Just got off the phone with Nationals player development director Doug Harris, who said Bryce Harper's assignment to the Arizona Fall League is about a couple of things: letting the outfielder catch up on some of the baseball he missed by not signing with the Nationals this summer, and exposing him to a higher level of baseball than he's seen anywhere so far.
Harper, who will be on the Scottsdale Scorpions' taxi squad, will play games on Wednesdays and Saturdays and work out the rest of the week. He'll work closely with Double-A Harrisburg manager Randy Knorr, who is managing the Scorpions squad this fall, and a host of other Nationals organizational people, from minor league hitting coordinator Rick Schu to major league hitting coach Rick Eckstein and manager Jim Riggleman, will spend time with Harper before the AFL season ends in November.
"We have a player plan in place for him. He'll be able to work on details of his game with the knowledge he will not be in a game with the days off," Harris said. "It's really an advantageous working environment. You can go full-bore in your work sessions knowing you're not going to burn something out. It's a good situation for us."
Harper turns 18 on Saturday, and will report to Scottsdale on Sunday after celebrating his birthday with family in Las Vegas. Harris said Harper will "be in Randy Knorr's hip pocket" for most of the month or so he spends there, and it's the opportunity to work with Knorr that especially led the Nationals to put Harper in the elite prospect league.
The No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft was excited about the news, Harris said, but took it with the poise the Nationals have already come to expect from their top prospect. During the team's instructional league season in Viera, Fla., Harper led the Nationals in runs and RBI, batting .319 while flashing the power to all fields that made him the highest-profile prospect in baseball this year.
The news won't speed up Harper's track through the minors, but if he dominates in Arizona and starts strong next season, he will buy his own ticket up the system.
"This is going to be his real opportunity in real baseball. The instructional league is certainly a challenging environment, but this is a bigger team situation," Harris said. "He's going to dictate where he belongs. We're not going to deviate off of our big-picture plan."