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Seventh-Inning Stretch: Bryce Harper’s weigh-in; Corey Hart whistles optimistic tune

Scott Pianowski
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Super Soph (USAT)

Today's collection of February nuggets is brought to you by the Letter H. Settle in, settlers.

Mike Trout and Bryce Harper might wind up being linked for their entire careers; at least we all should be hoping for that. A Magic-Bird type of run, shaped for the diamond, would be a blast to watch.

[Baseball 2013 from Yahoo! Fantasy Sports: Join a league today!]

With that general theme in mind, let's take a second and note the physical similarity to the players entering their post-ROY seasons. We've already had a talk about Trout's bulked-up physique in The Arcade (Andy Behrens blogged about it here, and I touched on it briefly here); now we'll check in with Harper.

The Washington wonderland reported to spring training more than ready for his close up, checking in at 230 pounds. That's nearly a 20-pound gain from the weight Harper played at last year. Here's more on Harper's gym work, courtesy of James Wagner and the Washington Post:

Harper built his body as big and strong as he could during the winter, an offseason activity he has made a mission since high school. He loses weight quickly; playing baseball nearly everyday for the next eight months, especially the hell-bent way Harper does, can do that to a body. By the end of spring training, Harper figures he will lose 10 pounds.

Since mid-November, when he started lifting again, Harper set his alarm for 4:50 a.m. four times a week, was up by 5 and was at Soder’s training facility in Las Vegas by 5:30 to join a group of minor league and major league players. The intense, non-stop workouts last between 90 minutes and two hours, a little longer on leg days. His older brother, Bryan, 23, a Nationals minor league pitcher, accompanied him.

“It gives me a good time to relax and hang out and clear my mind,” Harper said. “Lifting and stuff really helps me clear my mind. I love it.”

The Nationals wanted to move Harper out of center field as soon as possible, to prevent the mental and physical wear and tear on his muscular body. That was part of the reason for the late-November trade for Denard Span, the type of leadoff hitter and center fielder the Nationals have long coveted. But to Harper it didn’t matter where he was going to play, he was going to show up to camp at 230 pounds even if he was the everyday center fielder.

Okay, we're not talking about the biggest story of the season here – it's been a slow news week. But there are two positive takeaways to consider in this piece: I like the idea of Harper being on a corner outfield spot (in theory, that means less chances for mayhem), and I also like seeing that he plans to lose about 10 pounds from baseball activities over the next month or so. Don't lose any of that flexibility, killer.

The Brewers aren't sure of their first base plan now that Mat Gamel is out for the year. Hunter Morris, by default, sits at the top of the depth chart. But maybe Corey Hart will be part of the solution sooner rather than later.

Hart had knee surgery in late January and the initial prognosis had him missing four months. But Hart feels he's ahead of schedule (like 99 percent of the injured population when asked for a timetable), aiming for a return around April 20. Party at the moon tower. Hart now longer is a factor on the bases (he's stolen just 19 bags the last three years), but a .270-91-30-83 line plays in any format.

If you want to cut up the data and play with the arbitrary endpoints, Phil Hughes had a nifty half-season in 2012. His 16 appearances from June 3 to Aug. 28 shape up this way: nine wins, 3.20 ERA, 25 walks, 81 strikeouts, 1.16 WHIP. Alas, the rest of the season counts, and he wasn't fooling anyone in April, May or September (5.46 ERA). Do whatever you want with that data.

Today, the biggest issue with Hughes is health. He's dealing with a bulging disc in his upper spine and isn't expected to do any throwing for two weeks. Normally this might not be a big deal for the Yankees, but the New Yorkers are just another team in the AL East entering 2013 (on paper, anyway) and can't afford any setbacks to key personnel. I'm not going to spend any mixed-league cash on Hughes next month unless I'm positive he's 100 percent.

The Angels are keeping Albert Pujols under wraps for a while; he probably won't open Cactus League play until the middle of March. He's coming off a knee scope in October. At least Pujols is unlikely to play in the World Baseball Classic, a bonus for fantasy owners. Pujols is the consensus No. 8 player on the latest Y-5 board, with a high rank of five (D3) and a low of 11 (Pianow).

St. Louis hotshot pitching prospect Shelby Miller is battling shoulder tightness, although the Cardinals say it's no big deal. (We learned the routine from Ball Four; no one is ever hurt, it's just a little stiffness.) The Cardinals would love to see Miller step up and win a rotation spot this spring, especially with Chris Carpenter hurt and Kyle Lohse not returning. Miller received above-fold promotion in the prestigious Behrens 13 Rookie Ranks this week.

Frank Francisco (elbow) might be able to resume throwing Monday, though that's not a set-in-stone deadline. Right-hander Bobby Parnell is the man benefiting from Francisco's health status; he's currently sitting atop the Mets depth chart in the bullpen and he's entering his Age 27 campaign. Parnell had notable improvement in his walk rate and ground-ball rate last year, and while his strikeouts also fell, whiffing eight batters per every nine innings is good enough for this gig. Keep him highlighted on your sleeper list.

Troy Tulowitzki rested his groin for the offseason, but he's in good form in Colorado's early camp. He's expected to play in Saturday's spring opener, per the Denver Post, and he's been active hitting and fielding for the past week and a half.

Are you willing to take a first or second-round plunge on a player with this injury history? Tulo is currently No. 15 on the Yahoo! consensus board; Behrens slots him at No. 11, while I'm again the doubter in the group (No. 22).

Before you check out, please review this Yahoo! Fantasy Baseball clip from Dr. Behrens. There will be a pop quiz at some point in March; be prepared.

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