Yeah, Bryce Harper didn’t bring home the Home Run Derby trophy, finishing in second place behind Athletics slugger Yoenis Cespedes, but there is a silver lining here: With Harper just 20 years old, imagine how many more times we’ll get to watch him hit bombs in the Derby and take a run at that hardware.
Harper put on quite a show last night, and it had to be truly special to compete on that stage with his dad, Ron, pitching to him. I don’t know of many father/son activities that are better than having a catch or having dad throw batting practice to his son, and the Harpers got to do that on the biggest of stages with millions of people watching.
Good for them.
I figured since Harper didn’t get to hoist the Derby trophy, we’d give out our own awards here on the blog this morning. I’ve picked three categories and provided my winners (although I’m pretty sure winning one of these categories isn’t considered a positive thing) and would love to hear your own choices in the comment section below.
Most Valuable National
I was tempted to go with Jordan Zimmermann here, but just like with the real MVP award, it’s tough to give the hardware to a guy who only steps on the field every fifth day. Zimmermann put up a monster first half, but I need to go with a position player here.
Among everyday players, the only real option - in my mind, at least - is Ian Desmond.
Desmond played in 94 of the Nats’ 95 games before the All-Star break. He leads the team in home runs (15), extra-base hits (41) and total bases (173) and is tied for the team lead in stolen bases (10). Desmond hit .281 and slugged .486, both second-best among qualifying Nationals.
While Desmond made 11 errors and has a .974 fielding percentage - 16th among qualifying shortstops - his defensive ability has been shown time after time. He got off to a rough start defensively but finished the first half with just four errors in his final 76 games.
Beyond the numbers, Desmond provided leadership in the clubhouse and consistent production to a lineup that completely lacked consistency in the first half. Harper and Jayson Werth missed a month due to injuries, which knocks them out of the discussion for MVN, in my opinion, leaving Desmond as my choice.
Most Disappointing National
Unfortunately for the Nats, there are a numbers of options here, indicating there are multiple guys playing well below the level we expected entering the season. You could go with Dan Haren, who has a 4-10 record and a 5.61 ERA. You could go with Denard Span, who is hitting .260 and reaching base at a lowly .317 clip, 35 points below his career average. You could go with any number of guys who have spent time on the Nats’ bench.
Instead, I’m going to go with Danny Espinosa.
Espinosa came into this season feeling confident and strong, feeling he was due for a big season, maybe even the type of breakout campaign that Desmond put up last year. He hit an impressive .333/.358/.474 in spring training (I know, I know, those numbers mean absolutely nothing, but they were quite a tease) and despite playing through a torn rotator cuff, looked like he had his swing figured out entering opening day.
Then, things fell apart. Espinosa got off to a very rough start, and things were only made worse when he got hit on the wrist by a Paul Maholm fastball, fracturing a bone and sending Espinosa’s numbers spiraling further downward. It’s unclear how much of Espinosa’s struggles were health related and how much were mechanical/mental, but it’s very clear that the Nationals needed to make a change with Espinosa hitting just .158/.193/.272 with 12 extra-base hits in 158 at-bats.
Can Espinosa continue his recent hot streak at Triple-A Syracuse and get back up to the majors in some capacity this season? We shall see.
Most Surprising National
You could take this award any number of ways, but I’m going to go in a positive direction and present this award to Anthony Rendon.
We knew Rendon was a prospect with a very advanced offensive approach and a smooth swing. We knew he had defensive ability. We didn’t know he’d be able to come up to the major leagues, almost immediately provide a jolt to the Nats’ lineup and transition to a new position on the fly.
Rendon has hit .301/.352/.460 in his rookie campaign, showed solid power with four homers and 18 extra-base hits and given the Nats an offensive boost when they badly needed one. He can hit to all fields and excels at keeping his hands inside the ball and driving it the opposite way, and has great plate discipline for someone with such limited professional experience.
There have been a couple minor bumps along the way defensively as Rendon has transitioned to playing second base on an everyday basis, but all-in-all, the 23-year-old has done a nice job over there despite not having played second on an extended basis since he was 11. He’s been a big addition to a team desperate for a boost.
Now it’s on you to provide your picks. Who you got?
Update: Reliever Ryan Mattheus has gotten bumped up another level in his rehab assignment, moving from low Single-A Hagerstown to Double-A Harrisburg.
Mattheus, who is working back from a broken right hand, made one appearance for Hagerstown, allowing a run on one hit on Sunday. He now will join the Senators and continue building up arm strength and getting a feel for being back on the mound. It’s been nearly two months since Mattheus broke his hand punching a locker in San Diego, and he’s finally nearing his return.
Likely, Mattheus will have a few more rehab appearances to go before the Nationals will activate him from the DL. He’ll almost certainly need to prove he is capable of appearing in games in back-to-back days before he returns to the 25-man roster, but that return shouldn’t be too far off.