There are varying theories around baseball about how much wins and losses matter in the minor leagues, what can be gained from victories at a level when individual development is the primary goal. But if there is something to be gained from team success - and if that translates to the Arizona Fall League, with teams made up of top prospects from a handful of major league clubs - Nationals fans should feel pretty good about what transpired in Scottsdale, Ariz., on Saturday.
With Nationals prospects all over the diamond - Sammy Solis starting, Derek Norris behind the plate, Stephen Lombardozzi at shortstop, Bryce Harper in right field and Cole Kimball closing the game - the Scottsdale Scorpions won the Arizona Fall League title on Saturday with a 3-2 victory over the Peoria Javelinas in the AFL Championship Game. Lombardozzi and Harper both drove in runs, Solis allowed two runs (one earned) in four innings and Kimball flashed his 98-mph fastball in a perfect ninth to earn the save.
Outfielder Michael Burgess pinch hit in the eighth inning, and Double-A Harrisburg manager Randy Knorr led the Scorpions all fall.
For a number of reasons, many of them beyond just Harper, this fall has to register as a success for the Nationals. Norris posted an 1.070 OPS in 54 at-bats before the championship game, Solis looked sharp at times in his first taste of professional baseball, and Kimball and Adam Carr played their way onto the Nationals’ 40-man roster by showing they can be part of the team’s bullpen in the near future.
Harper, obviously, makes things even better for the Nationals; he assuaged any fears about how ready he’d be for the league by hitting .343 in nine games as part of the Scorpions’ taxi squad. He singled to left field in his first at-bat on Saturday, driving in the Scorpions’ second run. He struck out twice on off-speed pitches, and pitchers will take advantage of the way Harper swings - too hard, too often - as he gets used to the minor leagues.
But there’s no denying both the 18-year-old’s prodigious talent and his relentless nature on the diamond; baseball people raved about both traits all fall, and Harper talked on Saturday’s TV broadcast about getting to the majors by Opening Day 2012, when Stephen Strasburg should be fully healthy again.
By that point, a number of the players who played on Saturday should be in the majors, or not far from that level. The Nationals aren’t close to competing yet, but this fall’s developments gave fans something to anticipate.