New Syracuse Chiefs manager Randy Knorr guided the Scottsdale Scorpions to the Arizona Fall League title last month with several Nationals prospects on his roster, including No. 1 overall selection Bryce Harper.
Harper had a great month in Arizona, batting .343 with three doubles, two triples, a homer and seven RBIs in nine games. He had an RBI single in the championship game, a 3-2 win over Peoria.
“Everybody sees him hit the ball out of Yellowstone Park, per se, and he does do that,” Knorr said. “I get that. That is impressive. But the one thing for me, he is like Ty Cobb. He plays hard. He will put you on your (butt).”
“He will run over you at the plate,” Knorr continued. “That is what we teach in the Washington system. We don’t teach dirty play. But if you are on first base, your job is to go into second base as clean as possible and break up the double play.”
“We don’t want you to slide into second base and pat the guy on the (butt). That is not what we are about over here. We teach our guys, if you are coming into score, it is your job to score.”
“If the catcher gives you the plate, you got to score. You have to find a way to get to the plate. But if the catcher takes away the plate, you have to go through him. You have to. You have to score. Bryce is that guy. He is a poster child for that and I really enjoy that part of him.”
Knorr says opponents usually didn’t appreciate Harper’s aggressive style of play.
“Funny thing is, I think some of the other players in the Arizona league took offense to that,” Knorr said. “It was sad. It was a shame. In one of his first hits, he makes a hard turn around first and breaks it down. I look in the opposing dugout and they were all laughing and pointing, and I am sitting there going, ‘That is what you should be doing! What are you doing? You are laughing at this kid because he plays the game right.’ “
Knorr says the other team retaliated for what they perceived to be overzealous and physical play by Harper.
“After he slid past the bag at second base on a ground ball, he didn’t even touch the shortstop,” Knorr said. “But because he was aggressive and flew past the bag they decided to hit our next hitter. Which I thought was bad. When I saw that happen I thought there is something wrong in the game.”
Knorr believes he has figured out where aggressive base running has been eliminated and it started at the amateur level.
“I actually believe that the problem in the game is that, in the high schools and colleges, they have so much safety (that guys now don’t go hard into second base any more),” Knorr said. “It is not the player’s fault. So, when they get in pro ball they know they can put this guy on his butt. They are going to do it.
“And when the middle infielders aren’t used to that kind of play, they take offense to it and show a reaction. Of course, whoever is on the mound that day then will try to protect their player. That is the way the game is played. Because if Harper did something wrong the umpire in the middle would have called an automatic double play. But he didn’t.”
Knorr thinks Harper is one of those special players. “I have seen guys hit it a mile,” Knorr said. “He has got a great arm. He has great baseball instincts.”
So where does Knorr believe Harper will start his minor league career: Low Single-A Hagerstown, advanced Single-A Potomac or Double-A Harrisburg?
“He is probably going to move pretty good,” Knorr said. “The thing that he does do for his age is he has the ability to make in-at-bat adjustments. You see him lefty-on-lefty and cheat on the breaking ball and miss the ball by five feet. He might not hit a double or base hit during the course of an at-bat or he might even strike out, but I don’t see the same swing.”
Knorr believes Harper’s advanced ability to make in at-bat adjustments separates him from a lot of other players.
“I will see him try to make an adjustment,” Knorr said. “You see another guy lefty-on-lefty and he will take the same swing three times and he goes and sits down. Not Bryce, he makes those adjustments. It is Bryce’s instincts and the way he plays the game that is special for me.”
Hear the complete two-part interview with Knorr on nationals360.com and at 2:00 p.m. Sunday on Federal News Radio, 1500 AM.