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March 19, 2019

Phillies preview: With Bryce Harper locked in, the future is bright in right field

Over the last two weeks of spring training, the Phillies turn their prep work to get ready for the regular season into overdrive.

We'll do the same thing here at PhillyVoice. As the March 28 season opener against the Braves approaches, we'll break down everything you need to know to get ready for one of the most anticipated Phillies seasons ever.

Let's take a look at right field...

This might be the easiest of all the Phillies season previews we write this spring, and it's pretty clear why.

Last month, Philadelphia signed Bryce Harper to a 13-year, $330 million contract that made the former Nationals right fielder a member of the Phillies for what will likely be the rest of his career. Harper, who along with Manny Machado was one of the top two free agent prizes this offseason, will completely change the dynamic of the Phillies lineup and, coupled with the other big offseason moves from Matt Klentak and Co., could completely alter the direction of the organization. 

After several seasons ranking among the worst in baseball, the Phillies took a big step forward in 2018. Now, with Harper as their centerpiece, the Phillies will look to take an even bigger step forward as they set their sights on not only a division title, but a deep run in October, something they haven't done since they lost in the NLCS back in 2010. The Phillies haven't made the MLB postseason at all since their first-round exit in 2011 at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals. 

Baseball is going to be fun again in South Philly, and Harper is going to be a big reason why. Let's take a deeper look at Harper and what he brings to the Phillies lineup in 2019.

Scouting report

Statistically speaking, 2018 was Harper's worst MLB season since 2014, when he appeared in just 100 games and failed to be named an All Star for the first (and only) time in his seven-year MLB career. And a big reason Harper posted the second-lowest WAR of his career was due to terrible defensive metrics. In fact, Harper's offensive WAR last season was 4.2, which is right in line with his career average. His defensive WAR, however, was a -3.2, far and away the worst software his career. 

While joining the Phillies won't automatically improve his defense, playing in Citizens Bank Park can only serve to help his offensive numbers. Harper's a pull hitter, and with that short porch in right field, the same one Ryan Howard and Chase Utley took advantage of during their time in Philly, he could hit 40 home runs for the first time since his MVP season in 2015. 

Furthermore, Harper's "struggles" in 2018 aren't quite what they seem. Sure, he posted the second worst average of his career (.249) but he also posted a career high in walks and the third highest on-base percentage (.393) and OPS (.899) of his career. It's almost like he was trying to audition specifically for Phillies manager Gabe Kapler last season, posting high on-base numbers while also managing to hit 34 home runs, score 103 runs and drive in 100 more. 

It's still unknown precisely where Harper will hit in the Phillies order when the season opens next week, but it's likely going to be either second or third, and given the power around him and the hitter-friendly ballpark in which he'll be player, there should be plenty of opportunities for him to improve those numbers in 2019.

NL East ranking

Bryce Harper isn't just the best right fielder in the NL East, he's also one of the youngest, if you can believe that. It's easy to forget that the new Phillie is just 26, which is understandable considering he already has seven years of MLB experience under his belt. Both Atlanta and Washington, Harper's former team, have solid veterans at the position in Nick Markakis and Adam Eaton, respectively. The Mets and Marlins, on the other hand, will be trotting out relatively inexperienced players in Brandon Nimmo, who got his first season of full MLB action in 2018, and Peter O'Brien, who has just 58 career games under his belt. 

Of course, had the Phillies not signed Harper, they'd be at the bottom of this list rather than at the top. 

RF 2018 stats2019 proj*  Career WAR
PHI Bryce Harper (26).249/.393/.496
34 HR, 100 RBI
27 HR, 87 RBI
ATLNick Markakis (35).297/.366/.440
93 RBI, 78 R
74 RBI, 66 R
WASAdam Eaton (30).301/.394/.411
33 RBI, 55 R
37 RBI, 54 R
NYMBrandon Nimmo (25).263/.404/.483
47 RBI, 77 R
47 RBI, 66 R
MIAPeter O'Brien (28).273/.338/.530
10 RBI, 8 R
28 RBI, 26 R


Phillies' future

Like we said at the top, Bryce Harper isn't going anywhere anytime soon. The Phillies signed him to what amounts to a lifetime contract, so Harper is the team's future in right field. And with 13 years before his contract runs out, the guy who will ultimately replace him is likely still playing Little League somewhere... 

Phillies season preview
C | 1B | 2B | SS | 3B | RF | CF | LF | SP | RP | Bench | Coach

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