Watch out for Harper in year two

After Bryce Harper won the National League Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year award last night, Davey Johnson has a chance to make the Nationals 2-for-2 in the major end-of-season awards tonight.

The Manager of the Year awards will be announced live on MLB Network at 6 p.m. Johnson, who is a finalist along with Reds manager Dusty Baker and Giants skipper Brucy Bochy, is considered the favorite for the NL award.

I didn’t have a vote for NL Rookie of the Year, but if I did, it would have gone to Harper, who ended up not needing my vote and becoming the second-youngest player ever to win the award anyway.

Nothing against Arizona’s Wade Miley or Cincinnati’s Todd Frazier, who both posted very nice rookie campaigns, as well. But, to me, the Rookie of the Year award is about which player had the greatest impact on his team and sets up to become the biggest star going forward.

Harper gave the Nationals a spark when he was first promoted to the big leagues in late April, energizing an offense which struggled through much of the season’s first few weeks.

The league adjusted to him in the middle of the season, feeding him a steady diet of off-speed stuff on the outer half of the plate, but Harper then made adjustments of his own. He stopped flailing at pitches he couldn’t get the barrel on and started becoming more patient and attacking pitches out over the plate.

The then 19-year-old hit the cover off the ball during the Nats’ postseason run, leading the team’s offensive attack by batting .341 with 10 homers in his final 34 games. He averaged a home run every 12.6 at-bats during that span.

Overall, Harper finished with 22 homers, 59 RBIs and an .817 OPS in 139 games played. It was one of the best seasons by a teenager in major league history.

But imagine what could come in 2013, when Harper enters the regular season with a full year of major league experience under his belt. If he hit 22 homers and stole 18 bases in 139 games as a 19-year-old rookie, picture what his numbers could be like as a 20-year-old who has a full 155-game big league workload.

It’s not farfetched to believe we could be looking at MVP-type numbers.

At nearly every single level at which he’s played, Harper has started slow and then gone on a tear once he’s gotten comfortable. It happened in his one year at the College of Southern Nevada, in the Arizona Fall League, and in his minor league stints in the Nationals’ organization.

But Harper didn’t start slow at the big league level. He wowed the league with his offensive ability, his hustle and his defensive prowess in center field, a position which was still fairly new to him.

Next season, Harper will enter spring training knowing he has a spot towards the top of the Nationals batting order. He won’t need to stress about impressing anyone or having to win a job. He’ll have experience facing major league pitching, and will have a book on the vast majority of the starters he’ll face.

For the first time in a while, Harper will be settled and comfortable.

He’ll just be able to go out and play. And given what we saw from Harper this season as a 19-year-old, his age-20 season could be a special one.

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