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2016 Nats roster outlook: Can Bryce Harper get even better?

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2016 Nats roster outlook: Can Bryce Harper get even better?

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.

[RELATED: Bryce Harper gives emotional acceptance speech for MVP award]

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Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

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USA TODAY Sports Images

Soto, Harper homer in Nats' win over Padres

WASHINGTON -- Juan Soto, the youngest player in the majors at 19, hit a three-run homer in his first career start as the Washington Nationals defeated the San Diego Padres 10-2 on Monday.

Mark Reynolds had two solo home runs for the Nationals, who snapped a three-game losing streak. Bryce Harper had a homer and an RBI double.

Soto's drive highlighted a five-run second inning for Washington. The promising outfielder, who played for three minor league teams this season, hit the first pitch from Robbie Erlin (1-3) over the Nationals bullpen in left-center field. Soto also singled.

Soto's homer traveled an estimated 442 feet at Nationals Park. He earned a standing ovation from the crowd and the teenager responded by taking a curtain call. Per Baseball-Reference.com, Soto became the first teenager to hit a home run in a major league game since Harper on Sept. 30, 2012.

Called up to Washington on Sunday, Soto became the first 19-year-old to make his major league debut since Dodgers pitcher Julio Urias in 2016. He entered that game in the eighth inning as a pinch-hitter and struck out.

Washington's starting left fielder began the season at Class A Hagerstown. He hit a combined .362 with 14 homers and 52 RBIs in his three minor league stops.

Gio Gonzalez (5-2) allowed two runs and two hits in seven innings.

San Diego's Franmil Reyes, playing in his seventh career game, also hit his first career home run.

Trea Turner hit a pair of RBI doubles for Washington. Reynolds had three hits.

Erlin surrendered six runs and seven hits over four innings in his third start of the season. San Diego had won three in a row.

Reyes connected for a two-run homer in the fourth inning, but the Padres' lineup generated little else against Gonzalez, who allowed one run over six innings in a no-decision at San Diego on May 9.

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

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Juan Soto crushes a homer in the first at-bat of his first-ever start

Juan Soto, the highly-regarded 19-year-old Nationals' prospect, got his first major league start of his career tonight. 

How did it go, you ask? Surely it would take Soto - who was in Single-A less than two weeks ago - some time to adjust? 

What were you doing at 19??

2018 MLB POWER RANKINGS AND OTHER NATS NEWS:

- Rankings Update: Where does your team fall?
- Cause For Concern?: How worried should Nats fans be?
- Very Persuasive: How Rizzo convinced Reynolds to come to D.C.