The youngest everyday player in the major leagues is no longer a teenager. You can now toss away those tags that “Bryce Harper is the first teenager to …” He turns 20 years old today, at home with his family in Las Vegas for the offseason. Finally, he enters the same age bracket, his 20s, as many of his teammates.
Not expected to be on the Nationals so early in the year when he was called up on April 28, Harper produced one of the greatest seasons ever for a teenager. Playing with and against players several years his senior, he hit .270/.340/.477 with 22 home runs, 18 stolen bases, 98 runs and eight outfield assists. Thanks to a strong finish in September, he is a leading contender for the National League Rookie of the Year award.
Harper finished his rookie season with the most total bases and extra base hits for a teenager. He fell two home runs shy of the regular season record of 24 set by Tony Conigliaro in 1964. His on-base plus slugging percentage of .817 stands at third all-time in the regular season, behind Mel Ott (.921) and Conigliaro (.883). He finished second in stolen bases, second in runs, tied for second in doubles, third in triples, fifth in hits, fifth in RBI and sixth in games played.
Harper joined Nomar Garciaparra (Boston in 1997) as the only rookies in the modern era to notch at least 90 runs, nine triples, 20 home runs and 15 stolen bases. With a home run in Game 5 of the National League Division Series, Harper became the second-youngest player to homer in the postseason. His triple in the game made him the youngest to do so in the playoff history.
Per Fangraphs.com, Harper posted a 4.9 WAR (wins above replacement), the highest ever for a teenager, thanks to his improved defense and comfort level in center field. The next closest was Mel Ott’s 4.6 WAR in 1928. In his second season, Ott posted an unreal 8.9 WAR at 20. But that’s only third behind the amazing seasons of Mike Trout (10.0 WAR this season) and Alex Rodriguez (9.8 WAR in 1996) when they were 20 years old. So imagine what Harper can produce next season, a year of the majors under his belt and with a better understanding of the rigors of the game.
Harper flew home on Sunday to spend the offseason with his family. He didn’t plan to pick up a baseball until this winter, resting, working out and training until then. He was excited to spend time with his family and his dog, and watch college football with his brother, Bryan. In roughly four months, Harper will be in Viera, Fla., with the rest of his teammates, ready to embark on the second season of his already remarkable career.