The Washington Nationals are hoping that the blazing start Bryce Harper has been off to in the spring continues into the regular season. Less than one week until Opening Day, and Harper is showing no signs of cooling off.
Through 61 at-bats this spring, Harper has put together a .459 average to go along with a .721 slugging percentage. While not too much should be made of it, it's certainly an encouraging sign, one that could help when it comes to arguing which second-year star will have the more productive season in 2013: Mike Trout or Harper.
Just as Trout is expected to be in contention for the American League MVP, Harper will be putting up a valiant fight in the National League MVP race. His spring numbers should help to prove his validity and capability of performing as the leader of the Nationals.
His potential statistical output could be even further intensified, considering he will be batting in the 3-spot for the NL favorites. In a lineup boasting Jayson Werth, Ryan Zimmerman and Ian Desmond, to name a few, he should be in a prime position to score and produce over 100 runs.
As a legitimate 30/30 threat entering the season, it might not just be a question of whether Harper is the best player in the NL by season's end, but perhaps in the entire league. While it would be unfair to try and compare Harper to a veteran such as Miguel Cabrera, it seems appropriate to compare him to fellow sophomore Trout.
How can Harper improve his game, though, entering his second season?
Last season, pitchers respected his ability to crush fastballs. So what did they do? They challenged him with breaking balls, more specifically, breaking balls on the outside of the plate.
This exposed a huge flaw in Harper's game.
With help from ESPN Stats & Info, we learn that Harper struggled tremendously from April to July against breaking balls on the outer half of the plate. He hit .225 with a 45 percent miss rate and only three home runs.
In August and September, however, Harper adapted and showed significant improvement in 103 fewer pitches seen. He raised his batting average against these pitches to .313 and increased his OPS from .662 to .914. He also cut his swing-and-miss rate to 38 percent while hitting four home runs.
Of course, this is not the only area in which Harper showed improvement throughout the season, but this improvement will force pitchers to rethink their strategies going into at-bats against the sensational 20-year-old. This might ultimately lead to Harper seeing more fastballs, and if pitchers decide to challenge him, it seems as though he will have taken a huge step in figuring out how to overcome this flaw in his game.
As he continues to grow, he will continue to challenge the best in the NL and might even prove to be the better of the two between him and Trout.
Only time will tell if both men can claim their respected MVP awards this season, but if they do, then let the debate begin as to who is the best in the MLB.