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Submitted by Jim Hurley on Wednesday, June 6, 2012 at 1:01 PM

Young phenom Bryce Harper has been in the news a lot already in his brief Major League career. He’s only going to become a bigger celebrity if the Washington Nationals, who currently lead the NL East as they get ready to host the New York Mets Wednesday Night, stay in the pennant race all season.  It’s important for handicappers to make sure they keep Harper’s contributions in context amidst all the hype.

It’s easy to get carried away if you’re just glancing at developments.

*Washington currently leads the NL East with a 31-22 record

*Bryce Harper highlights are frequently shown on SportsCenter

It’s easy to assume that Harper’s the reason the team has “surged” into the divisional lead. Believe it or not, Washington is only 17-16 in the games Harper has started! That makes them 14-6 without him. We’re not suggesting he’s a drain on the team or anything. His numbers are the best of among offensive regulars. It’s just that winning and losing is more complicated than what you see when glancing at a sport.

There are reasons to be excited about Harper long term. And, we mean REALLY excited! His batting line of .288, .375 on-base, and .528 slugging is absolutely ASTOUNDING for a 19-year old. At that age, he’s hitting major league pitching with command. It’s almost unbelievable given what most of us have seen in our lifetimes. Imagine what he’ll do at age 22. Or age 25. Baseball players tend to peak around age 27-28. HARPER IS 8-9 YEARS AWAY FROM PEAKING! Then, most stars are capable of playing into their late 30’s if they want to…longer now because of better training and nutrition. The evidence to this point suggests that we’re looking at a star of historic magnitude.

Check this out…

Age 19 Seasons

Bryce Harper: .288, .375 on base, .527 slugging (147 plate appearances so far)

Mickey Mantle: .267, .349 on base, .443 slugging (386 plate appearances)

Most of you reading this were born after Mickey Mantle was a baseball superstar. Maybe you’ve seen older relatives get misty-eyed talking about him. Maybe you know that Bob Costas carries a Mantle baseball card with him in his wallet. Mantle was an icon of his era. Harper is one of the few humans who has a chance to match what made everyone so misty-eyed given his early start.

Let’s compare Harper’s current run with Mantle’s first full season at age 20…

Harper (19): .288, .375 on base, .527 slugging (147 plate appearances)

Mantle (20): .311, .394 on base, .530 slugging (626 plate appearances)

If Harper shows improvement through these last four months of the 2012 season, he has a chance to be one-year ahead of Mantle’s pace! That would make him the kind of guy who can carry a team to championship contention on an annual basis through the next several years.

That being said…he doesn’t have the numbers RIGHT NOW of a guy who can carry a team to a championship. His current production would project to less than 25 home runs over a 162-game schedule. And, he has a very low RBI count given his production (which reflects on his teammates as well as him). Don’t bet on Washington this week, this month, or this year, based on the amazing things Harper might be doing in 2015. You’re trying to predict what’s going to happen right now…and right now Harper is a .288 hitter who’s more like a 20-25 home run hitter rather than a 40-50 home run hitter. Right now, his team is 17-16 with him in the lineup.

The NL East race is shaping up to be very entertaining. And, the Washington Nationals can certainly be a part of that all season long given their starting rotation and the nature of the division right now. We’re about to get a VERY good read on the Nats true level of play in Interleague action. The NL East has drawn the AL East this year…which has created quite a gauntlet starting this weekend.

Friday-Sunday: at Boston

Monday-Wednesday: at Toronto

Friday-Sunday: vs. NY Yankees

Tuesday-Thursday: vs. Tampa Bay

Is Washington a playoff team? Can Washington truly be a World Series threat? We’ll know a lot more about that after the 12-game gauntlet is complete.

Nats-Mets may be a part of the mix for our VSM handicappers this evening. Highlights you’ll see advertised Wednesday:

*The KING OF UPSETS Wayne Root has a Big Diamond Upset for you tonight in Major League baseball along with a strong play in San Antonio/Oklahoma City in the NBA. It’s all yours for just $25.

*Kelso Sturgeon is back with another 25-unit Power Play after cashing Pittsburgh over Cincinnati in an 8-4 victory Tuesday. Only $15 for that monster.

*Jim Feist won outright with Boston Tuesday Night to run his current NBA record to 20-7. Tonight he’s releasing a 25-star situational gem in Spurs-Thunder. His $25 report also includes a pair of bonus baseball standouts.

The best plays on the board from the biggest names in handicapping are always available for you right here at VegasSportsMasters. Check the home page of this website daily for big play bulletins. That and the listings on the “buy picks” page are your best sources for special announcements from our industry legends. Hot handicappers are waiting to hear from you!

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