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Bryce and Bryan Harper: Brothers, best friends and baseball

Bryce and Bryan Harper: Brothers, best friends and baseball

The similarities between Bryce and Bryan Harper are there if you look for them. They share a resemblance in the face, and their voices are close enough that you might mistake them for each other over the phone.

At 6-foot-5, Bryan is noticeably taller. He's also leaner, having lost 20 pounds over the offseason, a change he attributes to helping him raise his fastball velocity from 86-87 miles per hour to 89-90.

The lefty reliever and older brother of Bryce has been a force in the minors this season, boasting a 1.44 ERA through 21 appearances, 20 of them with the Harrisburg Senators in the Double-A Eastern League. He's held opposing batters to a .141 average with 21 strikeouts in 25 innings and has six saves in seven opportunities. 

Those numbers earned him a promotion on Monday to Triple-A Syracuse, where he will continue working towards his dream of making the big leagues. 

"I think I had a really solid offseason. I worked my butt off to lose a little bit of weight. I think that really helped," Bryan explained. "It's kept me loose and free and my arm can work the way it's naturally supposed to work."

Harper, 26, has held right-handers to a .180 BAA through 55 plate appearances, lefties are hitting just .085 with a .226 OPS in 37 PAs.

"They've put me in good situations to succeed and I've been fortunate enough to do the job and have a good time so far," he said.

With Bryce playing every day with the Nationals, Bryan stays up to date by looking at his game logs. When Bryce follows Bryan, he often looks beyond the box score.

"We talk almost every day," Bryce said. "I really think if you're throwing strikes and pounding the strike zone, if his slider is down in the zone and his changeup is down in the zone and if his heater's moving a little bit, then it's all good."

As kids in Las Vegas, NV, Bryce always looked up to Bryan. Now he's above him in the Nationals' organization as a big leaguer and, as one of the game's best hitters, can share advice and tips as a professional at dismantling opposing pitchers. He's also worked with him many times as a former catcher.

"Growing up, it was more of me just wanting to be like him. Now it's more how I can help him and how he can help me and that's something we look forward to," Bryce said. "The older we've gotten, the more and more I'm able to help him and talk to him about his path to the big leagues and how he's doing in the minors."

It's a role reversal of sorts, as Bryce learned so much from Bryan throughout his childhood.

"Growing up having Bryan as my older brother, he was always so competitive in everything we played. If that was basketball or football or baseball, or anything. I wanted to be like him. That's why I'm a left-handed hitter. I wanted to throw left-handed, but I couldn't. I was terrible at throwing left-handed, so I stuck to right-handed," Bryce explained.

"All I wanted to do was be like him. I wanted to wear the same clothes, I wanted to drive the same car, I wanted to hang out with all of his friends. He'd get so mad because I always wanted to go out and hang out with his friends and I'm a frickin' eighth grader or freshman. He was like 'what are you doing, why are you coming to hang out with me?'"

Bryan remembers those days and how their relationship has changed over the years since then.

"I'm a junior in high school and I'm trying to obviously do my own thing. I'm 17 years old and he's a little eighth grader," Bryan recalled. 

"I want to get away from my family at that point like any other 17 or 18 year old kid. He was trying to tag along. I think that's just a brotherly thing. Once we both went into college, we played together and we became best friends. We're still best friends to this day."

Bryan thinks Bryce always playing sports with older kids growing up may have helped him become the athlete he is today. When playing with older competition, he was often the smallest kid on the court or the field.

"I think that's definitely really helped," Bryan said. "With me and Bryce being in baseball together, I've looked at other brothers. The Maddux brothers, Mike and Greg. Mike was a great pitcher and he's a great pitching coach now for us, but Greg is a Hall of Famer... Bryce is just one of those freak athletes that it worked out where he was always tagging along with me. He had to keep up otherwise he was going to be left behind."

During Bryce's acceptance speech for the 2015 NL MVP award last year, the 23-year-old tearfully thanked his family, singling out his parents, Ron and Sheri, and his siblings, Bryan and his sister, Britt.

Bryan explained how that moment was a reflection of their upbringing.

"I think that's what my dad always preached to us. Blood is thicker than water," he said. 

"That was the thing growing up, look out for your family members. That's from my dad. He came from a really strong family with his brothers and sisters. He came from a broken home, his parents were divorced and stuff like that. But his brothers and sisters, they were really close because they had to be."

After one year as teammates at the College of Southern Nevada, the Harpers went their separate ways. Bryce was drafted by the Nationals with the first overall pick in the 2010 MLB Draft. He was off to the Arizona Fall League later that year and then Hagerstown and Harrisburg the next summer.

Bryan transferred to the University of South Carolina for the 2011 season. He played one year with the Gamecocks and won the College World Series under legendary coach Ray Tanner and alongside Red Sox star Jackie Bradley, Jr.

It was an experience Bryan feels fortunate to have been a part of. And it's something that has helped shape Bryce's perspective as an MLB superstar.

"Being 19 in the big leagues is something that I was able to do," Bryce said. "But he took a different path. He was able to go to college and win a national championship. He was able to go to football games at South Carolina. Those memories will never be taken away from him. I'm a little jealous about that part because it's something I would have really enjoyed."

"You know he's always been jealous of that," Bryan said. "That's one thing he always wanted. He always talked growing up about going to [the University of] Texas. He always wanted to be a Longhorn because he just loved everything about it: the burnt orange, the uniforms."

Bryan pitched one week at Triple-A Syracuse last summer before beginning this season in Double-A. Now he's back with the Chiefs and again just one step away from reaching the major leagues

His path to the majors isn't clear quite yet with three lefties already in the Nats' bullpen, and others in the minor leagues like Matt Grace, Aaron Laffey and Nick Lee all showing promise. But Bryan Harper's performance this season has already earned him one promotion and he certainly appears to be on the right track to another.

"The minor leagues are a grind. I know a lot of people say that, but there's a lot of people that don't truly understand and actually do it," Bryan said. "As long as I go about it the right way I can hopefully get an opportunity to prove myself."

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2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nationals outfield is built to succeed

2018 Nationals Position Review: The Nationals outfield is built to succeed

The Washington Nationals outfield was one of the most intriguing position groups of the 2018 season. Two of the team's star figures, Bryce Harper and Juan Soto, resided out there more than 200 feet from home plate.

Fittingly, we'll start our position review series taking a look at the most talented group of players on the Nationals. 

Overall, they were outstanding. Each of the nine players brought something different to the team. Whether it was Harper doing Harper things, Soto continuing to break teenager records, or Michael A. Taylor filling in nearly every other day, there was versatility each night.

Good news for the Nationals is most of these guys will be back. Of all the outfielders still on the roster, only Harper is set to become a free agent. 

The unit is young and has strong depth. Potentially it also has Howie Kendrick, who missed a majority of the season and is still under contract for a year. 

Honestly this could be a position group that has some of their bench pieces on the trading block during the offseason. There are holes spattered around the rest of the roster and there are outfielders to spare with or without Harper coming back.

Without further ado, here is a look at each of the outfielders this past season. 

Bryce Harper

There are multiple ways to look at Harper's production this season. In some ways he was productive, in others it was one of his worst years on record. 

He took care of the important stats. With 34 home runs it was his second-highest dinger output of his career (only behind his MVP season in 2015) and tied for the seventh-most in the National League. Although a slightly irrelevant stat, he did have a career-high 100 RBIs as well. 

As a whole his batting average was .249. But if you take into account how poor his start to the season was, and a .214 batting average with that, the just turned 26-year-old finished nicely. 

Spin it as you will, his OPS was .889 with a MLB-leading 130 walks. 

Harper is still the best position player with a Curly W on his chest. If he returns, that title will not exchange hands next season. 

Juan Soto

Call him a kid. Call him our son. Call him a phenom.

Whatever you call him, he is the future of the Nationals. With Soto in the outfield it makes the idea of the team not wanting to sign Harper sound a little less crazy. 

For your convenience, here is a list of all of the accomplishments he had this past season.

What makes it all even more impressive is that he did not even play the full season. He was called up in the middle of May.

His 22 home runs, 70 RBIs, 121 hits, .292 batting average, .923 OPS all came with him only playing three-quarters of a season.

Oh and he turns 20 in less than a week. 

Adam Eaton

A stint on the 60-day disabled list did not prevent Adam Eaton from having the best hitting season of his career. He had career-highs in batting average (.301) and OBP (.394) only playing in 95 games. 

He's never been a long ball hitter, but getting him on-base is his strongest asset. In nearly every contest the seven-year veteran batted lead-off for the Nats. However, the Nationals were unable to take advantage of him getting on base. Eaton only came around to score 55 runs. 

With Harper, Anthony Rendon, Trea Turner, and Juan Soto typically batting behind him, that is a total that should be much higher. 

Of note, 2019 will be his final season under contract for the Nationals. This season, perhaps even the offseason, Washington will need to decide if he is one of the right pieces going forward. Re-signing Harper is sure to be a big factor in that decision. 

Michael A. Taylor

Initially filling in for the injured Eaton, Taylor had a formidable 2018 season. Performing on the field and at the plate earned him a start in the regular rotation. 

Of the regular contributors he did have the lowest batting average in the outfield. His speed however is what he brings to this squad. 

Holding the fort at center field, alongside whichever pair of Nationals at his side, he makes it difficult for balls to get behind him. 

Defensively he is a huge asset to Washington. Offensively he does need to pick it up. 

Andrew Stevenson

This season was the most action that Andrew Stevenson has seen since being drafted by the Nationals in 2015.

At 24 with 75 at-bats, he mustered a .253 average for a decent year as a call-up.

The jury is still out for Stevenson, but the Nats have plenty of time to decide what move to make with him. The next two years he is under team control and is likely a tradable piece.

Victor Robles

Everyone was waiting to see Victor Robles, the Nationals top prospect, get some consistent playing time with the Nats. 

This season he got that time in September, with the team pretty much out of postseason contention.

There was nothing too staggering about Robles during that month, but he did piece together a .288 batting average. The big highlight was this monster homer he hit.

He'll get more time in 2019. Without Harper he'll likely be on the team's daily roster.

Moises Sierra

Probably the only National on this list that you haven't heard of but the Nats took a chance on Moises Sierra in the minor leagues.

In the lineup for 27 games in Washington, Sierra did not do much on the offensive end, batting .217. He's still a fringe major leaguer and has a lot to prove to get extra time with this group of players.

Howie Kendrick

At the time the loss of Kendrick was considered detrimental for the Nationals. He was the team's primary second baseman to start the season and his injury led to Daniel Murphy seeing significant time.

Still, he did play in the outfield, although he has lost the speed from his youth in Los Angeles. 

He had a phenomenal offensive start to the season no matter what spot he was at in the batting order. 

Likely he will not be an option in the outfield, given the new crop of players that proved themselves this season. But, do not be surprised if Kendrick has to spend some time in the grass if Harper is not on the roster next season.

Kendrick is guy that the Nationals cannot afford to not be in the batting order. 

The Other Guys:

There are two other outfielders that saw action in 2018, Brian Goodwin and Rafael Bautista. 

Goodwin was traded to the Kansas City Royals before the trade deadline. He had limited production with the Nats over the past three seasons. With Soto, Taylor, and

Robles now in a position to step in, the organization simply did not have room for him. 

Bautista got sent back to the minor leagues and will likely stay there unless there are some unforeseen injuries. 

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Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Bryce Harper to the Dodgers? Looking at the chances Harper ends up in Los Angeles

Winter has been coming for quite a while for the Washington Nationals. Specifically, Winter 2018. And much like last season of HBO’s beloved Game of Thrones, winter has finally arrived.

Bryce Harper has potentially played his final game in a Nationals uniform, and all fans can do over the course of the next few months is play the waiting game. Instead of sitting around twiddling our thumbs, however, we’re going to take a look at some of the major players who will be active in Harper’s free agency this winter.

We’ll do our best to gauge how genuine each team’s interest in the superstar is (spoiler alert: they are all very interested) and try to guess how good their chances are of landing him. 

Bovada updated their odds on Harper’s ultimate landing spot after the regular season ended, and they’ve got the Nationals as the fifth-most likely team for him to (re)join. Number one on that list was the Chicago Cubs.

Number two? The Los Angeles Dodgers.

The Narrative

Some fans were surprised to see the Cubs top Bovada’s odds, and I expect even more will think the Dodgers at number two is curious. We don’t have years of subtle hints, personal connections, and conspiracy theories to link Harper with Los Angeles, like we did with Chicago. Still, there are a few dots here worth connecting. 

The most obvious (or, at least, the most recent) came this past August. After the Non-Waiver Trade Deadline in July, Major League Baseball teams have the month of August to trade players who pass through waivers. These are referred to as revocable waivers, because even if a player is claimed, the team that owns his rights is allowed to pull him back. 

When a player is claimed in August, the claiming team has 48 hours to try to strike a deal with the original team. It’s essentially a formality for every player to be placed on waivers in August, knowing teams can revoke them at any point. Still, fans online were all over Twitter when it was reported that the mystery team to have placed a claim on Bryce Harper was none other than the Los Angeles Dodgers.

No deal ended up being reached between the Dodgers and the Nats, and it’s entirely possible the Dodgers only made the claim to keep Harper from going to another National League contender. Still, it’s hard to view the near-move as anything other than a sign of interest from the team with the deepest pockets in baseball.

That last line is important, as it plays into the narrative for Harper-to-LA as well. The Dodgers are the Yankees of the West Coast (and, in reality, probably have more money to spend than the Evil Empire). Ever since an ownership group including Magic Johnson acquired the Dodgers in 2012 for a staggering $2.15 billion, the Dodgers have flexed their financial might over the rest of the baseball world. 

Let’s also not forget one of Harper’s biggest “flaws,” his rooting interests in Duke, the Cowboys, and yes, the Los Angeles Lakers. Playing in L.A. for a team owned by the greatest player in Lakers history has to appeal to him on some level, even if it won’t end up being the most important factor.

There are plenty of connections to make with Harper and the Nationals, Cubs, and Yankees, but more often than not, free agents tend to follow the money. If the Dodgers are inclined to pay whatever it costs to sign Harper, then it’s hard to imagine another team topping them. That’s narrative enough for them to be considered strongly in the mix.

The Roster

Of course, there’s still the question of if the Dodgers actually would be inclined to pay whatever it costs. Just because a franchise can afford to sign someone doesn’t always mean it makes the most sense, from either a financial standpoint or roster construction.

The Dodgers, as mentioned earlier, have more money than God. According to Spotrac, their Opening Day payrolls in the last few seasons are outrageous.

2018 - $199.5 million (3rd in baseball)
2017 - $259.1 million (1st)
2016 - $268.7 million (1st)
2015 - $301.7 million (1st)
2014 - $246.3 million (1st)
2013 - $239.8 million (1st)

Those numbers are just plain silly. In 2015, the Dodgers spent more than twice as much on payroll than all but five teams. Outside of a flukey “low” spending season this past year, they haven’t just lead the league for five straight seasons, but have run away with it year in and year out. Spending more than $300 million in a season is wild.

So, obviously, the Dodgers can throw money at any problem (or player). They’re probably itching to get back on top of the heap after not even cracking $200 million in 2018. But does it make sense from a team-building perspective?

None of the team’s pending free agents on Spotrac are outfielders, so there’s no obvious hole to fill. One of the strengths of the Dodgers is their positional versatility, which adds to their depth but makes it harder to evaluate their offseason outlook. Cody Bellinger started 50 games in the outfield in 2018, and appeared in 81, but while his versatility is a nice bonus, he’s ultimately an athletic first baseman, and he certainly wouldn’t get in the way of Harper playing for that reason.

That said, if the Dodgers retain Brian Dozier at second, then Max Muncy would need to play first, which pushes Bellinger to the outfield. Plus, Chris Taylor can play second, shortstop, third, and the outfield.  You can see where the headache comes in.

Still, for the purposes of this exercise, we’ll assume Bellinger is off the table for outfield playing time, but bear in mind that Taylor could find his way out there on occasion.

Yasiel Puig, Joc Pederson, Kiké Hernandez, and Matt Kemp are the remaining outfielders. Puig, Pederson and Hernandez are in their arbitration years, and almost certainly will be kept around at reasonable deals. It’s hard to evaluate the three of them relative to each other. Each hit 20-25 home runs, and each hit between .248 and .267. Pederson has struggled to live up to his immense talents, and the same could be said for Puig. Hernandez is yet another Dodger who plays all over the diamond.

Then you have Kemp, who would have been easy to rule out entering 2018 but then proceeded to have one of the best comeback seasons in baseball. He hit .290 and made his first All-Star game since 2012, and he’s owed a ton of money next season.

None of that includes Alex Verdugo, the Dodgers’ best prospect and one of the top 25 prospects in all of baseball. He probably already should have been an everyday Major League outfielder in 2018, and there’s no way Los Angeles can continue to keep him in the minors next year. He needs to play every day, and certainly will get that chance.

Ultimately, the Dodgers have a ton of bodies to play the outfield already. That said, Puig and Kemp will no longer be under contract after next season, and outside of Verdugo there are no clear-cut future standouts in the Dodgers outfield. The fit for Harper, position-wise, is fairly weak compared to the other contenders. 

At the end of the day, however, none of their current guys are necessarily better than Harper, and if the Dodgers are willing to deal with a crowded outfield for one season, things shore up nicely in 2020 and beyond. A future outfield with Verdugo and Harper would be pretty appealing to any team, especially considering how relatively cheap Verdugo will be until he hits free agency.

The Odds

Call it a gut feeling, but at the end of the day, I just don’t see Harper in Dodger blue. There are plenty of factors in which they are one of the top three choices for him, but they aren’t a clear leader in any. The Cubs have more personal connections, the Phillies are more of a positional fit, and the Nats are the “hometown” team. The one area in which they stand out, however, is possibly (probably) (okay almost definitely) the most important: money.

It will be telling to find out what their best offer ends up being, but for now, I think the +500 odds are actually pretty spot on. I’d take issue with the Cubs being so much further ahead of them as the betting favorites, but they should probably be ahead of the Dodgers at least. I just wouldn’t have them so far out ahead of the pack. 

The Dodgers have a lot going for them. Harper has always wanted to play in a big name city for a big name franchise, and he has always wanted to be the highest-paid player in the game. Plus, getting to play for Magic Johnson doesn’t hurt. The Dodgers can offer all those things. The only question remaining is if they want to?

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