Is Bulked-Up Bryce Harper Headed for Big Power Surge in 2014?

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Is Bulked-Up Bryce Harper Headed for Big Power Surge in 2014?
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Through the first two seasons of Bryce Harper's career, he's shown prodigious power at a young age. If his offseason plan comes to fruition, he'll be bigger and stronger than ever in 2014.

According to Anna McDonald of ESPN, Bryce Harper is looking to bulk up this winter after finishing the 2013 season at 218 pounds. The 21-year-old prodigy isn't just looking to put on a little weight, he's looking to transform his body in preparation for the rigors of a long, grinding season. 

"I'm excited to take a month off, that's something I'm excited for, let the body rest," Harper said. "Let the body heal a little bit and get as big as a house. That's the biggest thing I try to do."

"As big as a house" is a phrase that might already be in production for a line of clothing in Washington, D.C for the upcoming season. While the notion might seem crazy for a young athlete like Harper, he seems to have a goal in mind.

"I want to go into spring training about 240, 245," said Harper. "I'll lose about 20 pounds during the season."

According to Harper's Baseball-Reference page, he's listed at 230 pounds. If he shows up to spring training 10-15 pounds heavier, concerns about its effect on his game will become a narrative for the media to talk about. Speed, range in the outfield and injury risk due to more weight will become part of the conversation around Harper.

Of course, so will the added bulk changing his strength profile at the plate. If Harper does succeed in his goal, he'll likely be stronger throughout the rigors of the season. Even if he loses the weight by midseason or September, he'll still be bigger than he was when the 2013 season ended. 

Bryce Harper has proven to be an awfully powerful hitter during his short time in the major leagues. Over the first 257 games of his career, Harper has slugged 42 home runs, while posting a .481 slugging percentage. 

Those figures may not be close to as prolific as Barry Bonds or Mark McGwire in their respective primes, but when comparing Harper with every 19- and 20-year-old hitter in the history of baseball, his place in the record book stands out.  

Young Sluggers (Most HR Through Age-20 Season)
Player Age HR
Mel Ott 17-20 61
Tony Conigliaro 19-20 56
Bryce Harper 19-20 42
Alex Rodriguez 18-20 41
Ken Griffey 19-20 38
Frank Robinson 20-20 38
Mickey Mantle 19-20 36
Mike Trout 19-20 35
Al Kaline 18-20 32
Ted Williams 20-20 31

Baseball-Reference

Harper isn't just powerful, he blasted more home runs through his age-20 season than all but two hitters, Mel Ott and Tony Conigliaro, in the history of the sport. While that is an impressive feat without context, the names below him on that list make it stand out even more. Alex Rodriguez, Frank Robinson, Ken Griffey Jr. and Mickey Mantle began some of the most prolific careers in baseball history by producing fewer home runs than Bryce Harper.

Now, heading into his age-21 season, Harper is poised to become bigger and possibly stronger. It remains to be seen if it will lead to more home runs, but the natural progression of power hitters typically leads to more power as the years go on. 

Legendary baseball writer Peter Gammons agrees with that notion. Recently, before the news of Harper's weight gain became public knowledge, Gammons listed Harper among five players with the potential to approach a "near-historic" level in 2014. Per the column on Gammons Daily: "His OPS still rose from .817 to .854 despite the injuries, we have seen his prodigious power, his hitting skills, his edgy fire and his wont to be great."

As Gammons noted, Harper's .854 OPS, factoring in his excellent plate discipline, was an improvement over his age-19 season. While the home run totals are staggering, so is Harper's place among the best adjusted OPS marks for young hitters in history. Through his age-20 season, the Nationals star owns the sixth-best OPS+ (125) in history (subscription required for link). Among the names below him on that list: Ken Griffey Jr. and Al Kaline

Yes, Harper's OPS, despite the weight loss at the end of last season, rose from 2012 to 2013. As the former No. 1 overall pick moves into his third year and age-21 season, predicting a rise to 30 or 35 home runs wouldn't be outlandish.  

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Now, Harper's ascension to the top of the power-hitting charts may begin even more quickly than expected. 

Bryce Harper's desire to be great, evident to any baseball fan who has followed his path from Sports Illustrated cover boy at the age of 16 to top draft pick to his ascension through the minor leagues to stardom in Washington, is almost surely the driving force behind this offseason's weight-management tactic. 

Take a look at the following home run hit by Harper in a late-September game this past season. If he's feeling weaker than usual, it certainly doesn't show. By blasting a low pitch deep into the right-center field seats, Harper showed the type of easy, natural power that has been present in his swing since video of his amateur exploits first hit the Internet.  

Naturally, without the aid of more bulk, Bryce Harper has the ability to be one of the best power-hitting stars in baseball. 

With some added heft, the National League could be in big trouble during the 2014 season.

Will Harper become one of the best sluggers in baseball in 2014?

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