MLB15 Chin Music: Harper Time

1 Mar

I can feel it. The ice is about to break on this winter and unless you sell salt or woolen mittens for your livelihood, it can’t happen soon enough.

The thought of breaking ice takes me back to that Northern Exposure episode about cabin fever when the long winter in “Cicely (Alaska)” had libidos running high and fuses burning short. What a show. Now it’s Law & Order syndication saturation. Whoop-de friggin’ do.

Ice break also means veteran big leaguers & invitees got their gloves neatsfoot’d, set to venture to destinations South (AZ / FL) for baseball’s annual spring rites.

.............B.Harper.7.31.13.wc.Stegas4.thmbStaying in that break, or make it, vane, 2015 should prove one or the other for Washington Nationals’ outfielder star-in-the-making, Bryce Aron Max Harper, an alternate poster-boy for this upcoming campaign, if you’ve grown tired of Misters Trout, Bumgarner, Kershaw and Cabrera‘s faces gracing your mags.

Not make or break in the contractual sense, mind you.

Back in December, “Bam Bam” signed a 2-year extension ($7.5M) to the 5-year deal he inked when he was the first player chosen in the 2010 MLB draft.

But rather, make or break in the, ‘Will this guy ever live up to the hype?,’ sense.

When the 19-year old Harper finally arrived in the nation’s capital in 2012, it coincided with the National’s rise to prominence among the senior circuit’s contender class.

Old sage Davey Johnson was DC skipper that season when Harp took the NL-ROY award (.270, 98r, 22hr, 18sb), turned heads with an aggressive, sometimes cocky manner, and the Nationals nearly won 100 games (98-64) for the first time in franchise history (Expos) in capturing the Eastern crown but then fell to the Cardinals in the LDS (3-2).

In that short playoff, the Percheron-necked Harper didn’t exactly set the world on fire (.130, 2r, 2rbi, 1hr) but did put up comparable scoring stats to HOF-bound Mr. Jeter in his own rookie foray (‘95) in what would prove an annual event (ALDS: .412, 2r, 1rbi).

It is Mr. Harper’s 2014 post-season that should’ve set tongues a’ wagging.

.............Nationals.wc.SGS.lettermarkIn the 4-game series loss to eventual world champion San Francisco (1-3), Bryce batted an impressive .294 (5-17) with four extra-basers, including 3 home runs.

Clutch play is a special trait.

It resonates with teammates, fans and managers alike, but not surprisingly rides the bench in the minds of today’s sabermetrician, which may help explain, in part, why Mr. September, Clay Kershaw remains a favorite, while Misters Schilling, Morris, McGriff, Garvey and Hershiser must all still buy a ticket to enter the Hall of Fame.

Bryce has passed the clutch test which, admittedly, has been more of the ‘quiz’ variety (2 series), but a test is a test, right? Right.

If the 2-time All Star wants to keep turning heads, stay on the same page with Manager Matt Williams, help take his club deeper into the playoffs and garner one of those mid-mega-deals sometime down the road, he’ll need to meet these three goals in MLB15:

1) Stay healthy

No career-threatening injuries to this point, Harper nonetheless still incurs enough bangs and bruises, pulls and strains, to hit the disabled-list with some regularity. He’s yet to play a full major league season and has been on the decline in attendance (139, 118 and 100g (’14)) as he suffered a thumb injury in early ’14 that necessitated surgery.

You don’t want mess too much with ‘what works,’ but a little savvy in sliding technique and fielding finesse can go a long way in a longer season, too.

2) Cut down on strikeouts

I know, I know, the round-tripper is what parents hope to see when they take out a 2nd mortgage and finance their kids trip to a major league ball-park today. Ugh. But Harper’s strongest suit is not power, it’s run production. When he gets on base he often finds his way home. The nine triples his rookie campaign alone are testament to that fact.

............Nationals.9.17.13.T.Evanson.wc.thmbBut in abbreviated seasons, his strike out totals are 120 (139g), 94 (118) and 104 (100). If he doesn’t shorten-up his swing, get better command of the strike zone and cut down on his wiffs, if he doesn’t become a tougher out (OB%), his value drops and dingers turn desperate. Despite the power Bryce has displayed at times, he is a 15-20 homer guy. In the run department, he should be in the 90 to 100 range.

3) Maturation

Though seeming centered spiritually off the field (Bryce got engaged in 2014 (K.Varner)), Harper has shown a public disdain for managerial authority on more than one occasion and seems to carry a small chip on his shoulder when at the ball-park and related venues (“That‘s a clown question, bro®”). The press can be an irritant, no doubt.

Wound-up tight can come in handy when reporters deal dirty, or, if the intensity is channeled into a competitive spirit on-diamond that promotes team success.

But when it enables a divisive individualism at expense of the cooperative spirit that leads to team progress, it’s a bizarro Bozo that leaves nobody happy.

Winning Rookie of the Year is no guarantee of a long, memorable career.

When you peruse the past ROY winners list, you’re left with the feeling that it’s no better than 50-50 they‘ll leave a sizable mark on the game. That’s better than the typical rookie but then expectations are raised after you raise the trophy.

You’ll remember Rick Sutcliffe (‘79) and Ozzie Guillen (’85), but Jerome Walton (‘89) and Pat Listach (‘92) may not ring a bell to most fans outside the Midwest.

Whether Bryce Harper goes big bopper (HRs) or OB% superstar, he’s gonna’ have to make his mind up soon because that window of opportunity is gonna’ start to close fast, and open up wide elsewhere, i.e., el conexion cubano. Es verdad: el beisbol es internacional.

...........canned cornIt’s time to get healthy, make contact, fully mature and be all the ball-player you can be. It’s Harper time, crisp & clean and alcohol-free. Play ball!

Steven Keys
Can o’ Corn
Photo credits: B.Harper, wc.cca, MissChatter, 16m, 3.12.11; B.Harper, 7.31.13, wc.cca, Stega4; Washington.Nationals, wc.cca, SGS/T; Nationals.Park, wc.cca, 9.17.13, T.Evanson; canned.corn
Posted: 3.1.15 @ 2:31 pm EST

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