Despite the fact that many critics have dubbed Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper as “overrated”, the former No.1 overall draft pick already has several accolades to his name in his four major league seasons.
Harper won the National League Rookie of the Year award in 2012 after a dazzling rookie campaign that helped lead the Nationals to their first ever postseason appearance. He’s been an all-star twice already, and given his excellent start to the 2015 season, I fully expect him to be back at the Midsummer’s Classic this summer as well.
Yesterday, Harper received his most recent accolade when he was named National League Player of the Week by MLB. Harper was, without a doubt, the best player on the planet last week—belting six home runs with 13 RBIs. Of Harper’s six homers, five of them came over a two-game span in which he helped lead the Nationals to big wins over the Braves. The 22-year-old posted a .455 batting average last week, guiding the Nationals to a 5-1 record.
Being named the Player of the Week may not seem like a huge deal, but it’s a testament to how important he’s been to the Nationals this season and how important he’ll continue to be as the race for the NL East continues into the summer. If Harper can stay healthy and keep his numbers up, he may very well end up in the conversation for the NL MVP come October, especially if the Nationals make the postseason.
While it’s still way, way, way too early to predict end-of-the-year awards, Harper has shown signs this season that he’s finally developed into the superstar player that we expected him to be when the Nationals drafted him in 2010. Well, “finally” isn’t the right word, because after all, he’s only 22 years old. But in his fourth season in the big leagues, Harper appears primed for success and he certainly has what it takes to guide the Nationals and himself to greatness this season.
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For that to happen, however, several things have to go right. For one, Harper has to keep producing with the bat and continue to be a leader of the offense. That shouldn’t be much of a problem for him, however, as he rarely slumps for extended periods of time and he appears to be playing the best baseball of his life this season. The other and, perhaps, more important thing that Harper has to do this season is stay healthy, which is something he hasn’t had nearly as much success with so far in his young career.
From crashing into walls to tearing apart his thumb sliding into bases, Harper has suffered more than his fair share of freak injuries that are, at least in part, due to his tendency to give 110 percent effort at everything he does. While his intensity is undoubtedly one of his greatest assets, the injuries that it has caused have forced him to spend significant time on the disabled list.
In 2013, injuries from when he crashed into the wall at Dodger’s Stadium limited him to just 118 games. Last season, the thumb injury limited him to a mere 100 games.
This year, however, Harper is healthy and in the lineup every single day, and the Nationals have already gotten a glimpse what the team can expect from him if he stays healthy all year long. In 32 games this season, Harper is already just two homers away from matching the 13 he hit last season. His 28 RBIs are just four under last season’s mark, and he’s only four doubles away from matching last year’s total in that category as well.
And, oh yeah, it’s only May. Harper has accomplished all of this in just over a month of regular season ball, and he might not even be in midseason form yet. Imagine what Harper’s numbers could look like and, more importantly, what he could do to help the Nationals if he stays in the lineup for another six months. Getting 145+ games from Harper in a season that seems to be his coming out party is a scary thought for the rest of the National League, but it’s something that the Nationals absolutely need.
Of course, Harper isn’t the only player who needs to stay healthy. I could easily switch out his name and write this exact same column for Wilson Ramos or Ryan Zimmerman, or any of the team’s starting pitchers. But the fact of the matter is that Harper is the heart and soul of this ball club and the team needs him in the lineup every day if they want to defend their NL East title and make a deep run in the postseason for the first time in team history.
Needless to say, all of this is easier said than done. Baseball is an unpredictable game, and there’s no telling what will happen over the course of a 162-game season. But as we’ve seen the last couple of weeks, Harper has the ability to lead this club to greatness, and a breakout season from him might just be what the Nationals need to take things to the next level in October.
It’s been fun to watch Harper dominate over the last couple of weeks, and there’s no doubt he’ll continue to tear it up as we head into the summer. And if he manages to stay healthy all season long, 2015 could be a historic year—both for him, and for his ball club.