The Arizona Fall League season begins today, and for seven Nationals prospects, it's a chance to test their skills in what's possibly baseball's best developmental league.
Pitchers Brad Peacock, Sammy Solis, Adam Carr and Cole Kimball will all play for the Scottsdale Scorpions, as will catcher Derek Norris, infielder Stephen Lombardozzi and outfielder Michael Burgess. Randy Knorr, the Nationals' manager at Double-A Harrisburg, will manage the Scorpions.
So what's to watch in the AFL? I'll be keeping an eye on Lombardozzi and Carr; both players have a chance to be with the Nationals in the near future. The organization is particularly high on Lombardozzi, and team officials believe he could be part of their middle infield soon. He'd be unlikely to start with Ian Desmond and Danny Espinosa there, but plenty of teams will be asking for one of the two players in trade offers this winter. If the Nationals part with one of them, there might be room for Lombardozzi soon.
And Carr, a 2006 18th-rounder who surged at Triple-A Syracuse last year, has a chance to make the Nationals' roster out of the bullpen this year. Carr is a powerful 6-foot-2, 220-pound reliever with a good fastball/slider combination and the ability to touch 97 mph with his heater. He once projected as the Nationals' closer of the future, but next year, he could join Collin Balester and Drew Storen in a bullpen slowly amassing power arms.
There's no Bryce Harper on the roster, of course, but that doesn't mean there won't be before the end of the AFL season in November. The Nationals would have to petition MLB for an extra spot to put Harper, who turns 18 this week, on the roster, but it's hard to believe the league wouldn't want Harper there as a draw. He's been putting up some strong performances in the team's instructional league as of late, and though it's just as possible the Nationals will decide to wait a year before sending Harper to Arizona, there's a chance they'll add him to the roster later this fall.