PHILS HARPER, A GOLD GLOVE FINALIST, WORKS TO WIN ONE IN 2020!

By Sam Bush

Phils fans were pleasantly surprised last season by Bryce Harper’s defensive prowess, which wasn’t the reason they opened up the bank vault to sign him.

He has great range and a bullet arm in right field.

And he focused this offseason on staying consistent — whether it be through Pilates or swing drills or in the weight room. Then, he mentioned his outfield work.

“I really took advantage of working on that this offseason,” Harper, 27, said. “I haven’t done that in years past. I’m trying to get better in that aspect; (I) stayed up with Paco [Figueroa, a coach], things that he wanted me to work on. So, just trying to just develop out there. Be better out there. And if he can stay on me and coach me like he did last year, I think I’ll be even better out there this year.”

The attention will always center on Harper’s hitting and his breakneck baserunning. But it’s easy to forget that a year ago, there were legitimate questions about how Harper would age in right field after a disappointing 2018 season there. He rated as one of the worst defensive outfielders in the game. It affected projections and was enough to sway some in the Phillies front office to Manny Machado as a better long-term bet.

Then, Harper finished 2019 as a Gold Glove finalist. He passed the most basic eye tests while ranking high in advanced metrics. He enjoyed the largest year-to-year gain among all big-league players in FanGraphs’ defensive runs above average metric.

The typical caveats apply: Defensive metrics, especially in one-year samples, are unreliable. The long-term concerns about Harper in right field aren’t mitigated by one impressive season.

“I’m telling you, out of all the people, he has the ability to be a Gold Glover every year,” Figueroa The Athletic. “He really does, man. I’m not going to lie: I looked at his numbers the previous years. But when I saw him, I was like, ‘Why?’ And a lot of it is … he just made little mistakes. The balls hit right at him. The routine ones. They really dinged his performance, as far as the numbers are concerned.

“Trust me, I knew the numbers. I pushed him. And he pushed me.”

“It was just constant reminders all throughout the season,” Figueroa said. “I look at him and this guy has everything. He’s fast. He has burst. He has a cannon. For me, it was just keeping to remind him, ‘Oh, remember in this ballpark, the gap is bigger.’ ‘In Chicago, down the line, don’t stop. It’ll be fair.’ Before every series, I sent a text out to all the outfielders. Sometimes, people don’t have to go out every day to shag fly balls. He doesn’t do that a lot. So those are the reminders.”

“I want to work hard to get better in the outfield,” Harper said Sunday. “I was able to do that with Paco, and we need players that are coachable as well. So I want to be as coachable as I can. I want them to be able to come up to me and talk about what they think, or what they’re seeing so I’m able to do that to the best of my ability.”

Figueroa had a chance this offseason to follow Gabe Kapler to San Francisco, but the bonds he formed in one season convinced him to stay with the Phillies. That included Harper. “I’m lucky that he was very receptive,” Figueroa said. He’s spoken to his new boss, Joe Girardi, about the little things that motivate Harper to improve.

It’s something that has caught the manager’s interest.

“I’m excited to see it firsthand every day,” Girardi said. “I have never seen it firsthand every day. I had a chance to manage against him a couple of games. You don’t really get to see the true effects of a player when you do that.”

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