It took a little while, but Nationals outfield prospect Bryce Harper really punished Arizona Fall League pitches this past week. Harper hit several majestic home runs to help his team and his own personal psyche. What was quickly becoming a lost fall for the big 19-year-old outfielder returned quickly to the realization of Harper's promising hitting skills. He turned 19 in the middle of October and he celebrated by awakening his bat. I look for Harper to continue his development in minor league baseball for the early part of 2012. I may be wrong. We have to watch his situation during spring training. I just don't think it will benefit the team or the player to advance Harper to the major leagues until his development is complete.
Rockies right-hander Joe Gardner has shown me once again that the Indians made a mistake including him in the deal for Ubaldo Jimenez. Those who follow my work regularly know I was sick to my stomach at the trading of Drew Pomeranz, Alex White, Matt McBride and Gardner for Jimenez.
Gardner is a solid right-hander with very good sink on the ball. He throws at around 92 mph, but everything seems to move. Gardner is relatively effortless on the mound, with fluid mechanics and few moving parts. If he does happen to lose command or control, it won't take a major repair job to fix his no windup delivery. He's smooth and in control. Anyone that can consistently induce groundballs in Colorado will be a winner.
The Rockies may choose to use Gardner out of the bullpen. He has the arm strength to start, but he may not have a deep enough repertoire for that role. Rather, he may be a great weapon to bring out of the bullpen when a groundball is needed. Keep your eye on Gardner through spring training.
I got my first ever look at Rangers outfielder Leonys Martin. A late arrival to his Surprise Saguaros team, Martin has been assigned to the “taxi squad.” Taxi squad players play only on Wednesday and Saturday. I haven't really been very impressed with what I've seen of Martin in two games so far. Granted, that's not a big sample.
I am partial to guys who hustle. I like guys who run after balls in the outfield, chasing down anything in their area code. If they can't catch it, at least they made the effort. I did not see defensive effort from Martin. I saw rather lazy routes to balls. I saw him defer to the right fielder twice on balls that a solid center fielder should handle. It bothered me.
I saw little plate discipline. He was up there hacking away, showing little patience to look at pitches. He hit a homer in his first at-bat in the AFL. It may have been the worst thing that could happen. Martin is not a home-run hitter, he's a single's and gap hitter that should be able to use his speed to stretch hits and score runs. His swing looked too forced and a bit too long at this point. Listed at 6-foot-1 and 180 pounds, Martin does not look to have a strong, athletic body. My jury is still out on Martin. Frankly, I think the Rangers already have enough players like him in Craig Gentry, David Murphy, and even Endy Chavez and Julio Borbon. After seeing Martin, I'm puzzled at the amount of money Texas spent to acquire the Cuban native.
Wil Myers is having an outstanding fall and I think he's knocking on the Royals' door. His transition from catching to the outfield seems to be going very well. With a crowded outfield already, perhaps the Royals are looking to move one of their outfielders or even DH Billy Butler to create playing time and a place for Myers.
The impressive part of Myers' fall so far has been his pitch recognition and his patience at the plate. He has walked consistently and he puts a good swing on the ball. He just doesn't get cheated. While Myers has home-run power, he really excels in hitting the gaps, running well and scoring runs.
Gary Brown, the Giants' first-rounder had an outstanding season at High-A San Jose in the California League. He hasn't followed that success in the AFL. In fact, Brown is hitting .220 with no homers and four RBI. So what's the problem? From my perspective, it's simple. His hands are clutched against his chest and he has great difficulty swinging through the ball. If he continues that approach he will tie himself up and find hitting pitches on the outside corner more and more difficult. That's how pitchers are getting him out. They pound him away, away, away and he can't reach the pitch. He has to uncoil first and extend second. The swing isn't fluid and he's way too tied up. I had seen issues with his swing in the past, but it seems so much more pronounced at this point.
Catcher Christian Bethancourt of the Braves is the type of hitter managers love to see behind the plate. He gets good wood on pitches and he can drive the ball to the gaps and over the fence. He is very athletic at 6-foot-2,190 pounds and doesn't look like a typical catcher. He does, however, have enough defensive ability to carve out a place for himself on the Braves' roster as a possible backup catcher in the future (as long as the Braves have an All-Star behind the plate in Brian McCann). Bethancourt is hitting .333/3/10 with a 1:12 BB:K. Bethancout has stolen three bases. He's a guy to remember when you're looking for a future catcher in a keeper league.
Cubs infielder Junior Lake has been leading the AFL in stolen bases. Lake is an interesting guy to watch. I'm not convinced he has enough defensive ability to play shortstop. He looks lost on some ground balls and his arm has been erratic. He's made four errors that have been charged so far. On some other plays he could have been charged with an error as well.
His single greatest tool is his ability to run. He doesn't have super blazing speed, but he has the ability to read pitchers well and he's lightning-quick with his first step. He gets good reads and knows when to run. He's stolen third as well as second.
I'm not too excited about his future at this point of his career. In 2011, Lake hit .248 at Double-A Tennessee. He stole 19 bases there after reaching the same total with High-A Daytona prior to his promotion. He's exciting to watch run, but he's a work in progress.
The Rays' Tim Beckham has started to hit a bit more in the last week or so. Prior to this week, he hasn't been very impressive at the plate.
Beckham hit .255 this past season at Triple-A Durham in a 24-game stint. Prior to that, he played for Double-A Montgomery where he hit a very respectable .275/7/57.
Will Beckham ever realize the potential the Rays saw when they drafted him with their first selection and as the first overall pick in 2008? He's still only 21, so he has time to develop. He is improving with repetition, but he has a long way to go to develop a consistent swing at the plate, better pitch recognition and more patience. He's currently hitting .263/3/13 with three stolen bases. His defense looks sound.
- Mariners lefty prospect Danny Hultzen will face off against the No. 1 pick in the June draft when he faces Pirates right-hander Gerrit Cole in the Rising Stars game this coming Saturday night in Surprise.
- Cubs right-hander Trey McNutt has been inconsistent so far on the mound. He took the mound on Tuesday with a 6.00 ERA and a 1.89 WHIP, but those numbers don't tell the complete story. There are times when he makes hitters look really bad with good stuff that breaks quickly. He has a 96 mph fastball but inconsistent mound mechanics. When he tries to throw too hard he opens up too quickly and loses command. Inconsistent is the word for McNutt.
- I'll be on Twitter all evening from the Rising Stars game Saturday, November 5th. Hope you'll follow me that night.
Week 4 Players of the Week as selected by the AFL staff:
INF Nolan Arenado, Colorado Rockies
LHP Miguel De Los Santos, Texas Rangers
BERNIE'S PLAYER OF THE WEEK:
OF Bryce Harper, Washington Nationals
Follow me on Twitter @BerniePleskoff. I send out tweets prior to every AFL game I attend Monday-Saturday. Follow me on MLB.com in the opinions section.