The first week of spring training is in the books for the Philadelphia Phillies. At this point, we’ve seen nearly all of their expected opening day starting nine at some point, in one way or another. After numerous media days, with a game or two sprinkled in, some of the players that are the “faces” of the team are beginning to get more playing time. Aside from JT Realmuto (injury), each of those players- Aaron Nola, Rhys Hoskins, and Bryce Harper– have had decent, yet short, outings.
Last season, each of these guys carried their own weight for the team. Despite their efforts, though, it was simply not enough. In 2020, the team did not even break a .500 record or sniff the playoffs. These current faces of the franchise have caught their fair share of flak from the Phillies’ fandom.
However, when looking at the criticism these players are receiving, is it warranted? Do these guys deserve more credit? The answer goes beyond what you may initially think. In this edition of “are expectations too high,” we narrow the microscope in on star right fielder Bryce Harper.
Phillies’ star Bryce Harper
The very first player that typically gets the most heat is Bryce Harper. Honestly, though, it makes sense. Harper is a public relations darling. He’s constantly seen under a microscope. Whether he is wearing a shirt that “defines Philly” during batting practice or talking to the media, Harper finds himself with fans who absolutely adore him, or criticize his every move.
Last season, Harper had a solid year despite the circumstances. The right fielder posted a .268 batting average with a .962 OPS. He tacked on 13 home runs and 33 RBI in 58 games (about 36 and 92 per 162 average) In the field, he had two outfield assists and only a single error, displaying his value.
Harper made his spring training debut in a Friday afternoon game against the Yankees. In his first at-bat, he did what he does best: hit a bomb.
It makes sense that Harper is playing very little in Spring Training. He’s still dealing with some lingering back issues from last September. Harper is fully expected to get some increased time as the spring goes on, and will be ready for opening day. With the home run though, this likely just increases his expectations more. He looks fit, looks like he changed his swing a bit, and looks ready to go to war with the team.
Does he deserve the critique?
Look, Harper does make it easy to critique him. He earns a massive contract and constantly makes himself the face of the team. However, this is exactly what makes him great. He is flashy, don’t get me wrong. But Harper is not afraid to own his mistakes and fix them. He serves as a mentor for the young guys while competing (and producing) game in and game out.
Harper’s expectations are a bit too high from some fans, but continuing to raise the bar for him each season isn’t a bad thing. This just makes him compete harder. For the 2021 season, expect Bryce to do big things. His batting average will likely float around his career average of .276, but he could crack the 40 home run mark this season. Harper should continue to be a leader and have the numbers to show for it.