One of the most intriguing Spring Training Battles of 2011 revolves around one of the most-hyped prospects in baseball history, Bryce Harper. The SI Cover Boy will be entering his first camp as a professional at the ripe old age of 18 years. Now, we know that the odds of Harper actually breaking camp with the team are very slim, as the Nats have a large corps of MLB-ready outfielders to fill out the 5 available spots. But, I think its something that should be at least brought to the table. In this post I am going to take a look at Harper's Arizona Fall League (AFL) appearance in a bit of detail, just to make a gauge at his readiness for big-league action.
Selected to play for the Scottsdale Scorpions taxi-squad, Harper was only allowed to play in 2 games a week, while fully participating in every practice. Normally this isn't a big deal, there are always taxi-squad players, but what made this so different is that he was just the second youngest player in AFL history (by a whopping 2 days). So, after his quick jaunt in the Nationals Fall Instructional League, it was time for Harper to step up to the plate against top-of-the-line, one-step-below-the-Major-Leagues talent.
Lets take a look at his game by game, to try and see how he stacked up against top talent.
October 20 vs. Mesa Solar Sox
1 for 4. 2B. 2 RBI.
AB #1 - Pop out to SS against Josh Zeid, a 10th rounder for the Phils in '09.
AB #2 - Line out to CF against Kyle Smid, a 5th rounder for the Dodgers in '06.
AB #3 - Ground out to 3B against Chris Carpenter, a 3rd rounder for the Cubs in '08
AB #4 - Ground Rule Double, 2 RBIs against Brian Leach, a 25th rounder for the Pirates in '08
October 23 vs. Phoenix Desert Dogs
2 for 4. 2 1B. 1 K.
AB #1 - Line out to 3B against Manuel Banuelos, Yankees International Free Agent.
AB #2 - Single against Banuelos
AB #3 - Strikeout against Peter Andrelczyk, a 5th rounder for the Marlins in '08
AB #4 - Single against Javy Guerra, a 4th rounder for the Dodgers in '04
October 27 vs. Mesa Solar Sox
0 for 4. 2 K.
AB #1 - Strikeout against Robert Carson, a 14th rounder for the Mets in '07
AB #2 - Pop out to 2B against David Cales, a 24th rounder for the Cubs in '08
AB #3 - Strikeout against Brian Leach, see above
AB #4 - Ground out to 2B against Chris Kissock, a 9th rounder for the Phils in '07
October 30 vs. Peoria Saguaros
3 for 5. 2B. HR. R. 2 RBI. 2 K.
AB #1 - Home Run against Erik Davis, a 13th rounder for the Padres in '08
AB #2 - Single against James Avery, a 5th rounder for the Reds in '05
AB #3 - Strikeout against James Avery
AB #4 - Strikeout against Brad Brach, a 42nd rounder for the Padres in '08
AB #5 - Double against Anthony Carter, a 26th rounder for the White Sox in '05
November 3 vs. Surprise Rafters
1 for 2. 2 BB. 2 R. 1 K.
AB #1 - Strikeout against Brian Broderick, a 21st rounder for the Cardinals in '07
AB #2 - Bunt single against Brian Broderick
AB #3 - Walk against Adalberto Flores, a 32nd rounder for the Marlins in '05
AB #4 - Walk against Matt Hoffman, a 26th rounder for the Tigers in '07
November 5 vs Phoenix Desert Dogs
1 for 4. 1 BB. 2 K.
AB #1 - Walk against Travis Banwart, a 4th rounder for the A's in '07
AB #2 - Single against Travis Banwart
AB #3 - Strikeout against Benino Pruneda, a 31st rounder for the Braves in '07
AB #4 - Flies out against Lance Sewell, a 7th rounder for the A's in '07
AB #5 - Strikeout against Justin James, a 5th rounder for the Blue Jays in '03, now with the A's
November 10 vs Peoria Saguaros
2 for 5. 2 3B. 2 RBI. 2 R. 2 K.
AB #1 - Flies out against Daryl Thompson, an 8th rounder for the Expos in '03, now with Reds
AB #2 - Triple against Kyle Waldrop, a 12th rounder for the Reds in '10
AB #3 - Strikeout against Tyler Robertson, a 3rd rounder for the Twins in '06
AB #4 - Triple against James Avery, see above
AB #5 - Strikeout against Jeremy Horst, a 21st rounder for the Reds in '07
November 13th vs Surprise Rafters
0 for 3. 1 BB.
AB #1 - Popout against Michael Fiers, a 22nd rounder for the Brewers in '09
AB #2 - Walk against Michael Fiers
AB #3 - Reach on error against Brandon Sisk, minor league FA signed by the Royals in '09
AB #4 - Ground out against Chance Ruffin, a 1st rounder for the Tigers in '10
November 17 vs Mesa Solar Sox
2 for 4. 2B. RBI. K.
AB #1 - GIDP against Tyson Brummett, a 7th rounder for the Phillies in '07
AB #2 - Single against Chris Kissock, see above
AB #3 - Strikeout against Steven Geltz, minor league FA signed by the Angels in '08
AB #4 - Double against Jacob Diekman, a 30th rounder for the Phillies in '07
November 20 vs Peoria Javelinas - AFL Championship Game
1 for 4. RBI. 2 K.
AB #1 - Single against Kyle Greenwalt, a 20th rounder for the Astros in '07
AB #2 - Flies out against Tom Wilhelmsen, a 7th rounder for the Brewers in '02, now w/ Seattle
AB #3 - Strikeout against Alan Farina, a 3rd rounder for the Blue Jays in '07
AB #4 - Strikeout against Josh Lueke, a 16th rounder for the Rangers in '07
For a Grand Total of .343 AVG. 1.039 OPS. 1 HR. 2 3B. 3 2B. 7 RBI. 4 BB. 11 K.
Looking back at each of those AFL games you can see that most of the competition he faced has about 3 years of minor league experience. Sprinkled in, there are a few prospects that were drafted in '09 or '10, but the vast majority* is from '07 and before, meaning they have several full seasons under their belt. To be able to face top quality pitching while putting up those kind of offensive numbers while showing above average defense in the outfield is a testament to his prodigious talent, especially considering he was never a full-time outfielder before September.
*Breakdown of Draft Status*
2010 - 2... 2009 - 3... 2008 - 6... 2007 - 13... 2006 - 2... 2005 - 3... 2004 - 1... 2003 - 2... 2002 - 1
1st Round - 1... 2nd - 0... 3rd - 3... 4th - 1... 5th - 3... 6th - 0... 7th - 2... 8th - 1... 9th - 1... 10th - 1... 11+ - 15
Total of 13 pitchers drafted in the Top 10 rounds. 24 of the picks were drafted in the '07 class or later.
Will Harper's talent be enough to unseat a player such as Michael Morse or Roger Bernadina in 2011? I highly doubt it. Even with a solid Spring Training, the Nats are most likely going to make Harper pay his dues riding the bus in the Minors; much like Strasburg had to do this past year, after dominating big league talent in March. And I'm guessing that the Nats don't want to start his Arbitration clock too soon. I would say that I am about 99.9% sure that Harper will be headed to Hagerstown or Potomac come the end of April, but that still leaves .1%.
If the stars align perfectly (IE Harper hits 1.000 with a 4.000 Slugging % in 30+ ABs), Harper could wind up playing against the Braves on Opening Day. Roaming the grounds of Nationals Park, creating a devastating tag team of Zimmerman, Werth, and Harper. Feasting on fastballs by the Phillies so-called Four Horseman. Winning Rookie of the Year and MVP Honors...
Hey, I'm allowed to dream, right?