Age on Opening Day 2016: 23
How acquired: Drafted 1st round, June 2010
2016 salary: $5 million
2015 stats: 153 G, 654 PA, 118 R, 172 H, 38 2B, 3B, 42 HR, 99 RBI, 6 SB, 124 BB, 131 SO, .330 BA, .460 OBP, .649 SLG, 1.109 OPS, 195 OPS+, 7 E, 9.5 WAR
2016 storyline: It's the encore: what can Bryce Harper do to follow up one of the best seasons of all time?
The reigning NL MVP now enters a season as arguably the best player in baseball. He is no stranger to high expectations, but the dynamic is a little bit different now. Instead of people wondering and predicting what he is capable of, now we know. And the question moving forward becomes whether he can not only recreate his 2015 season, but perhaps even exceed the numbers he has already put up.
Before 2015, Harper was the future of the Nationals' franchise. Now he is their undisputed best player and with that may come more responsibilities as a leader and even more focus as the centerpiece of their lineup. As long as he is in Washington, the Nationals will go as he goes and if they are to get back to the mountain top in the NL East, he will need to lead the way.
Best-case scenario: Is it possible for Harper to get even better? His numbers in 2015 were extraordinary. But there is always room for improvement and he'll be the first one to tell you that.
Improving his batting average or home run totals is possible, but it won't be easy. He could, however, continue to cut down on his strikeouts. Last year he whiffed 131 times, which is a number that may go down if he gets better protection in the lineup around him, if guys stay healthy.
One area Harper could technically get better at is stolen bases. He was a much bigger threat to steal in his first few years in the league, so we know he can do it. But that could depend on whether the coaching staff is willing to take risks. When asked this winter if he would like to steal more, Harper's response was 'if they let me.' Considering his last major injury occurred on the basepaths, it's understandable if they want to continue to hold him back from stealing.
Worst-case scenario: Simply saying that it all depends on health may be a cop-out for some guys, but not for Harper. When he is healthy, he is one of the best players in baseball. This has been established thoroughly since he entered the league in 2012. When he isn't healthy, and is playing through injuries, his production drops considerably.
At this point in his career it would seem an injury is the only thing that can stop him. Opposing pitchers sure haven't figured out how.
Most-likely scenario: Harper's stats at the age of 22 were historic and may be hard to recreate. If he does put them up again, we may be talking about the best or one of the best young players this game has ever seen.
Most projections have Harper taking a slight step back. Baseball Reference, for instance, has him hitting .301 with 28 homers and 72 RBI. FanGraphs also has him hitting .301 but with 35 homers and 99 RBI. Keep in mind both of these stat-lines would represent a regression, which is just incredible.
The point is, even if Harper falls short of his 2015 numbers, he will still set the tone for the Nationals' lineup and shine as one of the best players in the game.