Washington Nationals: OF Bryce Harper
After hitting .330 with 42 home runs and 1.109 OPS in 2015, while winning National League MVP, Harper fell off dramatically last year (.243/.373/.441 slash-line, 24 home runs, 86 RBI). He also played through a shoulder issue, despite a denial of it by Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo last August as Harper’s production declined, and now fully healthy Harper has started 2017 strongly (.404, six home runs , 18 RBI and 16 runs scored entering Thursday’s action).
Harper has been so highly touted for so long it’s easy to forget one important thing. October 16 of this year will be his 25th birthday. He seems to have curbed his aggressive playing style a bit in the interest of better durability, playing in at least 147 games in back-to-back seasons. That said, he did set career-highs in stolen bases (21) and attempts (31) last year. Yes, a 20-20 season was widely considered, and really was all things considered, a down year for Harper.
After playing a bit of all three outfield spots early in his career, Harper has settled in as the right fielder for the Nationals over the last couple seasons. He simply has to be adequate defensively to return great value, while not running into outfield walls as often as he used to, and Harper seems to now recognize the high risk and low reward of playing the outfield with uncontrolled reckless abandon.
Harper may just be scratching the surface of what he’s capable of, with 2015 as a shining glimpse of it. The Nationals surely prefer not to think about what may happen after the 2018 season, when Harper is scheduled to hit free agency.