Bryce Harper has lived with pressure of meeting the expectations of a country that embraced him as baseball’s LeBron James since the age of 16.
A prodigy they called him; something tough to come by in the mental sport of baseball.
And yet every step of the way, he has surpassed expectations.
At a home run derby at Tropicana Field in 2009, Harper hit a 502-foot home run at the age of 16.
He hit 66 home runs with a wood bat in just 66 games at the College of Southern Nevada, when he was just 17-years old.
And at 19, in just 139 games, Harper hit .270 for 22 home runs and 59 RBI to win the MLB Rookie of the Year.
But as the 2013 season fast approaches, skeptics will undoubtedly start calling for the ‘Sophomore Slump.’
“This is the main reason to be excited about the Nationals I think, and everybody gets all hyper about Strasburg, as they should,” Matt Vasgersian of the MLB Network told the Sports Junkies. “I don’t think there’s any chance that Bryce Harper has a sophomore slump. I just don’t think it’s possible.”
“His skill set is so far in advance of anybody else who’s had to deal with a sophomore slump,” he said as he thought about the possibilities of the 2013 season.
What hasn’t been mentioned, Harper also stole 18 bases last year.
His manager at Double-A Harrisburg once said he wouldn’t be surprised if Harper hit 50 home runs and stole 50 bases in one big league season.
This isn’t hype, folks. He is just that gifted.
Of course, this is talent he’ll have to build upon over time. It would be unreasonable for instance, for Nats fans to expect him to rise to that level in 2013.
“I would advise caution for those that pencil him in for 40 home runs next year. There will be some peaks and valleys still,” Vasgersian. “The guy’s not even 21-years-old yet, but why not 25 home runs? Why not hit .280? He’s going to have a lot of opportunities to drive in runs in that lineup. Why not 90-plus RBIs as well?”
Harper himself has repeatedly said he puts team goals first, and keeps his personal goals to himself. In fact, he said he writes down specific goals each offseason, then tries to exceed them as the next season progresses.
“This guy is so wired to compete,” Vasgersian said.
Given what we know about him, and the way he consistently meets and surpasses others’ expectations of him, would it be preposterous to think Harper’s aiming to join the 30-30 club at the age of 20?