March 6, 2012; Lake Buena Vista, FL, USA; Washington Nationals right fielder Bryce Harper (34) bats in the sixth inning of the game against the Atlanta Braves at Champion Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Daniel Shirey-US PRESSWIRE
The Washington Nationals' top prospect, 2010 no.1 overall pick Bryce Harper, came to the plate in the bottom of the first this afternoon with runners on first and second and two down against 22-year-old New York Mets' prospect Jeurys Familia in the Syracuse Chiefs' first game of a doubleheader with the Buffalo Bisons. Harper flew out to center on an 0-1 fastball to end the first and lower his average a little (to .217) on the season, but in the top of the second the 19-year-old second-year pro showed his range in the outfield, tracking a low liner off veteran backstop Rob Johnson's bat and making a sliding catch in right-center to help Chiefs' starter Yunesky Maya out of an inning in which the 30-year-old Cuban-born right-hander gave up a two-run HR to put Syracuse down 2-0 early.
In his second at bat of the day in the fourth, with the Chiefs down 3-0, Harper worked the count full against Familia and crushed a 3-1 fastball, sending a screaming liner out to right and over the fence for a solo HR (350ft+). It was Harper's first in 61 at bats in his first season at Triple-A after a 2011 campaign in which the Las Vegas, Nevada-born left-handed hitting outfielder had a combined .297/.392/.501 slash with 24 doubles, two triples and 17 HR's in 109 games and 452 plate appearances between Class-A Hagerstown and Double-A Harrisburg. Harper's off to another one of the slow starts those following his rise have seen at each new level he's reached. Nats' GM Mike Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN's Holden Kushner and Danny Rouhier earlier this week, however, that he's happy with what he's seen so far from the player widely-considered the best outfield prospect in baseball.
Entering today's game, Harper had a .220/.292/.322 line with four doubles, a triple, six walks and 13 K's in 15 games and 59 AB's. "He's playing extremely well defensively," Rizzo told 106.7 the FAN's Mr.'s Kushner and Rouhier. (In an interview with Nats beat writers this week, the Nats' GM as quoted by NatsInsider.com's Mark Zuckerman, offered a quick two-line scouting report on Harper's improvement defensively, "'He's taken good routes... His throwing is really improved. His accuracy in throwing has improved.'") "He's really taking to center field well," the Nationals' general manager said, "We sprinkle him in to right field every once in a while, but primarily he plays center field. Swinging the bat extremely well. He doesn't have a lot of hits for it, but as we've all learned in the short time he's been with us, he's usually a slow starter at each level, and once he gets a feel for the league, he should be able to perform very well."
"He's a big-time offensive player that's learning how to play the other portions of the game," Rizzo continued. "We see no problems with Bryce. He's gonna help us big time as a power left-handed bat in the near future, and when he does come up, we expect him to perform well and stay up and not go back to the minor leagues after that."
Harper's third at bat this afternoon came in the bottom of the sixth against 30-year-old veteran left-hander Chuck James with Syracuse down 6-1. The left-handed Harper, who's struggled against LHP (3 for 20 before today), fouled off a first pitch fastball outside then reached first safely on a slow-roller to third for an infield single to leave him 2 for 3 in what ended up a 6-1 loss in the first game of two to be played in Syracuse this afternoon. With his first home run out of the way, is it time for one of the trademark takeoffs that have followed his slow starts?
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