The Washington Nationals sent seven players to the Arizona Fall League this year, including 2010 first overall pick Bryce Harper, to compete for the Scottsdale Scorpions. Joining Harper are LHP Matt Purke (’10 third round)LHP Sammy Solis (’10 second round), C Derek Norris (’07 fourth round), RHP Pat Lehman (’09 14th round), RHP Rafael Martin (’10 international free agent) and INF Zach Walters (’10 ninth round, acquired from Arizona for Jason Marquis).
Obviously, most of the attention in on Harper, the soon-to-be 19-year old from Las Vegas. He made quite a splash this season, his first in professional baseball, tearing up the Single-A South Atlantic League for the Hagerstown Suns, before a post-All-Star game promotion to Double-A Harrisburg, where he was heating up before pulling a hamstring trying to go from first-to-third on Aug. 19. In 37 games for the Senators, Harper hit .256/.329/.395 with seven doubles, a triple and three HRs. He pounded Class-A pitching to the tune of .318/.423/.554 with 17 doubles and 14 HRs in 72 games. Harper will be the youngest player in the AFL for the second straight season.
Purke is another one to watch in the desert league. This will be his first foray into pro ball, since he didn’t sign until the deadline last summer. Purke was a first round pick of the Texas Rangers in 2009 but didn’t sign after MLB, who was controlling the Rangers finances at the time before their sale to Nolan Ryan’s group, rejected an agreed-upon deal. He was 16-0 with 10.99 K/9 in 116 1/3 innings his freshman year at TCU. His sophomore year was cut short due to shoulder bursitis, but still posted a 5-1 record with a 1.71 ERA and 10.4 K/9 in 52 2/3 innings.
One Nats farm-hand that apparently won’t be making his pro debut in the AFL — for now, anyway — is Anthony Rendon, the No. 6 overall pick in last summer’s draft. According to The Washington Post, Rendon will stay in Florida with the Nationals instructional league team. Rendon is still building arm strength and improving his throwing motion in the wake of a shoulder injury that limited him to designated hitter duties his final season at Rice University, where he hit .327/.520/.523 in 63 games as a draft-eligble sophomore. Most independent scouting services ranked Rendon as the best college bat in the draft.Solis, 23, went a combined 8-3, 3.26, 1.272 between Single-A Hagerstown and Potomac, with an 8.7 K/9 rate in 17 starts.
Norris, a 22-year old catcher, also played for Scottsdale last year. For Harrisburg in 2010, Norris hit .210/.367/.446 with 17 doubles and 20 home runs in 104 games.
Walters, 22, hit .300/.367/.457 with 34 doubles, nine homers and 19 stolen bases between Single-A South Bend and Potomac last season.
Martin, 27, split time between Potomac and Harrisburg in 2010. Thought to be near-Major League ready when acquired out of the Mexican league two seasons ago, Martin has made a slow progression through the Nats system. He went 5-1 with 13 saves, 1.65 ERA and 0.985 WHIP last year as he finally put things together, though he was much older than most of his competition, as will be the case in Arizona.
Lehman is another prospect a little old for his level, as the 24-year old also split time between Potomac and Harrisburg. He compiled a 3-2 record with 13 saves, 3.08 ERA and ridiculous 0.705 WHIP in 42 games last year.