Bryce Harper's first pro HR last night was an oppo-boppo two-run blast to left field that cleared the wall and put the Hagerstown Suns up 4-0 in the third inning of a game they'd eventually lose to the Lexington Legends by a score of 6-4. The 18-year-old Nats' 2010 no.1 overall took Houston Astros' 19-year-old 6'4'' right-hander Ruben Alaniz deep after flying out to right in his first at bat. The HR gave Harper two hits in 10 at bats in the three-game series against the Legends and after popping out to short and flying out to left in his final at bat of the night, Harper was hitting .240 (6 for 25) with a HR, five RBI's, three walks and seven K's in seven games.
MLB.com writer Tom Singer, in his recap of last night's game entitled, "Nationals prospect Harper hits first homer", wondered if Alaniz's name would become part of the growing legend of the preternaturally gifted hitter's rise from YouTube sensation and SI cover kid to major league ball player. Getting his first HR out of the way last night was just another small step.
Harper, as most people know by now, left high school early and earned his GED so that he could get into Junior college a year early and once there, the then-17-year-old playing against older opponents hit .443 AVG (101-for-228) with 23 doubles, four triples, 31 home runs, 98 RBI's, 39 walks and 20 stolen bases in 66 games played for the College of Southern Nevada in a wood bat league. After he was taken no.1 overall in the Draft by the Nats, Harper reported first to the Florida Instructional League where he hit in 15 of 47 at bats for a .319 AVG with four doubles, a triple, four homers, 12 RBI's and seven walks.
Up next was the Arizona Fall League last November, where Harper hit .343/.410/.629 with three doubles, two triples and a HR in 9 games and 35 at bats playing twice a week against some of the top prospects in the game as part of the Scottsdale Scorpions' taxi squad. Harper played nine games with the Nats in Spring Training before he was sent to Minor League camp and eventually assigned to Class-A Hagerstown. After a relatively (for him) slow start to Spring Training, Harper finished his first camp with a .389/.450/.556 slash line, three doubles and five RBI's.
The 18-year-old, once again playing against competition with age and experience over the future Nats' outfielder, managed to impress the Nationals' manager Jim Riggleman, who told MLB Network Radio hosts Jim Memolo and Rob Dibble what impressed him most about Harper in an interview yesterday, the morning before Harper hit his first HR:
Jim Riggleman: "The thing that struck me in Spring Training, was generally, in general terms he's a good baseball player. He can play defense, he can throw, he can run, he plays hard, he runs the bases, he can hit. Specifically what I was really impressed with is he's a young guy that I saw turn on, into left-center and right-center gaps, on 95 mph fastballs that were up, and you know the ball that's up, the pitch that [Tyler] Clippard throws and gets a lot of strikeouts on, that you try to lay off it, but it's hard to lay off because it's right there, you see it good, it's very hard to lay off of it and you can't do anything with it. He hit at least five of those pitches during the course of the Spring where he just smoked those pitches, so it's just very comforting to know that this kid can hit a good high fastball already, because I know he can hit the low fastball, if you can't run that high fastball by him in a chase situation, that's going to be tough for pitchers to deal with. I was really pleased to see it, I can see why he hit all those HR's in college."
• Here's Harper's 1st pro HR (video courtesy of the Nationals PR department @NationalsPR on Twitter):