Since the start of the 2012 season, one of the most talked-about players in all of baseball has been Washington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper. The 21 year old was called up that year at the tender age of 19, and was extremely impressive. His 20 home runs, 58 RBIs and 18 stolen bases warranted him a trip to his first All-Star Game, as well as the Rookie of the Year Award. Since then , Harper’s young career has been something of a roller coaster ride. He has shown flashes of brilliance, but will he ever be the once in a generation talent many experts believed him to be?
Harper’s journey through the Major Leagues
After winning the ROY in 2012, Harper looked to be getting even better in 2013. Through April of that season, he hit .344 with 9 home runs and 18 RBIs. For that first month, he seemed ready to become an MVP-type player, following in the footsteps of fellow outfield phenom and 2012 AL ROY Mike Trout. However, that’s when things started going downhill.
In May of 2013, Harper hurt his knee crashing into the wall in Dodger Stadium. A month-long trip to the disabled list did not turn out to be enough, as he would not be the same player after returning. For the year he actually put up nearly identical statistics to his rookie year, with 20 home runs, 58 RBIs, and a .274 batting average. These were good numbers, but slightly misleading, considering Harper was at his best in April. After his injury, though, he struggled mightily at the plate, partly because of the residual effects of his knee injury.
Harper may have put up solid numbers over the last two years, but he has regressed significantly in 2014. After his knee healed, he had a solid stretch in the month of April, but then injured his thumb sliding into third base. This kept him on the DL for two months, and he has not been able to put up numbers remotely close to past performances. His batting average currently stands at a career low .249 with just 4 home runs and 16 RBIs.
The problem of being overhyped
It’s easy to look at Harper’s career and say that he has been overrated ever since being called up in 2012. Indeed, this argument does have some merit. Over the last three years, plenty of players have had better numbers than Harper, but it seems as though he gets all the attention because of the player people expected him to be.
As of right now, Harper is not even close to being one of the best players in baseball, let alone his own team, as Ian Desmond, Jayson Werth and Anthony Rendon have all had better years. Harper’s presence in the lineup has not really helped his team so far, and there are some rumblings of Washington manager Matt Williams’ supposed plans to send him down for a stint in the minors.
Harper is not the first instance of a player being touted as a once in a generation talent, though. When Braves outfielder Justin Upton was drafted first overall by the Diamondbacks in 2005, many believed that he would become a perennial MVP contender. Upton has had a very good career with Arizona and Atlanta as a solid heart of the lineup hitter, but he has only been in contention for the MVP once in his 8-year career.
But this is just one example of hype affecting how people see a player. There are plenty more we could discuss, but the point remains: with players like Harper and Upton, the hype surrounding them causes disappointment among fans when they perform at anything below a superstar level status.
What does this mean for Harper’s future?
Despite this, one thing people forget to put into perspective is Harper’s current age: 21. Most prospects have not been called up by this age, but Harper has been in the majors for three years. In fact, he was the youngest player in the National League until just recently, when the Cubs called up highly touted middle infielder Javier Baez. Even though he has had a bad year, he has the rest of 2014 and the entirety of 2015 to turn things around before the Nationals need to worry about his next contract.
One of the most important factors in determining how high Harper’s ceiling is should be how well he can recover from injury. During the offseason, he needs to make sure that both his knee and his thumb are fully healed. His recent slump is due in large part to injury — he cannot play at a high level until completely healthy.
Aside from that, he needs to prove that he is not going to be injury prone throughout the rest of his career. Too often, great players find that they are a shell of their former selves after suffering through multiple injuries. Harper needs to show that he is durable by trying to prevent injuries before they happen. It is great that he always goes all out, but by being more conservative, he should be able to stay healthy for longer.
Regardless of whether or not he has been overhyped, Harper is without a doubt a player with fantastic tools. He definitely has the ability to take his game to the next level, but he must avoid injury in order to do so. If that happens, then he could realistically live up to his billing and develop into one of the best players in baseball.
Joe Setyon, sports editor of The Collegian at Grove City College, contributes to Three for Ten Sports as a baseball writer.