The Bryce Harper experiment at first base is becoming the long-term answer for the Philadelphia Phillies.
Phillies president of baseball operations Dave Dombrowski told reporters Wednesday that the former MVP would remain at first going forward, via MLB.com’s Todd Zolecki:
“We decided we’re going to play him at first base. … He’s happy to do whatever we wanted him to do. He said he’d play first or the outfield. He feels great. But the more we talked about it internally, we liked the idea of playing him at first.”
Harper spent the first 11 seasons of his career playing as an outfielder or designated hitter (fun fact: he played catcher in college). Before the 2023 season, Harper had made two appearances at first base — neither of them starts — in his entire professional career, all the way back to when he was selected first overall in the 2010 MLB Draft.
That status quo was disrupted this season, after Harper underwent Tommy John surgery last November. Initially slated to be a full-time designated hitter, Harper took over first base after the Phillies struggled to find a replacement for longtime starter Rhys Hoskins, who missed all of 2023 with a torn ACL from spring training.
The returns on Harper at first were stunningly good for a guy playing a position regularly for the first time in his life, even if it’s the consensus easiest position on the diamond. In the advanced defensive numbers, Harper posted one defensive run saved and three outs above average, both stats were zero denotes league average.
Harper’s success continued into the postseason, looking like a natural during the Phillies’ run into the NLCS:
With Harper now set to cover first base in 2024 and beyond and Kyle Schwarber seeing more time at designated hitter, the Phillies appear set to say goodbye to Hoskins, their second-longest-tenured player behind Aaron Nola. Dombrowski said he explained the decision to Hoskins.
Hoskins will enter free agency likely seeking a team where he can post a bounce-back year and re-enter the market next winter.