Bryce Harper has been sent here to destroy you. The rest of the National League will get that message soon enough. Whether it's late this year as Harper hopes, (unlikely), or in 2012 when he's 19-going-on 20, or 2013 when Baseball America projects Harper's ETA in D.C. while ranking him no.1 overall as the top prospect in baseball on this year's list of BA's Top 100 Prospects for 2011, Bryce Harper is coming. ESPN.com's Keith Law had the 18-year-old Harper second overall behind 19-year-old Angels' outfield prospect Mike Trout who's second on BA's list. The Nats' top prospect was the third best in baseball on MLB.com's Jonathan Mayo's Top 50, behind only Trout amongst outfielders, and he hasn't played a game in the Nationals' minor league system.
After signing moments before the mid-August deadline, Harper first reported to the Florida Instructional League where he hit .319 (15-for-47) playing for the first time above the Junior College level with some of the game's top prospects. Harper hit four doubles, a triple and four homers with 12 RBI's and walked seven times to lead Washington's, "Instructional League squad in homers, RBI and walks-posted .407 on-base and .702 slugging percentages en route to a stellar 1.110 OPS (OBP+SLG)," as the Nationals boasted in a press release annoucing that he'd next report to the Arizona Fall League, the so-called "finishing school" for some of the major-league-ready talent from around the league.
Playing twice a week as part of the Scottsdale Scorpions' "taxi" squad, Harper hit in 12 of 35 at bats, posting a .343/.410/.629 slash line with three doubles, two triples and one HR in nine games. The phenom is drawing crowds in Spring Training now, and as he explained to reporters yesterday his plan is to make it as hard as possible for the Nats to send him into their system for as long as he's up in the big league camp. Harper's joined in the Nats' Spring home in Viera, Florida by three other prospects who appear on this year's list of Baseball America's Top 100 Prospects: Danny Espinosa no. 66, Derek Norris no.72, and Wilson Ramos at no. 96.
Last year the Nats had three prospects on Baseball America's list, with '09 no.1 overall pick, pitcher Stephen Strasburg second overall behind only the Braves' Jason Heyward. Norris, who was 38th last season, and Strasburg's fellow '09 1st Round pick Drew Storen, ranked 92nd were the only other Nats on last year's list. Ramos, acquired at the deadline last July in a deal with the Twins that sent Matt Capps to Minnesota, was 58th last year seven months before the deal. In 2009, right-hander Jordan Zimmermann, the Nats' 07 2nd Round pick, was the only Nats' prospect on the list, ranked 41st overall. Wilson Ramos was 71st that year.
Potential future Nats' first baseman Chris Marrero, Washington's '06 1st Round pick, was 27th on Baseball America's Top 100 list in 2008, joined by '07 1st Round pick Ross Detwiler, no.51 and right-hander Collin Balester, an '04 4th Round pick by the Montreal Expos who was no.86 overall. Balester, at no. 95, was the only Nationals' prospect on the '07 Baseball America Top 100. In 2006, '05 1st Round pick Ryan Zimmerman, at no.15, was the only prospect on the BA Top 100 and left-hander Michael Hinckley, an Expos' '01 3rd Round pick, was the only prospect inherited from Montreal's system to appear on BA's Top 100 Prospect in the Nats' first year of existence in 2005.
The Nationals were one of five teams with four prospects on the 2011 Baseball America Top 100 List. Asked abouts similar appraisals of the Nats' system by independent organizations who were providing better and better reviews of Washington's prospects this year, D.C. GM Mike Rizzo told reporters earlier this winter that he takes such things, "with a grain of salt,":
"I've seen the improvement in our minor league system with my own eyes, so I kind of view that as really exciting and something that we're extremely proud of. You know, when periodicals say we're doing a good job, that's a good thing, but we don't put a lot of weight on that. We see that we're doing it the right way, we've seen a constant improvement in the organization on the minor league side. Obviously that was a huge point of emphasis for us, and I think at least the last two or three drafts have been extremely important for us and impactful for us, and I think it goes hand-in-hand with Kris Klein becoming the scouting director, Roy Clark becoming Assistant GM, these guys are baseball afficionados, they know the game, they know the draft game very well, and it's a unique skill set that they have and it's no coincidence that when those guys were brought in that we've taken off."
[In Rizzo/Kline/Clark We Trust.]