“This year was a lot of fun,” he said. “I just had a great group of guys around me and they made it the way I wanted it. Just to be able to go in there and just really try to win ballgames and come in and try to be a game-changer for them.”
For the first few months of his season, Harper was one of the Nationals’ best players, hitting better than .280 into late June. He overcame a slump and struggles against left-handed pitchers through August by finishing the season on a tear, playing strong baseball in the final two months while facing the pressures of performing for a contending team.
“He really exceeded my expectations, the way he conducted himself in the clubhouse, the professionalism, the way he interacted with his teammates,” Nationals General Manager Mike Rizzo said last week. “As a young kid, he showed the maturity and the leadership to go out there and play every day. He was one of the mainstays of that team. He was an integral part of that team.”
Despite missing the first month of the season, Harper played in 139 games and finished atop many major categories among NL rookies. He was second among NL rookies with 22 home runs, fourth with 59 RBI, tops with 98 runs scored, second with 18 stolen bases, fourth with a .817 on-base plus slugging percentage and first with nine triples.
Most every game, Harper found a way to affect the contest, whether with his powerful swing or his strong throwing arm or aggressiveness on the base paths.
The future looks bright for Harper, who turned 20 in October. Since 1990, with most concentrated in recent years, four players who won the NL rookie of the year award won the league’s most valuable player award a few years after. Albert Pujols was the league’s best rookie in 2001 and won the first of his three MVP awards in 2005. It took Ryan Braun, the 2007 NL rookie of the year, four years to earn both distinctions. Ryan Howard won the NL MVP in 2006, a year after being the best rookie. Buster Posey, perhaps the leading contender for this year’s NL MVP, was the top rookie in 2010.