Bryce Harper on the Cover of This Week’s Sports Illustrated

08COVv14_PromoWashington Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper, who last season helped the Nats win their first NL East title in franchise history and won the NL Rookie of the Year, is on the cover of the Feb. 25, 2013 issue of SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, on newsstands Wednesday. This is the second time Harper has appeared on the cover, as he was featured on the June 8, 2009 SI when he was a 16 year-old prodigy at Las Vegas High School.

With the success of Harper, AL Rookie of the Year Mike Trout and other first year stars, 2012 proved to be one of the most accomplished rookie classes in MLB history. In this week’s SPORTS ILLUSTRATED, senior writer Tom Verducci examines what Harper has in mind for his second season and whether or not he will fall victim to the most unscientific explanation in baseball mythology for second-season flops: the sophomore jinx. Will Harper and the rest of last year’s smashing rookie class be the next Eric Hosmer or Jason Heyward, players who struggled mightily in their second seasons? Verducci writes:

“Of the 32 pitchers and 48 position players who received Rookie of the Year Award votes from 2007 to ’11, 59 had a worse ERA or OPS in the follow-up act—a 74% attrition rate.” (PAGE 46)

Harper, who set teenage major league records last year for total bases (254), extra-base hits (57) and WAR (5.0), and ranked second all time amongst teenagers in homeruns (22) and runs (98), feels any talk of a sophomore slump is “stupid”. (PAGE 49)

Verducci agrees:

“It’s not difficult to imagine Harper or Trout joining Cal Ripken (1983), Ryan Howard (2007) and Dustin Pedroia (2008) in the exclusive club of players to follow their Rookie of the Year act with an MVP.” (PAGES 46-47)

This offseason Harper bulked up (he now weighs 231 pounds after playing last season at 220) and studied video of himself and those he admires, such as lefty craftsmen Chase Utley and Joey Votto. Harper feels a player shouldn’t even put the idea of a bad sophomore campaign into one’s head. Harper says:

“I’m not going to put it my head. Sophomore slump? I was a sophomore in college and raked. Why can’t you rake in the big leagues?” (PAGE 49)

Harper is used to having his doubters. He was told he shouldn’t play varsity high school baseball at age 14, but he dominated. He was advised not to take his GED at age 16, but he got a 98. Harper was warned not to play junior college ball at 16 against mature 22 year olds throwing 94 mph, but he dominated again. While strenuous offseason preparation and previous experience silencing doubters may not get in Harper’s way, Verducci wonders:

“Maybe, more than pitchers and scouts searching for a weaknesses with the fervor of geneticists, more than all the scrutiny young stars attract in the Internet age, what brings life to the idea of a sophomore jinx is the added weight of expectations. Maybe having succeeded the first time is the real curse.” (PAGE 51)


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