Harper stays scorching hot in desert heat
Nationals outfielder goes yard in his third straight AFL outing
Washington Nationals phenom Bryce Harper is relishing the chance to go head-to-head with some of the brightest pitchers in the game. Right now, it's the outfielder who's winning the battle.
Harper, MLB.com's No. 2 prospect, smacked a two-run homer in the eighth inning of the Scottsdale Scorpions' 9-5 Arizona Fall League victory over the Salt River Rafters on Friday. It marked the third consecutive game that he's gone deep.
"I was out for the last 40 games [of the regular season], so it was a big step to come here and face the best guys in the country on the bump," said Harper, who finished 1-for-4 with two runs, a walk and two strikeouts. "I felt pretty good ... They got me a couple times, I got them once.
"I don't know if I would say that I feel locked in. I still have some flaws to work on and I have to look for pitches I can drive. I need to let the game come to me."
The 19-year-old, who has also hit safely in nine straight outings, has left the yard four times in his last six games, during which he's batting 10-for-23 (.435). Harper collected his second long ball of the Fall in Wednesday's 10-5 loss to Mesa, but he exacted a measure of revenge by slugging a walk-off three-run homer to cap a four-RBI performance against the Solar Sox the following night.
Batting fifth, Harper, the top overall pick in the 2010 Draft, struck out swinging to end the first inning, then grounded out to first baseman Kody Hinze (Astros) for the final out of the third. He walked on four pitches to load the bases in the fifth frame before coming home when Tigers farmhand Rob Waite hit Zach Walters (Nationals) to force in a run. He struck out again to begin the seventh.
"I got ahead of myself a little bit. They were killing me with the off-speed stuff, with the slider, on the inside half of the plate," Harper explained. "I was trying to do too much. I was chasing. I just had to stay within myself.
"I wanted to go up there one more time and get the bat on the ball. I wasn't trying to go big fly, I just wanted to stay through the ball."
Batting with two outs and Mike Trout on third base in the eighth inning, the 6-foot-3 native of Las Vegas gave the Scorpions a 7-2 lead with a two-run homer off right-hander Parker Frazier. On a 1-0 count, the outfielder took Frazier's second offering to the deepest part of the ballpark in straightaway center field.
"He threw me a fastball off the plate, but he hung a slider," Harper said of his home run. "Frazier is a good pitcher with good stuff, but he left me something up. It felt pretty good off the bat, so I just put my head down and ran."
In 109 games between Class A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg this season, Harper hit .297 with 17 homers, 58 RBIs and 26 stolen bases.
On Friday, third baseman Walters plated three runs out of the No. 9 spot and Darin Ruf (Phillies) reached base safely four times and scored twice. MLB.com's top prospect, Mike Trout (Angels), recorded two hits and plated a run to raise his AFL average to .283, and Giants fourth-rounder Brandon Crawford added two hits and an RBI out of the three-hole.
"Trout and [Angels catcher Hank] Conger are swinging the bat really well, and Crawford is looking good," Harper said. "Trout's a great outfielder and I'm learning a lot from him. He's a big leaguer who's been there, the same with Crawford. You're playing against the top guys in the world here, learning from them is huge."
Phillies right-hander Tyler Cloyd (1-2) earned his first Fall League victory, surrendering two runs on four hits and two walks while striking out one batter over four innings.
Salt River's Hinze went 2-for-4 with a two-run homer and two runs scored, and Brian Cavazos-Galvez (Dodgers) added a three-run homer -- his first long ball of the year. Fellow Dodgers prospect Stephen Fife dropped his fifth consecutive decision. He yielded three runs -- two earned -- on three hits and three walks over 3 1/3 frames. He struck out three batters in the loss.
Ashley Marshall is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.