/.480 hitter this season with plenty of room for more.

Patrick: I’m not sure you’re going to see the .330/.400/.643 Harper that finished out the stretch run totally locked in, but those numbers wouldn’t be that far off from what Mike Trout (.326/.399/.564) did with his 20-year-old season. Once he came out of his slump in the last two months of 2012, Harper had a .288/.349/.553 from August through September/October which is a little bit closer to what the Bill James is projecting for him in his second season in D.C. (.272/.347/.476). I could see Harper hitting 30 doubles, 30 HRs and stealing 20+ bases in a full season.

I think there might be some learning in left field, but he’s picked up everything else fairly quickly considering he was drafted as a catcher in June of 2010 and already has a full season in the outfield in the majors on his resume. It will be interesting to see how hitting in the three-hole affects Harper’s numbers since he’s likely to have some runners on with Span and Werth in front of him. As Ryan Zimmerman joked in an interview recently, the Nats’ hitters are going to have seen 15 pitches every game before the opposing pitchers are through the top two hitters. It’s going to be fun to watch.

Joe: I fully expect Bryce Harper to have an outstanding season, and one in which he may even be in MVP contention.  Do I think he’ll win the NL MVP in 2013? No. But I do think he’ll get enough votes to crack the top 10, and maybe even the top five. Harper will hit in the three spot this year, ahead of both Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. He’ll have opportunities drive in runs and be driven in, which is infinitely important to those that vote for the MVP.

Further, he has star power on a team that will be closely watched by national baseball writers all season long, so he’ll be acknowledged and not forgotten. Playing the corner outfield should allow him to stay more fresh throughout the year as well, so we can see the power that we’ve all come to expect from him.

Tom: Well, kid, welcome to the big leagues. You’ve been close to the NLCS, you’ve been an everyday player, you’ve been a fan favorite. This is the year that everything gets harder. Pitchers will be gunning for you, and there’s a big X on your back as a fiery member of this Nationals squad. What I expect from you, Bryce, is maturity beyond your years, and a steady head amid the flames. There’s no question that this is going to be a big year for you, but I know that you have your goals in mind.
 
I’m expecting a year where you make some errors in left as you get used to a new position. I’m expecting you to hit a mid-season slump that will put the national media on your back like a pack of wild dogs. I’m expecting you to hit 30 home runs, and I’m expecting 100+ RBI. Here’s the thing: put all the pundits out of your head and keep playing the game like you love it, that you were born to do it.
About Dave Nichols

Dave Nichols is Editor-in-Chief of District Sports Page. He is credentialed to cover the Washington Nationals, Capitals, Wizards and Mystics. Dave also covers national college football and basketball and Major League Soccer for Associated Press. He spent four years in radio covering the Baltimore Orioles, Washington Redskins and the University of Maryland football and basketball teams. Dave is a life-long D.C. sports fan and attended his first pro game in 1974 — the Caps’ second game in existence. You can follow him on Twitter @DaveNicholsDSP

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  1. [...] Part I: Grading the Offseason Part II: What do you expect from Bryce Harper? [...]

  2. [...] I: Grading the Offseason Part II: What do you expect from Bryce Harper? Part III: What aspect of the Nats has you most excited for the coming [...]

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