Nationals' Harper named NL rookie of the year

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Photo - FILE - This Oct. 12, 2012 file photo shows Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacting as he heads home on a home run by Ryan Zimmerman during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Washington. Harper is favored to win the NL Rookie of the Year, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
FILE - This Oct. 12, 2012 file photo shows Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper reacting as he heads home on a home run by Ryan Zimmerman during the first inning of Game 5 of the National League division baseball series against the St. Louis Cardinals in Washington. Harper is favored to win the NL Rookie of the Year, Monday, Nov. 12, 2012.(AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Sports,MLB,Nationals,Brian McNally

It seemed impossible for Nationals outfielder Bryce Harper to match the hype that preceded him to the major leagues.

But after joining the club one month into the season, Harper helped stabilize Washington's lineup and produced one of the finest years ever by a 19-year-old player. For his efforts, he was named National League rookie of the year Monday. He had 16 first-place votes to 12 by the Diamondbacks' Wade Miley, and the final point total was 112-105, the fourth-closest margin ever for NL rookie of the year. Reds outfielder Todd Frazier finished third with 45 points.

Harper, who was returned to Triple-A Syracuse on March 18 after struggling during spring training, was promoted to the majors April?27. By the end of the season he had 22 home runs -- the second most by a teenager in baseball history -- and 59 RBIs. He eventually appeared in 139 games, 86 of them starts in center field, and became a fixture in the No. 2 spot in Washington's batting order as the Nats won the NL East title and reached the postseason.

- Brian McNally

Harper timeline
March 18 » Harper is sent to Triple-A Syracuse midway through spring training after a minor calf injury cost him six exhibition games and he struck out 11 times in 28 at-bats.
April 27 » With the offense struggling and third baseman Ryan Zimmerman going to the 15-day disabled list with a sore right shoulder, the Nationals promote Harper to take his place. He immediately becomes the youngest player in the majors.
April 28 » Harper makes his major league debut in Los Angeles against the Dodgers and goes 1-for-3. His first hit is a double, and he later ties the game with an RBI sacrifice fly in the ninth inning.
May 6 » Philadelphia ace Cole Hamels intentionally hits Harper with a pitch in the first inning to send a message to the rookie. After taking third on a single, Harper electrifies the Nationals Park crowd by stealing home plate.
May 14 » Harper hits his first home run on a 2-1 pitch from San Diego's Tim Stauffer. The solo shot to dead center comes in an eventual 8-5 win. It is his 15th game and 54th at bat, and he is the youngest player to homer in a game since Adrian Beltre on Sept. 25, 1998.
June 5 » A walk-off single by Harper in the 12th inning wins a game against the New York Mets and keeps the Nats in first place in the National League East.
July 10 » Harper becomes the first 19-year-old position player to participate in the All-Star Game in the event's 79-year history. He was named an injury replacement for Miami's Giancarlo Stanton. Pitchers Bob Feller and Dwight Gooden are the only other teenagers to make it.
Aug. 15 » A two-month long slump culminates with an 0-for-5 effort in a series finale at San Francisco, the last game of a long road trip. Harper's OPS drops to .718 - the lowest it has been since he was at .705 after that May 14 game. His batting average drops from .307 on June 12 to .245.
Sept. 5 » A two-homer game against the Chicago Cubs in a 9-1 win is Harper's second multihomer game of the season. Only Mel Ott and Ken Griffey Jr. had ever accomplished that feat as teenagers.
Sept. 30 » A home run in St. Louis against the Cardinals completes a red-hot September in which Harper batted .330 with seven homers, seven doubles and three triples.
Oct. 7 » Harper becomes just the 11th teenager to play in a postseason game. He doubles in a Game 2 win over St. Louis and homers and triples in a Game 5 loss that ends Washington's season Oct. 12.

"I knew it was only a moment in time, really, until I got to the big leagues," Harper said of his brief time in Syracuse. "All I wanted to do was learn as much as I could down there at that level. ... When I got that call, I wanted to be ready and be able to make an impact with this team and this organization."

Only two other players in franchise history have won the NL rookie of the year, voted upon by the Baseball Writers' Association of America, dating to the team's founding as the Montreal Expos in 1969. The others were pitcher Carl Morton in 1970 and outfielder Andre Dawson in 1977. Among Washington baseball players, only outfielders Albie Pearson (1958) and Bob Allison (1959) have done so.

Harper, who turned 20 on Oct.?16, batted .270. He led all NL rookies in triples (nine) and was second in homers, walks (56) and stolen bases (18). He was third in slugging percentage (.477), fourth in hits (144), fifth in doubles (26) and sixth in on-base percentage (.340). Only Boston's Tony Conigliaro in 1964 hit more homers (24) as a teenager. Only Mel Ott (.921) and Conigliaro (.883) had a higher OPS than Harper (.817) did as a teenager. He holds the record for most total bases (254) and extra-base hits (57) by a teenager.

He is the youngest position player to win the award. Only former New York Mets pitcher Dwight Gooden was younger. He was NL rookie of the year in 1984, also at age 19 and exactly one month younger than Harper.

In wins above replacement, a catch-all stat that combines a player's offensive and defensive contributions, Harper finished at 4.9, according to the statistical website FanGraphs.com -- tied for 24th overall with established veterans Jimmy Rollins and Prince Fielder. No player since 1900 in his age 19 season has done better. And that total was second on the Nats only to teammate Ian Desmond (5.4).

"It's a great award, and I'm so excited and proud of it," Harper said. "But my biggest thing is I want to win a World Series. I want to put that ring on my finger and give that to the town and city of D.C. They deserve that, and I think our organization deserves that."

bmcnally@washingtonexaminer.com

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