He’s still young. He’s brash. He’s arrogant. He is still the face of the franchise, a two-time National League All-Star, and he’s only 22 years old. Bryce Harper is many things, but with the slew of injuries facing the NL East-favorite Washington Nationals, the one thing he’s going to have to be for the team to remain atop the division in 2015, is healthy. Harper has the reputation for going all-out, even to the detriment of the team. He’ll run through a wall if he believes that’s what it takes to make the play, even if the Nats are down big, that’s just his style of play.
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Unfortunately, during his short three-year career, he’s missed time, and lots of it. In each of his first three seasons in the bigs, his games played have decreased. From 139 as a rookie, to 118 as a sophomore, to only 100 last year. He is the antithesis of his American League counterpart, Mike Trout. With the uncertainty facing several of his teammates (Denard Span, Jayson Werth, and Yunel Escobar), it is imperative that Harper get off to a fast start and above all else, remain in the lineup everyday. Any type of injury that sidelines him before the rest of his team is back to full strength, could spell doom for the Nationals, as the Miami Marlins and New York Mets, not to mention the Atlanta Braves, will all be looking to pounce if Washington shows any signs of faltering early.
Harper’s numbers look solid over a 162-game average: .272 batting average, 25 home runs, 68 runs batted in, a slugging percentage of .465, and an OPS of .816. The only problem, is that those are for a full season, not the average of 119 games per season that he’s displayed through three seasons in the big leagues. While he is capable of the dynamic play at any given moment (such as the luring and subsequent throw out at second base of Alex Presley on Monday afternoon) he could also strike out, go into the clubhouse tunnel, bang some things around, and end up like Kevin Brown as a New York Yankees’ laughing stock.
Entering his fourth season, whether he likes it or he doesn’t, Bryce Harper needs to find the happy-medium that allows for his God-given gifts and abilities to be on full display each day for the Nationals, while knowing as a veteran when and where to tone it down. Playing 100 games isn’t going to do his team much good, if he’s laid up with any number of injuries that can affect a ballplayer who goes balls to the wall for every pitch, nine innings or more per night, and as a result, misses time when the team truly needs him, which is at the start of the season while his teammates heal, and for the stretch run in August and September. If Bryce Harper can’t find the sense of maturity to know when to say when now, he most likely never will, and will probably never reach his full potential that made him the franchise-altering, number one overall selection in the 2010 MLB First Year Player Draft.