The Rise Of Bryce Harper

Five years ago Bryce Harper was drafted as the first overall pick in the MLB draft of 2010. Five years ago Bryce Harper was just a hyped-up kid who had taken his GED and was going to junior college at the age of 17 in order to start his professional baseball career earlier. The dropping out of high school ordeal rubbed many people the wrong way, and suddenly there was a Bryce Harper hate train. The words “overrated” and “arrogant” were thrown around, as well as predictions that Harper would be a bust, would never live up to the hype. However, for every hate train there is a bandwagon, and there were just as many people on the Bryce Harper fan bus as there were on the hate train. For every person that labeled Harper a future bust, there were two more predicting MVP awards and All-Star game appearances. Bryce Harper was 17, and he already had incredible expectations as well as ridiculous critics.

Harper would enroll at College of Southern Nevada of the Scenic West Atlantic Conference (SWAC) for the 2010 college season.           Side note: The SWAC, like the MLB, uses wooden bats in their conference games, thus allowing Harper’s transition from junior college to the MLB to be easier.

Harper slashed .443/.526/.987 with 31 home runs (shattering the previous school record of 12) and 98 RBI in 66 games at Southern Nevada, and led his team to the NJCAA World Series tournament. In the Western district finals, Harper went 6-for-7 with 5 RBIs and hit for the cycle. A single day later, in a doubleheader, he went 2-for-5 with a three-run double in the first game, and in the second game went 6-for-6 with 4 home runs, a triple, and a double. Harper would win the 2010 Golden Spikes award, the award given to the best amateur baseball player of the year. Still only 17, Bryce Harper was quickly making a bigger name for himself.

Mere days after Southern Nevada lost in the NJCAA World Series, Bryce Harper was taken first overall in the MLB draft by the Washington Nationals, their second #1 overall pick in as many years (the team selected Stephen Strasburg in 2009).  After being drafted Harper, originally a catcher, would report  to the Nationals fall instructional league as an outfielder. This move was made in order to elongate Harper’s career, accelerate his journey to the bigs, and to keep promising catcher Wilson Ramos in the future plans. Harper was represented by Scott Boras, and almost never made it to Washington, as the two sides came to an agreement on a deal just in time before the signing deadline. Literally, just in time. Like twenty-six seconds before the deadline type-of in time. The eventual deal was a five-year, $9.9-million contract, and Harper was introduced on the 26th of August, 2010. Harper on why he chose his number (34),  “I always loved Mickey Mantle, three and four equals seven.”

Harper hit .319 with a .407 OBP ( leading his team in hits, homers, RBIs and walks) in the Nationals’ fall instructional league, and was then rewarded with a roster spot on the Arizona Fall League squad, where he was the second youngest player in league history, and batted .343 and slugged .729. Harper participated in Spring Training that year (2011, now 18 years old) slashing .389/.450/.556 before being optioned to single-A Hagerstown. Harper struggled to start his minor league career, and received contact lenses after a visit to optomerist Dr. Keith Smiths on who had said, “I don’t know how you ever hit before. You have some of the worst eyes I’ve ever seen.” After receiving his new contacts, Harper quickly turned his season around, appearing for Team USA in the MLB Future’s Game, and finishing 2011 at double-A Harrisburg. Bryce Harper was living up to the hype, and he was attracting a following.

2012 rolled around and Harper started the year at Triple-A Syracuse, slashing .243/.325/.365 in 21 games before being called up on April 27th to take the roster spot of Ryan Zimmerman, who had been placed on the disabled list.  Harper made his Major League debut the next day against Chad Billingsley and the Los Angeles Dodgers. He recorded his first Major League hit with a double in his third at-bat against Billingsley and got his first RBI on a sacrifice fly in the top of the ninth against Javy Guerra. Harper continued to impress, after being hit by a pitch in the first inning on May 6, 2012 against the Philadelphia Phillies, and advancing to third, Harper stole home plate, becoming the first teenager to steal home plate since 1964. Phillies pitcher Cole Hamels later admitted he had intentionally hit Harper, and was suspended five games.

One week later Harper hit his first MLB home run off San Diego Padres pitcher Tim Stauffer. He was the youngest player to homer in the major leagues since Adrian Beltre in 1998. Bryce Harper would be named Rookie of the Month in May. Bryce Harper was 19, and making an impression in the bigs, as he would be a last-minute addition to the All-Star game after Giancarlo Stanton was forced to miss the event. Harper’s 2012 slash line ended as a healthy .270/..340/.477 with 22 home runs and 59 RBI in 139 games. Bryce Harper had impressed in his rookie year, took home Rookie of the Year honors, and many waited anxiously to see what the 2013 season would bring for the super-kid.

2013 started well for Bryce Harper. Really well, actually, as the 20-year-old hit two homers on Opening Day against the Miami Marlins. Harper was selected to his second All-Star Game in as many years, and was selected for the Home Run Derby, which he ultimately lost to Oakland A’s outfielder Yoenis Cespedes. Harper played in 118 games in 2013, slashing .274/.368/.486 and hitting 20 home runs. It was a bit of a down season for Bryce Harper, as he and many others had expected better in his second year, but many people attributed Harper’s struggles after the All-Star game to a left-knee injury, among others, that had nagged Harper through the season. Harper would have offseason surgery to remove a bursa sac from his knee.

2014 was the year Harper and the Nationals hoped the now 21-year-old outfielder could finally break out. This proved not to be the case, as Harper would injure his thumb sliding into third base on April 25th against the Padres. An MRI revealed that the injury was a torn ulnar collateral ligament in Harper’s left thumb. Harper hit the DL and would miss more than two months as a result of the injury, which clearly nagged him all season as  in 100 games, Harper batted .273 with mere 13 home runs and 32 RBI. The doubters, which had begun to resurface back in 2013, came out in the earnest after the rough 2014 campaign. Words like “bust” and “injury prone” were beginning to be thrown around. Bryce Harper was struggling, and there was some frustration, from fans, from the club, and especially from the man himself.

Now it’s 2015 and 39 games in if the season ended today Harper would be MVP easily. Now 22 years old, Bryce Harper is leaving a trail of fire wherever he goes. The outfielder is hitting .338/.476 with a .726(!) slugging percentage, 14 home runs (including three in one game) and 37 RBI, all numbers before tonight’s game against the Yankees. 39 games in and Bryce Harper has already eclipsed his home run and RBI totals from 2014. (NOTE: Bryce Harper has homered again while this article was being written. Seriously.). Bryce Harper has clearly taken all of the hate, all of the negativity, and all of the doubts, and promptly balled them up and hit them 450 feet, or into the next zip code, whichever comes first.

Bryce Harper had attracted quite a bit of negativity and hate over his baseball career prior to this season, and so much of it was unwarranted as well. I can say we all remember the “clown question” fiasco in Toronto, but for those of you who don’t, here’s a refresher: After a game against the Toronto Blue Jays on their turf, a reporter asked if Harper would take advantage of Ontario’s lower drinking age (19, versus 21 in the U.S.) by drinking a celebratory beer with his teammates. Harper, who is a Mormon and does not drink alcohol, replied, “I’m not going to answer that. That’s a clown question, bro.” There are some who did not take kindly to Harper’s comments. But for what? So a nineteen year old kid isn’t exactly Abraham Lincoln when it comes to words, big shocker. And let’s be honest here, that wasn’t exactly a totally appropriate question anyway.

Sure, a person could hate on the guy for dropping out of school to start his baseball career, but think of it this way: Bryce Harper knew he would be a baseball player at that point. Really, he took the initiative and started down his career path earlier than some teenagers ever will. Sure, dropping out of school isn’t a great thing to do and shouldn’t be encouraged, but in this case Bryce Harper didn’t need to learn trigonometry or analyze why the curtains were blue, because he would clearly be making his living on the baseball field. Now sure, as a fan getting frustrated when this supposed future superstar who continues to drudge along may be warranted, but I think Harper has shattered those doubts and revived those fans faith with his performance thus far. Bryce Harper plays the game the right way too. He always goes 110%, he wants to make the big play, he wants to be the guy for his team. So the man shows some emotion sometimes? When did that become a crime? Isn’t displays of emotion exactly what baseball needs? Haven’t we been complaining that the game has become too slow, too dull? Bryce Harper is the adrenaline shot baseball needs. Showing emotion when striving for greatness shouldn’t be discouraged in any sense. Players like Bryce Harper are making the game exciting again. Every time this guy steps on the field anything could happen, and that alone draws fans to the park.

Bryce Harper has proven he can play, and with his performance thus far (now 10 homers in last 12 games, again, not counting tonight’s game against the Yankees) it’s time to stop hating on the emerging star and enjoy his ascension.

2 Responses

  1. John Zalewski

    Bryce Harper is not disliked for being a great athlete and good ball player, but he is disliked for acting like he is the best player to walk the planet. He could use some of Paul Konerko’s humility and act with some class. Harper deserves the hate that he gets, and should get even more. But as a fan of the game and of rising stars, I would love for Bryce to change his attitude and act like a real gentleman.

    Reply

Leave a Reply