Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper leads the league in home runs so far this spring. The former MVP appears poised for another big season.
Rewind back to May 4, 2016. Bryce Harper is the reigning National League MVP for the Washington Nationals, has an OPS of 1.021 and just won NL Player of the Month for April. He’s receiving support in the conversation for the best player in baseball and some consider him worthy of a $500 million contract once he hits free agency in 2018.
Fast forward to present day and a lot has changed. Harper’s down year last season took him out of the MVP conversation. Whether he was hiding an injury or simply couldn’t find his swing, no one knows for sure what plagued Harper throughout the season.
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So far this spring however, the early returns have been promising. Harper leads the majors with six home runs and owns an OPS of 1.394. While Spring Training numbers don’t mean much once the regular season begins, his swings have looked much more controlled.
Take a look at Harper’s hips as he hits a homer on March 11. His swing is violent and always has been, but he’s able to keep his hips from flying open while making contact. He looks much more comfortable in the box and isn’t swinging out of his cleats. Some may say not to pay attention to spring numbers, but he looks a lot like his 2015 self.
After gaining 15 pounds this off-season, Harper’s appeared to have taken his off year to heart. He posted workout videos on Instagram throughout the winter and opted not to play in the World Baseball Classic to focus on preparing for this season.
The Nats’ lineup is certainly going to put him in a position to succeed. Trea Turner, Daniel Murphy, Adam Eaton and Anthony Rendon figure out fill out the rest of the top five of manager Dusty Baker’s batting order. Turner and Murphy were the runners-up of the Rookie of the Year and MVP races, respectively and both Eaton and Rendon posted an OPS of .790 or higher last season.
Harper will figure to be right in the middle of that mix. Regardless of who hits behind him, Harper should see plenty of pitches to hit — especially at the beginning of this year. Pitchers will probably still give him the benefit of the doubt as an All-Star-caliber player, but he’s no longer as feared as he was a year ago.
The hot streak Harper’s on right now might not carry over into the regular season, but he definitely appears to be in a good spot with Opening Day around the corner.