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Bryce Harper

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Bryce Aron Max Harper

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[edit] Biographical Information

Bryce Harper was the first pick in the 2010 amateur draft and the National League Rookie of the Year in 2012.

Harper went 16 for 28 with six doubles, four homers and 16 RBI in eight games in the 2008 Youth Pan Am Games to help the USA win the Gold Medal. The next year, he batted .626/.723/1.339 with 14 homers, 22 doubles, 9 triples, 36 steals, 76 runs and 55 RBI in 115 games as a high school sophomore. He was the only underclassman picked for either the Baseball America first team or second team High School All-America Team, chosen as the top catcher in high school ball in the USA. Not only that, he became the first underclassman to ever win the Baseball America High School Player of the Year Award; Joe Mauer had been the only catcher to win the honor previously.

Harper got his GED after his sophomore year of high school so he could play junior college baseball in 2010, not finding the high school game challenging enough. Going into the Junior College World Series, Harper was hitting .442/.524/.986 with 29 home runs, 89 RBI, 88 runs and 18 stolen bases in 62 games. He was leading all of junior college baseball in both homers and RBI despite being only 17. He was named MVP of the Scenic West Athletic Conference. Harper made the cover of Sports Illustrated in June 2009, the first high schooler to appear on the magazine's cover since basketball's LeBron James in 2002.

Harper once hit a 502-homer at Tropicana Field, something no major leaguer had done before the amateur slugger did so.

The Washington Nationals took him first overall in the 2010 amateur draft. The scout was Mitch Sokol. He became the third-youngest player to be taken first following Tim Foli and Ken Griffey Jr., and the 5th catcher, following Steve Chilcott, Mike Ivie, Danny Goodwin, B.J. Surhoff and Joe Mauer. However, the Nationals announced that they would move him to the outfield, once signed, in order to speed up his arrival in the major leagues.

As an amateur, he had been criticized for his attitude as well as some idiosyncracies like using heavy eye black and a fancy batting ritual before each at-bat. These concerns about his attitude and maturity were reinforced by an incident which occured only a few days prior to the draft, when Harper was ejected from a critical game and earned a two-game suspension for showing up an umpire in the NJCAA Division I Baseball World Series in Grand Junction, CO. Still, after the season, he was the recipient of the 2010 Golden Spikes Award honoring the best college baseball player in the United States; he was only the second player at a community college to receive the award, after Alex Fernandez in 1990.

Harper was advised by Scott Boras, who was known for pushing contract negotiations to the limit. It was expected that he would seek a signing bonus similar to the $15 million granted by the Nationals to Stephen Strasburg, the number one pick in the 2009 amateur draft. On August 16, a minute before the midnight deadline for signing picks was to to expire, Harper signed a major league contract with the Nationals worth $9.9 million. He was to begin his professional career with the GCL Nationals, but instead was used in the instructional league, where the games are more akin to exhibition games. He hit .319 with a .418 on-base percentage in that context, then hit .343 in the Arizona Fall League, facing a significantly higher level of competition.

Even before he had played his first true minor league game, Harper was named Baseball's America's #1 prospect on its annual top-100 prospect list released in the off-season. He caused quite a stir when he made his first appearance at the Nationals' spring training camp in Viera, FL on February 21, 2011, hitting nothing but hard line drives in batting practice, then being mobbed by autograph seekers as he tried to leave the practice field. While observers were wondering how long it would take him to reach the majors, Harper had definite views on the issue. He told reporters that he planned to make the Nats' opening day roster. He hit .389 in 13 spring games before the front office decided to send him to the Class A Hagerstown Suns of the South Atlantic League to begin the season. However, he sprained his ankle in an intrasquad game on March 21, but this did not delay his minor league debut.

Harper singled in his first minor league game for Hagerstown on April 7th, then stole second; he later got a bunt single to finish the day 2-for-4. After a slowish start, the cream quickly rose to the top in his case, as he was named the SALLY League's Player of the week for the first week in May, while in the midst of an 18-game hitting streak that pushed his batting average to .377; the hot streak once again brought out questions about when and to where his next promotion would be, but the Nationals insisted he would not make his major league debut that year. More questions were raised about his maturity later in the year, as he kept showing up umpires when disagreeing with strike calls. In a much-publicized incident on June 6th, he hit a homer off Greensboro's Zach Neal, then flipped his bat before starting his trot and blew a kiss at Neal while circling the bases. Not surprisingly, he was brushed back in his next plate appearance. Before playing in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game later that month, he defended his controversial style of play to journalists, stating: "I could really care less what people say about me." Shortly thereafter, he was named to the United States team for the 2011 Futures Game. The inevitable promotion happened on July 4th, as he was moved up to the AA Harrisburg Senators; he had hit .318 with 14 homers and 46 RBI and stolen 19 bases at Hagerstown. He went 2 for 3 in his debut in the Eastern League, with Nationals GM Mike Rizzo stating that he would finish the season there and then play in the Arizona Fall League for a second season. He found the harder competition at AA to be a challenge when he first played for Harrisburg, as he hit only .171 in his first 11 games. He had upped his average to .248 in 31 games at AA when he made the news again for the wrong reason on August 11th: he was ejected from a game for arguing a third-strike call by umpire Max Guyll; he slammed his helmet on the ground in disgust to draw the thumbing, then drew a line in the sand outside of the plate and started berating the umpire until one of his coaches intervened to prevent an uglier scene from developing. On August 18, he had to leave a game because of a pulled hamstring suffered while running from first base to third base and was placed on the disabled list. The Nationals decided to end his season at that time, happy with his first results in professional baseball.

In 2012, he headed into spring training confident he could make the Nationals immediately. New manager Davey Johnson echoed that confidence, stating that he was open to the possibility of moving RF Jayson Werth to centerfield in order to put Harper in right - if he showed if he was mentally prepared to handle the task. A couple of issues came to complicate the decision however. First, Harper had to sit out a number of days with a hamstring injury, missing a batch of preseason games, and then centerfielder Rick Ankiel was hit by the injury bug. Second, observers began to question whether it was wise to force a position change on the 33-year-old Werth, when Harper would be a much more logical choice as the Nats' future centerfielder, given his tremendous athletic prowess. Comparisons to Dale Murphy, another catcher converted to centerfield who found tremendous success at the new position, were rife, prompting Johnson and Nats management to seriously consider that option. On March 18th, the Nats assigned him to the AAA Syracuse Chiefs, announcing that he would be playing centerfield in anticipation of making his big league debut later that year. The sojourn in Syracuse was short-lived: he was hitting .250 with one home run in April when he got the long-anticipated call to the nation's capital on April 28th, to replace Ryan Zimmerman who was placed on the disabled list. He was to play left field in the absence of Michael Morse, also out with a injury for an extended period.

Harper made his much-anticipated debut for the Nationals on April 29, 2012, starting in left field and batting seventh in a game against the Los Angeles Dodgers at Dodger Stadium; he was the youngest player in the majors. In his first at-bat, he grounded back to pitcher Chad Billingsley. He got his first hit in the 7th, a two-out double, then in the 9th hit a sacrifice fly off Javy Guerra to put the Nats ahead, 2-1. They added another run, but closer Henry Rodriguez ruined the fairy tale by blowing the save in the bottom of the 9th, and Matt Kemp ended the game with a walk-off home run to lead the 10th, giving LA a 4-3 win. In his second game the next day, he started in centerfield, went 1 for 3 with a walk and made a great catch, robbing Juan Uribe of a double by snatching a ball high off the fence in the 4th inning; Werth had been scratched from the line-up with a migraine headache, and Syracuse teammate Tyler Moore was making his major league debut alongside Bryce in left. He was on the winning end for the first time on May 2nd, when he hit a pair of doubles, the second putting him on base for Ian Desmond's walk-off home run off Arizona Diamondbacks closer J.J. Putz, giving Washington a 5-4 win at home. Of course, controversy is never far when it comes to Harper, and on May 6, he was plunked by the Philadelphia Phillies' Cole Hamels in the first inning; Hamels explained after the game that it had been a deliberate gesture, in reaction to Bryce's cocky attitude, an admission that would earn him a five-game suspension. For his part, Harper immediately took his revenge when he stole home off Hamels later that inning, taking off on a pick-off throw to first base. In that game, RF Werth suffered a broken wrist, meaning that for the next few weeks at least, Harper had a position to play even as Morse was about to return. Another unusual incident took place on May 11th, when he swung a bat at the dugout wall in frustration after grounding out; the back bounced and struck him on the left side of his head just above eye level; he finished the game with a huge blood stain on his face, and had to have 10 stitches to close the gaping wound, having almost cost himself an eye out of sheer recklessness. Still sporting a large bandage over his eye, he hit his first major league homer on May 14th, off the San Diego Padres' Tim Stauffer. It was hit to dead center at Nationals Park as part of an 8-5 win; he was the youngest player to hit as home run in the majors since Adrian Beltre, who was a month younger when he belted his first major league long ball on September 25, 1998. He ended his first month in the majors by being named the National League's Rookie of the Month for May, after hitting .271 with 21 runs scored, 4 home runs and 10 RBI. In June he added to his growing legend when he responded to a question in an interview by telling the reporter, "That's a clown question, bro." The phrase quickly caught on nationally, and Harper was quick to copyright it. It was printed on tee-shirts and used by a micro-brewer in marketing one of its products, with Harper asking that part of the profits go to a charitable cause. There was a lot of talk that Harper should be picked for the All-Star team in his first year, but National League squad skipper Tony LaRussa demured, although Harper was named one of five finalists for the NL's Final Man vote and eventually was added to the National League squad as an injury replacement for Giancarlo Stanton. He was involved in another incident on July 15th, when Miami Marlins manager Ozzie Guillen asked umpire Marty Foster to check his bat in the 1st inning, complaining that he had used too much pine tar. When he came to the plate with anew bat in the 4th, he pointed it at the Marlins bench, prompting Guillen to erupt in a tirade of shouts and call him unprofessional and disrespectful after the game. For his part, Harper simply shrugged off the incident. He had the first two-homer game of his career on August 29th agsinst the Miami Marlins, helping the Nats snap a five-game losing streak, but also picked up his first career ejection when he threw his batting helmet after grounding into a double play in the 9th. "I shouldn't have done it, but I don't like hitting into double plays," he explained after the game. He hit his 20th homer of the year on September 26th, becoming only the second teenager, after Tony Conigliaro, to hit that many. He was named the NL's Rookie of the Month for September, the second time he had picked up that award, on the strength of a .330 batting average, .651 slugging percentage, 7 homers and 26 runs scored. He was voted the NL Rookie of the Year after the season, getting 16 first-place votes and 112 points while P Wade Miley of the Arizona Diamondbacks was second with 12 votes and 105 points. He became the second-youngest NL Rookie of the Year ever, trailing Dwight Gooden. In the 2012 postseason, he went 3 for 23 with a double, triple, homer and eight whiffs. The home run made him the second-youngest player to go deep in a postseason (after Andruw Jones), breaking Manny Machado's mark set two days prior.

Harper added to his growing legend on Opening Day on April 1, 2013, as he homered in his first two at-bats of the season against the Miami Marlins' Ricky Nolasco, accounting for the only two runs of the game as Washington won, 2-0. He became the youngest player to homer twice on Opening Day, breaking Don Money's 44-year-old mark (Money was 21 years, 305 days old; Harper 20 years, 167 days). He went on to have a terrific opening month, during which he hit .344 with 9 homers and 18 RBI, finishing just behind the Atlanta Braves' Justin Upton for National League Player of the Month honors. His all-out style of play got him in trouble a few times in the early going, including on May 13th when he ran into the wall at fuill speed at Dodger Stadium while trying to catch a fly ball off the bat of A.J. Ellis of the Los Angeles Dodgers; he was knocked to the ground and had to be removed from the game, but suffered only minor injuries, or so it seemed at the time. Those injuries proved to be lingering, especially the bruise on Harper's knee, and he finally went on the disabled list on June 1st, after having missed plenty of playing time in the previous 20 days. He admitted at that point that he should have taken some rest immediately to be fully healed, rather than try as he did to come back as quickly as possible and not giving himself a proper chance to get over the injuries. Given how slowly the knee was healing, he went to see Dr. James Andrews a few days later to see what could be done. Finally, he missed over a month, coming back on July 1st. In typical fashion, he stole the headlines that day when he homered off Yovani Gallardo of the 2013 Milwaukee Brewers in a 10-5 win. A few days later , he was elected by the fans to start the 2013 All-Star Game. He was also named to represent the NL in the Home Run Derby, and hitting against his father Ron with his brother Bryan watching, he made it all the way to the final round before losing to Yoenis Cespedes. That said, the campaign was generally disappointing for Harper, as he was less than 100% following the knee injury and played the second half knowing he was likely to undergo surgery in the off-season. The Nationals were out of contention and in late August, manager Davey Johnson criticized his young star for taking things too softly, after he failed to run out a ground ball on August 30th. He finished the season at .274/.368/.486, all three numbers slightly up from his rookie season, although the many injuries led to a fall in his counting stats and to the impression that he had regressed in his sophomore season. He still managed 20 homers and 58 RBIs in 118 games.

Harper ran into more injury problems in early 2014, when he jammed his thumb against the bag diving head-first into third base while running out a triple on April 25th. The injury required surgery, putting him out until July. He was hitting .289 in 22 games at the time. On June 28th, he hit three homers and drove in five runs in a rehabilitation game with Harrisburg, showing he was ready to return to Washington, and indeed he was back in the Nats' line-up on June 30th. However, he struggled after his return to the line-up, hitting barely above .200 his first month back, leading to speculation that he would be sent to the minors. Manager Matt Williams, some of whose comments had fed the rumors, felt it necessary to speak publicly on the issue on August 6th, saying a demotion was not in the cards. The very next day, Harper lifted a two-run walk-off homer over the left-field fence in the 13th inning against the New York Mets' Carlos Torres to give Washington a 5-3 win.

Harper's brother Bryan Harper has been drafted three times, the latest by the Nationals in the 2011 amateur draft.

[edit] Notable Achievements

NL Rookie of the Year
2011 2012 2013
Craig Kimbrel Bryce Harper Jose Fernandez

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