Results tagged ‘ Rookie of the Year ’

13 Things We’re Excited About for 2013: #6

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In the lead up to Opening Day at Nationals Park on April 1, we’re counting down 13 things we’re excited about on and off the field heading into the 2013 season. Be sure to check back each day as we add another item to the list and get one day closer to the return of baseball to Washington!

#6: Bryce Harper – What’s Next?

COVER-mediumSo far, so good. Bryce Harper entered the league as perhaps the most heralded young prospect in baseball history, and lived up to the nearly overwhelming expectations levied upon him by capturing the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Aptly named after one of Harper’s idols, Jackie Robinson, the award seemed almost predestined to be Harper’s after his signature moment of the 2012 campaign – the teenager’s steal of home off of Phillies hurler Cole Hamels. It’s a move so connected with Robinson with that the image of him doing so is emblazoned upon the trophy itself.

Harper swiped 18 bags while swatting 22 home runs, all in just 139 games. He electrified crowds with his hustle, his raw power and his cannon arm in the outfield. More importantly, he solidified a Nationals lineup as it came into its own, and was instrumental in the run to the club’s first-ever postseason appearance.

So, what’s next? Only time will tell. Make sure to pick up a copy of Nationals Magazine – available at the ballpark starting this Friday, March 29 – in which we talk to Harper about how he hopes to build off his stellar inaugural year.

The Next Best Thing

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Every year, in every Major League camp, there is some youngster who shows up, opens eyes with his swing or his arm, and becomes the next most-talked about prospect, waiting to crack the big leagues. Yes, we’re early in spring. Yes the Nationals roster looks just about full, minus a pitcher or two in the bullpen. But this year’s player, clear to anyone who has been watching, is Anthony Rendon.

Last year, fans of Bryce Harper, who had been following him since his Sports Illustrated cover photo at age 16, trumpeted his case to make the Opening Day roster. And while Harper flashed signs of the player that would roar through September to capture NL Rookie of the Year honors, he was a raw ball of energy back in March.

Rendon hopes to follow Harper's path as the top prospect in the system.

Rendon hopes to follow Harper’s path as the top prospect in the system.

Rendon is the anti-Harper. He is so relaxed, so smooth – and generously listed at just 6’0”, 195 pounds, so unimposing – that one might not even notice he was there, if not for the booming cracks of baseballs flying off his bat.

His swing is not violent like Harper’s. Instead, it starts with a big, smooth, looping hand load, a Ryan Zimmerman-esque leg kick, and a sudden flash of some of the fastest hands you’ve ever seen. One moment, he appears to be just watching a pitch into the mitt. The next, he has turned it around, sending it screaming to some distant corner of the field.

Danny Espinosa sat at third base with two out in the bottom of the second on Thursday night as the Nationals hosted the Mets in Viera. Rendon – batting eighth and playing third base – fell behind in the count, worked it back even, then swatted a double to the opposite-field gap in right-center, into the prevailing wind. In his second at-bat, with runners at the corners, he hit a sharp grounder deep in the hole at short, which only failed to go for another hit as Omar Quintanilla was able to go the short way to second for a force, with Ian Desmond scampering home from third base.

Two more at-bats, two more RBI. The 22-year-old with just 160 professional plate appearances has been the most productive player at the plate for Washington so far this spring, batting .417 (5-for-12) with two doubles, a home run and a team-high five RBI. One of the seven outs he’s made came on a home run robbed at the wall in Port St. Lucie a few days ago.

Rendon has also impressed with his defense - especially his arm - this spring.

Rendon has also impressed with his defense – especially his arm – this spring.

Then there’s the defense, the forgotten part of Rendon’s game. He didn’t have any chances Thursday night, but has already made a pair of notable plays this spring. On Tuesday in Lake Buena Vista, he snared a hot shot, raced to the bag at third for the force, and fired a seed across the diamond for a 5-3, inning-ending double play. The next day, he charged a Chone Figgins bunt up the line, barehanded the ball on a do-or-die play, then straightened up and threw a bullet to first to beat the speedy runner by a full step.

After making a short, wide-eyed stint in Major League Spring Training last year, the Rice University product looks noticeably more settled in all aspects of his game this year.

“I think I’m a lot more comfortable now, just knowing that I have one year under my belt,” said Rendon of camp this year, and added that he was thrilled to be getting a lot of opportunities early in spring. “I missed a large amount of games last year, so just any at-bats, any playing time I can get right now is really helpful.”

Baseball America ranks Rendon the 30th overall prospect in baseball, tops among Nationals farmhands. MLB.com has Rendon at 28th, while Baseball Prospectus has him 35th. After a week of games, one has to wonder how much his stock may have risen already. And while Thursday night was the first chance for many Nationals fans to see the young star play on television, it shouldn’t be long before they have that opportunity every night.

No Clown Questions, Bro

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It’s been a whirlwind first big league offseason for Bryce Harper. Following his stellar inaugural campaign in which he helped the Nationals to their first-ever National League East crown and postseason appearance, the now-20-year-old was honored with the National League Rookie of the Year Award. Just last week, he was named as a finalist for the cover of the popular video game MLB ’13 The Show, despite having played just 139 Major League games, less than half of the next youngest nominee (Buster Posey, 308). And Tuesday night, Harper will be exposed to a different kind of national audience, as he makes his late-night television debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live.

Harper makes his late night debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live Tuesday.

Harper makes his late night debut on Jimmy Kimmel Live Tuesday.

“I’m really excited to go on Jimmy’s show,” Harper said. “It will be a really fun experience. I hope all the Nationals fans can tune in.”

Both host Kimmel and guest Harper are fellow natives of Las Vegas. The young slugger will be the second interview of the night, following actor Rob Lowe. It’s a nice reminder that, while the NFL winds down, the NBA is in full swing and the NHL gets ready to drop its first puck, pitchers and catchers will report to Spring Training in less than a month.

“It’s been a great offseason,” said Harper. “I’ve been able to spend time with my family and friends, while continuing to get my work in each day. I’m excited to get to Spring Training and build on what we did last year.”

So are we.

2012 Player Review: Bryce Harper

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. Today we take a closer look at the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year, Bryce Harper.

One could say that Bryce Harper’s 2012 National League Rookie of the Year campaign was preordained by Sports Illustrated three years ago. But that would not give Harper – who works as hard as any player out there at improving his fitness and his game – his due credit for the remarkable numbers he posted playing as a teenager in the Major Leagues. He hit the second-most home runs ever by a teenager. He fell just two steals shy of a 20/20 season and two runs shy of 100 in just 139 games. He was an All-Star, and even garnered MVP votes for his impressive showing, netting 5.0 wins above replacement to help the Nationals win their first ever NL East crown.

Much like our Gio Gonzalez Player Review, we won’t repeat every accomplishment in full detail. Rather, we encourage you to relive our Curly W Live coverage from some of his most memorable moments and enjoy a few of our favorite highlights from Harper’s inaugural campaign.

Mr. Harper Goes to Washington

One for the Ages

Round Two (Through 50)

A Day in the Life of a Phenom

From the Desk of Mark Lerner: Road Tripping

Teenage Dream

Year of the Rookie

- SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS -

Year of the Rookie

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When Bryce Harper was called up to the Major Leagues on April 27, he became the favorite in many eyes to win the National League Rookie of the Year Award, well before he ever stepped on the field. The hype that has surrounded Harper since his appearance on the cover of Sports Illustrated as a 16 year-old has been entirely overwhelming and unprecedented in the sport’s history. But they don’t give awards for hype – such honors have to be earned. And, whether Reds and Diamondbacks fans agree or not, Bryce Harper earned the 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.

Bryce Harper fought off a strong field to win 2012 NL Rookie of the Year.

First, some respect for his competition. Todd Frazier was very impressive, coming out of relative obscurity when Joey Votto was injured to post a .273/.331/.498 line, slugging 19 home runs and notching 51 total extra-base hits. Wade Miley, the Arizona hurler, came up huge with 16 wins and nearly a 3.9/1 strikeout-to-walk rate over almost 200 innings in his first full campaign. Both are worthy candidates, and either could have been Rookie of the Year, had it not been for Harper.

To start, there are the now-20 year-old’s overall numbers. He collected more home runs (22) and extra-base hits (57) than Frazier, while also stealing six times as many bases (18/3). His .270/.340/.477 overall line was slightly weaker, but he ripped through September and October at a .330/.400/.643 clip, finishing far stronger in the season’s final month than either Frazier (.176/.235/.257) or Miley (2-2, 5.40 ERA). And perhaps the biggest difference was that Harper did all of this while playing above average defense at one of the game’s toughest positions.

While Frazier actually compiled a negative dWAR (defensive wins above replacement) of -0.2 at first base, third base and left field (according to Baseball Reference), Harper notched a dWAR of 1.4, leading to an overall WAR of 5.0, nearly twice Frazier’s 2.7 total. And while measuring pitcher WAR against position player WAR is a bit of an apples to oranges comparison, Miley’s was 3.2, just for frame of reference. The point is, Harper’s all-around excellence defined his season as being greater than a simple look at his slash line.

But if you love raw offensive stats, he led in plenty of categories there, too. Harper paced all NL rookies with 98 runs scored, 17 more than his next closest competitor and 43 more than Frazier. His nine triples were also best, even one more than AL Rookie of the Year winner Mike Trout. Even if you discount the intangibles and individual moments – like his steal of home off Cole Hamels on national television – Harper had an impact on the game in 2012 that few, if any, could match.

All that’s left now is to wonder just how much better he might be next year.

2012 Player Review: Danny Espinosa

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The Washington Nationals enjoyed unprecedented success in 2012, recording the best record in Major League Baseball. The team relied on the contributions of many different players, whom we will catalogue throughout the offseason as we look ahead to the 2013 campaign. A new week brings a new player, as we round out the Nationals keystone combination with a deeper look at Danny Espinosa.

A young player’s second full season is often considered his first real test as a Major Leaguer. After turning heads as a rookie – swatting 21 home runs and finishing sixth in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting in 2011 – Danny Espinosa faced the task of a league adjusting to him, challenging his weaknesses. Following some early struggles, the 25 year-old made his own adjustments, finishing the season strong. When the dust had settled, though, Espinosa’s second campaign replicated his first almost as closely as humanly possible.

Espinosa celebrates after his game-winning home run on August 4.

After 658 plate appearances in 2011, Espinosa logged an identical 658 this season. He walked 11 fewer times in 2012, but notched 12 more hits, upping his extra-base hit total from 55 to 56. His batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage were all within .012 in one direction or another of his rookie marks. After falling just three stolen bases shy of a 20-20 season in 2011, he was instead three home runs shy this year, but set a new career mark, swiping exactly 20 bags. He also led the team in doubles with 37, two more than Adam LaRoche and one more than Ryan Zimmerman.

The switch-hitter continued to be more consistent from the right side of the plate, notching an OPS more than 80 points higher, but his home run rate was nearly double from the left side, where he hit 14 of his 17 bombs on the season. Perhaps his most memorable longball of the year, though, came from the right side, powering a dramatic, late-inning comeback to beat the Marlins on August 4 at Nationals Park.

One of the more underrated parts of Espinosa’s game, though, is his defense. Combined with Zimmerman, Ian Desmond and LaRoche, the foursome comprised arguably the strongest infield defense in the National League, if not the entire sport. The rangy, strong-armed second baseman could replace many Major League shortstops and did, in fact, take over that spot for the Nationals when Desmond missed a month with an oblique injury.

Espinosa played some of his best baseball of the year during that stretch, batting .313/.366/.527 with eight doubles, six home runs, 21 runs scored and 19 RBI over a 32-game stretch from July 16-August 15 during which the Nats went 22-10. The middle infielder will hope to build upon his second-half success in his first arbitration year in 2013, the same way that Desmond did in his third full season in the Majors. Washington retains team control over Espinosa through the 2015 campaign.

- SEE ALL OUR 2012 PLAYER REVIEWS -

#HarpeROY

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Major League Baseball announced on Tuesday that Bryce Harper was awarded National League Rookie of the Month for September. While that trophy will no doubt find a nice home on the mantle next to the identical one he took home in May, we’re more interested in the 19 year-old’s candidacy for a larger award: National League Rookie of the Year.

Harper’s hustle was epitomized by his swipe of home for his first career steal.

Harper should not win the award because he’s the most famous first-year player in the league. He shouldn’t win because television networks choose to portray him as the face of the Nationals as they storm into their first-ever postseason. And while Harper may reap the benefits of his notoriety when the final vote comes down, it is his performance on the field and his unmistakably profound impact that will have earned him the award, should he win it.

Why? Harper changes the game around him. His ability – and propensity – to bunt, forces the third baseman to play near the line and square with the bag. His success against righties prompts pitcher-for-hitter bullpen moves from opposing managers. His speed prevents infielders from double-clutching, lest he turn a routine grounder into an infield single. Gather the ball too casually as an outfielder and a single becomes a double, or a double a triple. Did we mention he leads the team and ranks in the top 10 in the league with nine triples? In fact, he’s the first rookie with nine triples and 20 home runs since Nomar Garciaparra who, you guessed it, won Rookie of the Year back in 1997 with the Boston Red Sox.

On May 6, the Nationals hosted the Philadelphia Phillies in the final game of NATITUDE Weekend. Cole Hamels decided to “welcome” the rookie to the big leagues by plunking him on his first pitch with two away and no runners on base in the first inning. When Chad Tracy followed with a single to left, Harper raced all the way to third base, right in the face of left fielder Juan Pierre. And we all remember what happened next, as the 19 year-old timed Hamels’ pick-off lob to first base, breaking for the plate and stealing home.

On June 5, the Nationals were embroiled in the tightest division race in baseball, as they opened a three-game set at home against the Mets in a three-way tie for first place with New York and Miami. The opening game of the series dragged into the 12th, as Ian Desmond kept the Nationals alive long enough for Harper to plate the winning run on a two-out, two-strike, bases loaded liner to left field. It was the first walk-off hit for any teenager since Gary Sheffield in 1988, three years before Harper was even born.

Harper leads all National League rookies with 57 extra-base hits, including 22 home runs. He is just the second teenager in history to hit 20 or more longballs in a season, joining Tony Conigliaro, who belted 24 for the ’64 Red Sox. Harper is doing more than standing out among his fellow rookies, though, as he is tearing up the league at a pace almost unfathomable for a teenager.

Harper’s prodigious power at such a young age puts him in elite company.

His 98 runs scored are 17 better than his closest competitor and ranks him fifth in the National League, ahead of Atlanta leadoff man Michael Bourn. His .651 slugging percentage and 69 total bases were both the second-highest marks in all of baseball for the month of September, while his 26 runs scored led the Majors. That’s right – no Major League Baseball player crossed home plate more times than Bryce Harper in the month of September.

After his second inning steal Tuesday night, the center fielder and two-hole hitter on the best team in baseball sat just two swipes shy of a 20-20 season, with an OPS north of .800 for the season.

Harper doesn’t need his Rookie of the Year case made for him. But hey, we figured we’d do it anyway, to remind everyone of just how historic a season he has delivered. Share your own favorite Harper moments in the comments below or on Twitter using the hashtag #HarpeROY.

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