After being touted as one of the best outfield prospects in a long time, Bryce Harper made his debut last season to much fanfare. The media attention and Harper’s reputation as being arrogant earned him a bit of ire across the MLB, most notably from Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels. Hamels intentionally drilled Harper in order to, according to him, “welcome [Harper] to the big leagues.” Harper responded by stealing home after the HBP put him on base and a single moved him to third. This feat would set the tone for the rest of Harper’s rookie season, when he posted the greatest season by any teenager in baseball history. He hit .270/.340/.477 with 18 SB, 22 HR, and 4.9 fWAR in 139 games, surpassing Hall of Famer Mel Ott for the most WAR by any teenager in a season. Heading into 2013, many prognosticators are excited about Harper, so much so that he is a popular NL MVP candidate. If he can make a Mike Trout-like leap, then that is certainly in range, but our projectors are slightly less optimistic:
ZiPS: 578 AB, .274/.346/.486, 70 RBI, 89 RS, 21 SB, 26 HR
MLB.com: 590 AB, .278/.350/.480, 89 RBI, 105 RS, 21 SB, 25 HR
CBSSports: 585 AB, .284/.357/.499, 69 RBI, 108 RS, 22 SB, 26 HR
ESPN Fantasy: 586 AB, .266/.339/.478, 93 RBI, 87 RS, 22 SB, 27 HR
Averages: 585 AB, .276/.348/.486, 81 RBI, 97 RS, 23 SB, 26 HR
These projections are a bit on the conservative side for improvement, expecting an uptick of only a few points in each category. If you want to be somewhat conservative in your fantasy draft, just look at these projections and realize Harper probably isn’t the #1 outfielder. However, he has a ton of upside. He scored 98 runs in just 130 games last season, but he had only 59 RBI, although both of those numbers are subject to a great deal of change. Harper will be the regular #3 hitter behind Denard Span and Jayson Werth, when last year he hit behind only Werth, who was injured for a long stretch of the year. Obviously, this will provide plenty more opportunities for RBI, and it would not be a surprise to see him challenge 100, though 85-90 is more likely. Meanwhile, he has the same two players hitting behind him as last year in Ryan Zimmerman and Adam LaRoche. He is missing Mike Morse, who batted him in 12 times last season, which will hurt his runs scored totals, but he should exceed his 2012 totals, with more playing time, a higher OBP, and a similar supporting lineup. Overall, he will be a great fantasy outfielder, and arguably the best in a keeper league, but likely more in the 5-10 range. He will follow up his Rookie of The Year campaign on the Nationals with an even better second act, with power, speed, t-shirt worthy quotes, and candidacy for any award you can think of.