When Washington Nationals' outfielder Bryce Harper suffered a torn ulnar collateral ligament in his left thumb sliding headfirst into third in an April 25, 2014 game in D.C. against the San Diego Padres, the then-21-and-now-22-year-old 2010 no.1 overall pick had a .289/.352/.422 line with four doubles, two triples and a home run, 22 games and 91 PAs into his third major league season.
Harper struggled at the plate after returning to the lineup in late June, with a .232/.337/.341 line in 96 plate appearances in July, but over the last two months of the season he posted a .283/.345/.460 line with three doubles and 10 HRs in 208 PAs down the stretch for the NL East Champs.
Harper then capped his season off with a strong showing in the NLDS which saw him go 5 for 17 with a double and three home runs in four games against the San Francisco Giants.
Nats' skipper Matt Williams said in an MLB Network Radio interview last night that Harper really came into his own in the second postseason run of his career.
"I think he graduated a little bit [with] his postseason," Williams said. "I think he took the next step and I think he's ready to take more."
Williams, who was named the NL Manager of the Year after his first season as a major league manager, said much the same about Harper when he met with reporters at the Winter Meetings in San Diego on Tuesday night.
"'I think he made a huge step in the playoffs," Williams explained, as quoted by the Washington Post's James Wagner.
"'I think that he took that step knowing that when the bright lights are shining that he can do it and he can carry if he needs to carry.'"
Both Williams and Nats' GM Mike Rizzo said they felt Harper was ready to hit in the middle of the order after hitting sixth for most of last season.
"'I think he’s ready to take the following step, which is get to the point where he’s hitting in the middle of an order,'" Williams said.
"'Is he ready and prepared to hit in the middle of the lineup? I really think he is,'" Rizzo told the WaPost reporter.
Where will Harper hit? And what about him seeing time in right field...
Nats hope Bryce Harper carries a heavier load next season. He may bat in the middle of lineup & play right. http://t.co/9xoqEiI1YO— James Wagner (@JamesWagnerWP) December 10, 2014
Williams at the Winter Meetings notes and quotes:
• "The recently crowned NL Manager of the Year revisited his first season as a big-league skipper." - "Highlights from Matt Williams’ media session at the Winter Meetings" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider
• "Williams sees himself using Jayson Werth in left field some next year, with Bryce Harper playing some right." - "Nationals Pastime: Quick hits from Williams' session with reporters (with video)" - Dan Kolko, MASNSports.com
• "Because of his age and athleticism, right field might not be a big challenge for Harper. The Nats could use his superior arm in that position, too." - "Nationals Pastime: Williams: Harper could play right with Werth shifting to left" - Pete Kerzel, MASNSports.com
• "'I think Rizzo is listening to everybody that wants to come calling, but nothing as of yet,' Williams said." - "Williams focused on 2015 as Nats eye moves" - Bill Ladson, nationals.com
Mike Rizzo talks to reporters in San Diego, CA:
• "The Nationals do not need to make any trades. Their roster as constructed likely would still be a favorite to repeat as division champions..." - "Mike Rizzo on the Nationals: ‘We’re open for business’" - James Wagner, The Washington Post
Nationals extension and trade talk - Zimmermann, Clippard and Desmond:
• "Williams, making his first appearance of the meetings, acknowledged the strong interest being shown from other clubs for Zimmermann..." - "Rizzo, Williams hope to sign Zimmermann long-term" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider
• "On Tuesday evening, general manager Mike Rizzo said that he met with Desmond's agent, Doug Rogalski, during the Winter Meetings..." - "Desmond looking to be with Nats beyond 2015" - Bill Ladson, nationals.com
• "Rizzo said he doesn't necessarily view this round of talks as the Nats' final chance to reach an extension with Zimmermann..." - "Nationals Pastime: Updates on Zimmermann, Desmond and Clippard (with video)" - Dan Kolko, MASNSports.com
• "MLB.com's T.R. Sullivan reported that the Rangers inquired about Zimmermann. But Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo reiterated that he still wants to sign Zimmermann to a long-term extension..." - "Nationals silent at Meetings despite trade talks" - Bill Ladson, nationals.com
Astros, in pursuit of a reliever, talked to the Nats about Tyler Clippard. At last check, those discussions didn't get far.— Adam Kilgore (@AdamKilgoreWP) December 10, 2014
• "The Nationals’ 2-time All-Star reliever is eligible for free agency next winter. He already stands to make roughly $9 million in 2015 via the arbitration process." - "Tyler Clippard stands to benefit from exploding market for relievers" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider
• "Tommy Shields is moving on to the Washington Nationals organization after three seasons as manager of the Burlington Royals." - "Manager departs Burlington Royals: Shields takes job in Nationals organization" - Bob Sutton, The Times News
• "The Marlins announced eight non-roster invitees, including catcher Jhonatan Solano, the older brother of Miami infielder Donovan Solano, on Tuesday afternoon." - "Jhonatan Solano, brother of Donovan, among Miami Marlins' non-roster invitees" - Christina De Nicola, FOX Sports
• "Fister is a reasonable fallback option if the Red Sox deem the price tag too hefty on Zimmermann." - "Plan B: With Lester gone, what do the Red Sox do now?" - Tim Britton, The Providence Journal
• "Bob Nightengale joined The Press Box on Tuesday and said the New York Yankees and Washington Nationals as the only realistic teams in the running for Scherzer." - "Hayes: 'Don't Think There's Anything Legitimate' to Scherzer Report" - Brendan Marks, insideSTL.com
We can only hope this catches on throughout baseball:
• "A fluid bullpen arrangement based on matchups, situations and rest?" - "Shrewd, pioneering plan for Yankees: Don’t have a closer" - Kevin Davidoff, New York Post
RumorTown: [ed. note - "And it's pronounced \ROOG-ned"]:
• "The Rangers, however, told the Nationals they won’t trade Odor..." - "Nationals interested in Rougned Odor, Rangers asked about starters" - James Wagner, The Washington Post
Rangers have asked Nationals about Jordan Zimmerman but not Doug Fister. Nats not inclined to deal Zimmerman but will talk about Fister— TR Sullivan (@Sullivan_Ranger) December 9, 2014
• "A source tells me, however, that the Nats aren't looking too heavily at the free agent options as of right now, and are more likely to find an infielder via trade." - "Nationals Pastime: Rounding up some rumors (with charity auction notes)" - Dan Kolko, MASNSports.com
• "'It’s a delicate balance, there’s no question about it,' the Nationals general manager said Monday at the Winter Meetings." - "Are the Nationals all-in for 2015 or still prioritizing the long-term?" - Mark Zuckerman, Nats Insider
I'm not going to disagree with a Staff Sgt. Besides, he may know things I don't:
• "Doug Fister, a former Washington Nationals pitcher, shared how this event is close to him." - "Gen. Dempsey, celebrities visit Airmen during USO holiday tour" - Staff Sgt. Eboni Reams, U.S. Air Force
• "Doug Fister: 'The Chairman USO Holiday Tour has been an unforgettable experience so far.'" - "Doug Fister checks in from the USO Tour" - Doug Fister, Curly W Live
• "It’s been great to be back talking baseball with Nationals President of Baseball Operations & GM Mike Rizzo and his staff as we look forward to 2015..." - "From the Desk of Mark D. Lerner: Hello from the Winter Meetings" - Mark D. Lerner, Curly W Live
• "The NationalsProspects.com Top 10 Position Players" - Luke Erickson, NationalsProspects.com
• "Fister and the drifting apart" - Harper, Nationals Baseball
• "Fans of the Nationals certainly hope Zimmermann and Fister are part of the rotation again in 2015, along with Stephen Strasburg, Gio Gonzalez and Tanner Roark." - "Young Pitchers Wait In The Wings For Nationals" - David Driver, PressboxDC
• "Putting on Mike Rizzo’s Shoes" - Charlie, The Nationals Review
• "The 35th anniversary of the Hagerstown Suns provides another opportunity to bring in visitors from Washington, D.C., where the minor league baseball team's parent club, the Washington Nationals, play." - "With record county tourism, new CVB president wants more" - Don Aines, Herald Mail Media: Local News
• Braves: "Offensively you’ve got Nick in right field, you’ve got Justin at left. You can move Gattis from behind the plate, and bring Bethancourt along slowly, and we feel like we’ve got a pretty good offensive club." - Fredi Gonzalez - "Q&A: Fredi on Braves’ offseason moves, future, etc." - David O'Brien, AJC.com
• Phillies: "The Phillies will ask Sandberg to act as caretaker for a roster pocked with potential pitfalls." - "Sandberg on board with Phillies' rebuilding" - Matt Gelb, Philadelphia Inquirer
• Mets: "And the most likely of all options is the team will begin the season with Wilmer Flores as the starter at shortstop." - "Why it’s looking more and more likely Flores will be Mets SS in ’15" - Mike Puma, New York Post
• Marlins: "Hill didn't specifically mention any names, but MLB.com has learned the Marlins have interest in Rockies first baseman Justin Morneau and free-agent first baseman/outfielder Michael Morse..." - "Potential splash coming from Marlins" - Joe Frisaro, marlins.com