Is the Real Bryce Harper Ready To Stand Up?

Washington Nats’ fans hope Bryce Harper’s walk-off homer yesterday against the Mets means, with the pennant in the balance and the face of the franchise Ryan Zimmerman out until sometime in September, Harper is ready to fulfill his promise.

For 2 ½ half seasons, we have witnessed the awesome power of Harp’s upper deck home runs, his breathtaking speed that turns routine singles into doubles, and his great arm that catches runners straying from their bases. We, however, have also observed base running mistakes that kill rallies and cost runs and games, and errant throws that overshoot cutoff men, prolonging opponents’ rallies, giving them runs and games. The incongruity of a player who at one moment won’t run out grounders and at others ill advisably runs into walls has also been on display.

At some point, this maddening cycle of tantalization and exasperation must end, and the player who has been marketed to us relentlessly needs to show up consistently. Yesterday’s heroics not withstanding, the gap though between the buzz and the reality is huge now. As I write (August 8), Harp is hitting .253 with 4 homers and 16 RBI, and slugging .374 with in 54 games. The time lost to the thumb injury accounts some for Harp’s reduced production. Nonetheless, with his talent Harper should hit 4 homers and drive in 16 runs in a couple of weeks.

Mike Trout is the guy to whom Harp is most frequently compared because they’re young and possess similar power, speed, and strong throwing arms. Such comparisons are ludicrous, however. At 22, Trout has arrived as arguably the best all around player in the game. He’s hitting .300, has 25 homers, and has driven in 81 runs, is slugging .576, and is a superb center fielder. With his numbers, Harp is at best the 7th best position player on his team, and Nats’ fans still wait for the player we were told we were going to get.

Harp says he wants to make out the lineup, but until yesterday he was lucky to be in it. Harp producing at his current level likely won’t prevent the Nats, in a weak league, from winning the pennant. They though have a chance to be a special team that wins the title this year and years after. This year they need the franchise’s face Zim to get and stay healthy, but they especially need the franchise’s future Harp to become the special player he has been advertised to be.

Harp must lose his snotty attitude, eschew his bad habits, and harness his considerable gifts to produce the kind of numbers the rest of the season- .350 average, 10 homers, 40 RBI, .500 slugging- that carry a team across the wire. As his offense could put the fear of God in opposing pitchers, his potent arm should put the fear of God in opposing base runners. When Nats’ fans see instead of hear how special Harp is, then they will know just how special the Nats’ can be.

But how much Harp’s manager, teammates, and Nats’ fans demand of Harp will go a long way to determine just how great Harp can be. They should no longer accept the he’s-young-excuse. This is his time; he should seize it, as he did in a big moment yesterday.

If he can’t do that consistently, however, the fans should demand the team stop waiting for the player they heard so much about, and to give another guy his shot.   Harp must know if yesterday’s moment is merely another Harper flirtation and he doesn’t get it in gear, he could be on the outside looking in when Zim returns. And worse than that, Harp should also realize if he continues to produce at his current level, he runs the risk of becoming one of the bigger busts in baseball history.