The hype surrounding Bryce Harper has been snowballing since 2009 when the words “Chosen One” were plastered next to his wiry, 16-year-old frame on the cover of Sports Illustrated.
After three seasons of injuries, awkward interviews (“That’s a clown question, bro”), massive bat flips, arguments with managers, face-planting into outfield walls, and staring down opposing pitchers —Harper is finally getting it. And boy, is he really getting it.
The baby-faced teenager from Las Vegas has grown up. Harper, now 22, is a stout 6-foot-3, 225-pound, bearded hunk of baseball-crushing mass for the Washington Nationals — and still the second-youngest player in the National League. The first overall pick in the 2010 draft really began to turn heads during last October’s NLDS, when he hit three home runs and amassed 15 total bases in four games against Madison Bumgarner and the eventual World Series champion San Francisco Giants. Harper finished 2014 hot and began 2015 on fire.
So far this season, Harper has turned in an MVP performance. Entering Wednesday’s action, he is leading the NL in several major offensive categories including: HRs (12), walks (30), runs scored (29), and OPS (1.119). Harper is second in the NL in RBIs (31), total bases (81), WAR (2.2 according to FanGraphs, 2.6 to Baseball Almanac) and slugging percentage (.675), and finds himself in the top 10 in extra base hits (20, 3rd), on-base percentage (.444, 5th), and doubles (8, 7th).
The month of May is just two weeks old, but Harper is dominating it. In just 12 games, the Nationals’ right fielder is hitting .349/.451/.907 with seven homers, 16 RBIs, and 39 total bases. Within the past week Harper has been posting video-game-like numbers, with a slash line of .500/.577/.1.182 with four home runs, 11 RBIs, 26 total bases, and scoring eight times in just 26 plate appearances.
While the numbers are eye-popping, nothing grabbed the sporting world’s attention like Harper did last week in which he launched six home runs in three games. Harper started his onslaught on Wednesday, May 6 when he blasted three long balls against the Marlins’ Tom Koehler, sending two into the upper deck of Nationals Park, and knocking in five runs (Our sympathies to poor, poor Koehler). Harper hit two more blasts in his next game against the Braves two days later, and capped off the barrage with a walk-off, two-run shot against the Braves’ Cody Martin in the bottom of the 9th last Saturday.
Harper has come a long way since making his big-league debut back in April 2012. No longer does he blow kisses and stare down opposing pitchers after taking them deep, or argue with his own manager — but he still has a flare for the excess. Whether it’s stopping to admire every long ball he smashes until it lands in the upper deck, berating an umpire on a bad check-swing call, or the over-the-top hair flip after removing his batting helmet — Harper has baseball’s attention. And when you’re that good, and that young, you can pretty much flip your hair whenever you want.
Harper already has two All-Star Game appearances and a Rookie of the Year award on his short, but distinguished resume, and based on how Harper’s 2015 campaign has started, it appears he’s aiming for an MVP trophy to add to the mantle.
Here’s to hoping that Harper’s hot bat and fiery attitude don’t cool down anytime this summer.
— Written by Jake Rose, who is a part of the Athlon Sports Contributor Network. An avid baseball fan, Rose also takes time to do some play-by-play work for the radio broadcasts of Middle Tennessee State Blue Raider baseball games. He can be reached on Twitter @JakeRose24.