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Pleskoff's AFL Notebook: Harper Already Turning Heads in BP

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff

Bernie Pleskoff is a former professional scout for the Houston Astros and Seattle Mariners.

Welcome to the first edition of my 2010 Fall League Report.

Each week I will be providing updates and opinions regarding individuals playing in the Arizona Fall League.

The Arizona Fall League is termed “finishing school” for current minor league players destined for the major leagues at some point in the future. The league is generally hitter dominant because many of the pitchers enter the competition with tired arms.

Each major league club dispatches seven highly regarded prospects to Arizona for the six-week season. The players have an opportunity to complete their development and hone their skills under the watchful eyes of organizational coaches. Each of six competing teams are comprised of five major league organizations.

Rosters include 35 players with 20 pitchers (only 15 are designated as eligible per game.) Teams have players designated as “taxi squad” players. These players are activated only Wednesdays and Saturdays.

The team mix this year is as follows:

Mesa Solar Sox = Chicago Cubs, New York Mets, Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, Philadelphia Phillies and Pittsburgh Pirates

Phoenix Desert Dogs = Atlanta Braves, Florida Marlins, Los Angeles Dodgers, New York Yankees, Oakland Athletics

Scottsdale Scorpions = Arizona Diamondbacks, Baltimore Orioles, Colorado Rockies, San Francisco Giants, Washington Nationals

Peoria Javelinas = Boston Red Sox, Cleveland Indians, Houston Astros, Seattle Mariners, Toronto Blue Jays

Peoria Saguaros = Chicago White Sox, Cincinnati Reds, Minnesota Twins, San Diego Padres, Tampa Bay Rays

Surprise Rafters = Detroit Tigers, Kansas City Royals, Milwaukee Brewers, St. Louis Cardinals, Texas Rangers

Each week, I will select information to share with you that I feel will help you get the edge on your competition for the upcoming fantasy baseball season. Over 3,000 players have played in the AFL. Of those, some 1,800 fall league players reached the big leagues at some point. That’s the reason every major league organizations sends countless scouts and front office personnel to watch the league’s games from October 12 through November 20.

Bryce Harper - OF Washington Nationals

In the middle of the first week of competition, the league announced that Washington Nationals first-round draft choice (No. 1 overall) Bryce Harper would be joining the Scottsdale Scorpions beginning Oct. 20. Harper is designated a “taxi squad” player and he’ll be playing every Wednesday and Saturday.

On Tuesday, October 19th, Harper was featured at an introductory press conference followed by his first AFL batting practice. Since he wasn’t eligible to play in the Tuesday game, scouts came early to watch Harper in the batting practice session. Wow! After a rare batting practice swing and miss, Harper deposited a pitch halfway up the berm over the right field wall. It was a line drive shot, barely clearing the fence. But it was mammoth. There is no question about the 6-foot-3, 225-pound left-handed hitting right fielder’s power. He came to batting practice as advertised. Only he isn’t allowed to wear the eye black all the way down his face as he had done in the past in the manner of Kiss or Alice Cooper.

As you may know, Harper left his traditional high school education early so he could join the College of Southern Nevada junior college team. Harper received his high school equivalency and began his journey to become a major league ball player. He chose the College of Southern Nevada because they play in a league with wooden bats. During his season he hit .442/29/89. The Nationals were convinced of his uncanny ability and awesome potential and they drafted him with the first selection in the June 2010 draft.

Harper also played in the Florida Instructional League where he hit .319 with an on base percentage of .407. He did that while he was still only 17 years old, and he just turned 18 Saturday (Oct. 16). His professional debut (games for which admission is charged and statistics are kept) took place the following Wednesday.

Harper, who wears number 34 for the Nationals, hit seventh in the Scottsdale Scorpions' lineup in his first appearance in the AFL. In his first at-bat, Harper saw one pitch and he popped it up to the shortstop. In his second at-bat, Harper lined an 0-2 pitch to the center fielder. In his third at bat, Harper took a called strike under his hands and then grounded sharply to third. In his fourth and final at bat, Harper hit a high drive to left field with the bases loaded. The ball bounced over the fence for a ground-rule double as he just missed a grand slam. He looked much more relaxed in his fourth at bat. He has outstanding bat speed that helps generate power to all fields. All in all, it was a fine beginning for the highly regarded Harper.

I had a chance to listen to Harper at his press conference and then I spoke to him afterward. Among his thoughts were the following:

- He does not feel it is a big transition to go from junior college to playing against minor league players in the AFL. He indicated he is very ready for the challenge of playing against minor league players.

- He just “likes to hit.”

- He isn’t worried about moving from being a catcher to playing the outfield and said he is willing to work on learning his new position.

- Joey Votto told him that one of his (Votto’s) favorite places to hit is in Washington. Harper was encouraged by that.

- He does not feel his age is a factor in his development. He indicated other players have reached the major leagues at age 18 or 19 and he doesn’t see why he can’t do the same thing.

- His dad accompanied him to Arizona. He’s close with his family and his brother is among his biggest supporters.

Harper, like his future teammate Stephen Strasburg is a rare athlete. He has skills that are rarely seen. He has poise and composure that many twice his age only wish they could possess. Harper will get every chance to play every day in the minor leagues (probably Class A ball initially).

If you get the chance to grab Bryce Harper in a keeper league, do it! There is a chance we could see him in Washington at some point in 2011. It is more likely, however, that he will spend his 18th year on earth working on his swing and his defense in the minor leagues. It’s way too early to tell how soon he will be with the big club.

I will write a complete analysis of Harper in my column during the regular season. However, I will update his Fall League stats in my weekly Fall League reports in this space.

Ben Revere - OF Minnesota Twins

I wrote extensively about Revere in one of my first Minor League Reports two years ago.

Revere is a very fast, multi-tooled center fielder with game-changing speed. He knows how to run and he knows how to use that speed to put pressure on the defense.

Revere is a slap hitter in the mold and style of Juan Pierre. However, unlike Pierre, Revere plays outstanding defense and he has a very strong and accurate throwing arm. The only tool missing from Revere’s overall arsenal is power hitting. He won’t hit homers, but he can hit the ball to the gaps and run, run, run.

During the first week of the AFL, pitchers couldn’t get Revere out. In fact, he kept slapping the ball beyond the shortstop and third baseman into short left field. He was so accurate dumping balls in the “no man’s land” that teams starting playing their center fielder to the extreme left field side, leaving a huge gap in right-center. Wouldn’t you know it? Revere hit the ball directly over second base and ruined that strategy. Through the first seven games of the season, Revere was hitting an even .500 with a perfect 4-for-4 mark on stolen-base attempts.

It’s difficult to know where Revere will fit with the Twins. He has never hit less than .300 in his four-season minor league career. In 2010, Revere hit .305 with 36 stolen bases at Double-A New Britain, where he was also caught stealing 13 times.

Revere has, however, been slowed by injuries. He has had knee and leg problems as well as a more serious orbital injury when he was hit in the head with a pitch. Despite the injuries, Revere has managed to overcome one or more annoying ailments a season for his entire minor league career.

He should advance in the Twins' system if he can stay healthy, even though Minnesota is strong in the outfield. Revere gives them outstanding depth or the ability to trade a player for some much needed pitching or power, and having quality players available in the system makes good teams even better. Ben Revere is that type player.

AFL Players of the Week as selected by the AFL staff: (Week 1)

Ryan Adams - 3B Baltimore Orioles
Brandon Wood - 3B Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim

Bernie's Eyes Are On

Brandon Belt - 1B Giants
Charlie Culberson - INF Giants

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