National League MVP: Bryce Harper

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The staff here at TBOH bringing you Philadelphia Phillies coverage year-round was polled for their choices on the biggest awards in Major League Baseball for the 2015 season, and our unanimous choice as the National League Most Valuable Player was Bryce Harper of the Washington Nationals.

Harper joins Chicago Cubs’ 3rd baseman Kris Bryant, our TBOH choice as the NL Rookie of the Year, as the only two unanimous selections by our staff among the eight MLB awards for which we were polled.

At just 22 years of age (he turned 23 last month), Harper put up a season for the ages. He hit for a .330/.460/.649 slash line, those last two numbers in the line being NL leaders. He also led the league with 42 homers, 118 runs scored, an OPS+ of 195, and a 1.109 OPS.

“Two years in a row, he ended up having pretty good years that any big leaguer would be happy with, when he was hurt,” Nationals hitting coach Rick Schu said, per James Wagner with the Washington Post. “But now he’s healthy. He’s Bryce Harper. This is what he does. Patience came with being able to trust his hands and being healthy. You’re trusting everything and slowing the game down. He just wasn’t raging.

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Harper was the 1st overall pick in the 2010 MLB Amateur Draft by the Nationals out of the College of Southern Nevada at just 17 years of age, following years of hype as a teenager, including his being featured on the cover of Sports Illustrated at age 16 in 2009.

The lefty-swinging, righty-fielding Harper made his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League in 2010, and by the summer of 2011 he had reached AA at just age 18. After spending most of the first month of the 2012 season in the minors, Harper finally received his call to the big leagues on April 28th, 2012, the same exact date as fellow phenom Mike Trout received his permanent big league promotion.

Despite their late starts, both Harper and Trout would win their respective league Rookie of the Year Awards for their 2012 seasons. Harper hit 22 homers with 59 RBI, 98 runs scored, and a .270/.340/.477 slash line. He was also an NL All-Star for the first of what are now three appearances in the mid-summer classic.

Another All-Star Game appearance would follow in 2013, prior to which the 20-year old finished as the runner-up to Yoenis Cespedes in the Home Run Derby at Citi Field in New York. But that 2013 season would also be marred by an injury that cost him the end of May and the entire month of June.

At the end of April in 2014, the injury bug struck once again, this time knocking the young star out for two full months. Having lost large chunks of two straight seasons, there were calls for Harper, who frequently plays the game with a Pete Rose-like hair-on-fire style, to ease up a bit and preserve his body.

Perhaps heeding those calls, Harper stayed healthy for the entire 2015 season, certainly a key to his MVP-level production. However, it was a disappointing season in the standings, as the Nats faded over the season’s final two months, missing the playoffs and finishing seven games behind the New York Mets in the NL East race.

For as great a talent as he is, the Phillies have been able to somewhat contain Harper, who has hit for a .274/.375/.493 slash line against them. He has 11 homers and 29 RBI in 260 plate appearances across 63 games against the Phils, his lowest production numbers of all the NL East rivals.

Still just 23 years old, Harper will play at that age for the entire 2016 season. He already has 97 home runs, and if this season’s health was an indication of his career to come, fans will be enjoying one of the truly great careers in baseball history over the next decade.

At the MLB general manager meetings last week, Nationals’ GM Mike Rizzo had this to say about Harper per Mike Axisa for CBS Sports, regarding the team’s hopes to keep him in D.C. for the long-term:

“We want Bryce to be here for a long long time. He’s a guy I’ve seen play forever it seems. I’ve seen him play since he was 14. He was a guy we signed, drafted and developed. He’s turned into an MVP-type player for us. We love the guy. We’ve got him locked in for the near future and we certainly would love for him to be a National for life. … I think he likes being in D.C. I think he loves playing for the Nationals. He loves the city of D.C. I think that bodes well for us.”

Barring the signing of a longterm deal, he can become a free agent following the 2018 season. Phillies fans will likely have to put up with him leading the division-rival Nationals for at least the next three seasons, and possibly for much, much longer.

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