Harper looms large in Nats system

Top prospect climbs to Double-A, leads group of All-Stars

Bryce Harper batted .318 at Hagerstown before moving to Harrisburg. (Jesse Piecuch/MiLB.com)

By Andrew Pentis / Special to MLB.com | December 21, 2011 5:00 AM

As expected, Bryce Harper's first pro season was the story of the Washington Nationals' Minor League system.

There were a few surprises as well: Infielders Christian Marrero and Steve Lombardozzi each made their Major League debuts, designated hitter Tyler Moore recorded his second straight 31-homer season and starting pitcher Brad Peacock won 15 games, the second most in the Minors.

But, yeah, Harper was pretty good. "Anybody that sees him play and is not impressed, there's got to be something wrong with 'em," said Tony Beasley, who managed the 19-year-old phenom at Harrisburg and may also skipper him at Syracuse in 2012. "He's a different breed of baseball player; he one of those guys that come along one every blue moon."

Nationals affiliates enjoyed fewer successes when the calendar turned to September. Double-A Harrisburg (80-62) and Class A Advanced Potomac (68-71) each suffered first-round exits in the postseason, while Class A Auburn (45-30) was swept, 2-0, in the New York-Penn League Championship Series.

Nationals Organization All-Stars

Catcher -- David Freitas, Hagerstown (123 games): The South Atlantic League midseason All-Star batted .288 with 13 home runs and 73 RBIs in his second pro season. Freitas, who also played 39 games between the first base and designated hitter slots, led the system in free passes, managing an 82-to-87 walk-to-strikeout ratio. He reached base in nearly 41 percent of his plate appearances but is far from a one-dimensional player.

"Very durable defender," Nationals' director of player development Doug Harris said. "[He] does an excellent job of managing the game."

First base -- Chris Marrero, Syracuse (127 games), Washington (31 games): In his first trial at Triple-A, Marrero, 23, batted .300 with 14 home runs, 30 doubles and 69 RBIs before taking his talents to the bigs.

"The one thing in Syracuse, it's such a big ballpark. Guys can get out of whack when they try to turn and lift in that ballpark," Harris said. "He matured as a hitter. He got to a place where he was able to understand his approach. More bat-to-ball consistency."

The 15th overall draftee in 2006 then batted .248 in 31 games for the Nats. He is now their No. 7 prospect.

Second base -- Steve Lombardozzi, Syracuse (69 games), Harrisburg (65 games), Washington (13 games): Splitting the season down the middle between Double-A and Triple-A, Lombardozzi, 23, led the system in runs (86) and hits (172) and finished second in triples (nine). He also batted a career-high .309 and stole 30 bases before joining Marrero in the nation's capital.

In 13 games in the Majors, the switch-hitter batted .194 (6-for-31). His defensive transition to the bigs shouldn't be as difficult: Lombardozzi, who in September was named the organization's Minor League Player of The Year, registered a .997 fielding percentage while playing three infield positions in the Minors.

"He is a model of consistency," Harris said. "He made two errors on the entire year."

"Both of them were questionable," Beasley added. "He catches every ball hit to him; he is a special talent."

Third base -- Matt Skole, Auburn (72 games): The Nats' fifth-round draftee last June, Skole, 22, batted .290 with 23 doubles and 48 RBIs in his first exposure to pro ball. The Georgia Tech product also sported an on-base percentage of .382 on his way to being named a New York-Penn League midseason All-Star.

Take note of Blake Kelso as well. The South Atlantic League midseason All-Star pounded out 150 hits in 127 games at Hagerstown. "He was as consistent -- from start to finish -- as anybody we had," Harris said.

Shortstop -- Bryce Ortega, Auburn (56 games): A 41st-round draftee last June, Ortega batted .314, recorded an on-base percentage of .410 and stole 23 bases. He was named a New York-Penn League All-Star.

"He was a catalyst for us on both sides of the ball," Harris said. "He's not the most gifted player, but he gets the most out of his abilities."


Bryce Harper, Harrisburg (37 games), Hagerstown (72 games): MLB.com's No. 2 prospect batted .297 and collected 43 extra-base hits -- 17 homers among them -- and 58 RBIs in his debut season. His .317 average for the Suns dropped to .256 with the Senators -- he skipped a level, Class A Advanced Potomac -- but he hasn't lost any luster.

"He learned a ton through repetition," Harris said of Harper, who also stole 26 bases in 33 attempts. "He did a nice job at all three outfield positions. Just let him go play. I saw a lot of hard work. He centered a lot of baseballs that ended up being outs. He had really gotten to having a nice approach."

A season highlight: Harper reached base safely five times, plated a career-high six runs and fell a triple shy of the cycle in Hagerstown's 17-1 win over Hickory on April 22. There was also his 18-game hitting streak for the Suns and his 480-foot walk-off homer for the Senators. (OK, so he also blew a kiss toward a pitcher shortly after taking him deep in a Hagerstown game.)

"He has the ability to hit the ball and hit it far," Beasley deadpanned. "Better than everything else, his mentality. Very confident, he understands how to play and he's a big competitor. I was impressed with the way he handled the press he was getting -- it wasn't always pleasant -- but he dealt with it in a professional way."

The No. 1 pick in the 2010 Draft finished his year as strong as he started it, batting .333 with 14 extra-base hits and 26 RBIs in 25 Arizona Fall League games.

Destin Hood, Potomac (128 games): The second-round draftee in 2008 set a variety of new career highs in his fourth pro season: runs (61), extra-base hits (47), RBIs (83) and stolen bases (21).

Harris said the club's scouts expect his 29-to-13 doubles-to-homers ratio in 2011 will eventually even out. "He's so disciplined he doesn't really cheat. He doesn't get big and look to turn and lift," Harris said. "A lot of times, [his hits] are doubles. Down the road, he can come up into the power potential. I'll take the doubles right now."

The 21-year-old Hood, a Carolina League All-Star, is now Washington's No. 8 prospect.

Archie Gilbert, Harrisburg (98 games), Potomac (five games): A six-year free agent acquisition, Gilbert, 28, excelled for the Senators, collecting 34 extra-base hits and 26 stolen bases. An Eastern League midseason All-Star, he also led the system's full-season affiliates in batting (.313).

"He started out the year in a situation where we had five outfielders. He stepped up and took control of left field," Beasley said. "Offensively, he was our most consistent hitter; he was a machine when he got going, and he made it difficult for me to not keep him in the lineup."

A season highlight: While playing for Harrisburg in a May 7 home game against Reading, Gilbert went 4-for-5 at the plate and smacked two home runs.

Designated hitter -- Tyler Moore, Harrisburg (137 games): In his first season at Double-A, Moore, 24, led the organization in home runs (31), doubles (35) and RBIs (90). This, after a 31-43-111 season in those three categories last season at Potomac.

"Not too many guys have put together back-to seasons of his power; two years in a row, that's pretty impressive in difficult leagues," Harris said.

The right-handed hitting slugger exploded in July, lifting 10 longballs and plating 28 runs in 30 games that month.

The cost of his prodigious power? Moore struck out 139 times on the season, or more than once every four at-bats. (He fanned four times in a single game twice in 2011.) "I would like to see him make contact more consistently," Beasley said, "but when the ball hits his bat, it's a loud sound. It's a game-changing bat. He's a guy that can't be overlooked; he could possibly make an impact at the Major League level."

"His next step is getting an opportunity at Triple-A," Harris added, "to carve out necessary at-bats there and to continue to learn and manage the strike zone."

Right-handed starting pitcher -- Brad Peacock, Washington (three games), Syracuse (nine games), Harrisburg (16 games): Peacock won 15 of 18 decisions and fashioned a 2.39 ERA between Double-A and Triple-A. His 177 strikeouts in 146 2/3 innings led the system. He is now Washington's No. 2 prospect.

A 41st-round draftee in 2006, Peacock compiled a losing record and an ERA north of 4.00 in each of his past three seasons. Harris said Peacock's altered delivery -- former Senators pitching coach Randy Tomlin changed the pitcher's hand placement -- was one precursor to improvement.

"They saw something that was different in his delivery," Beasley said. "For some reason, he was showing the ball [to the hitter] too early, and they ironed that out. After that, it was pretty much a cake walk."

A season highlight at Syracuse: Peacock struck out seven over seven one-hit scoreless innings in a July 27 2-0 victory against Columbus.

"When you face a young prospect," Beasley said, "and you know he's throwing 90 percent fastballs, and you still can't hit it, then there's something special about that fastball. That's what he has."

The Senators' former skipper said he sees Peacock, who also features a changeup and a breaking ball, as "a middle-to-top-of-the-rotation starter at the Major League level down the road."

Peacock, 23, was named the organization's Minor League Pitcher of The Year and the Eastern League pitcher of the year before receiving the MiLBY for Best Double-A Starter.

In his first three big league games -- two were starts -- for the Nats, Peacock went 2-0 and compiled a 0.75 ERA, holding the opposition to a run on seven hits over 12 innings.

Left-handed starting pitcher -- Daniel Rosenbaum, Harrisburg (six games), Potomac (20 games): Rosenbaum won a career-high nine games and lost six, recording a 2.52 ERA in his two stops. The 24-year-old product of Xavier University posted a 135-52 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 171 1/3 innings. He also registered the first two complete games of his three-year career at Potomac, including a three-hit shutout in a 3-0 victory over visiting Wilmington on June 4.

Rosenbaum picked up his game following his Aug. 2 promotion to Harrisburg, where he held the opposition to a .190 batting average in six outings to close out the season. "'Rosie' really finished strong," said Harris, noting Rosenbaum's improved command. "Over the course of the year, he understood what it takes to be a pitcher."

Relief pitcher -- Rafael Martin, Harrisburg (32 games), Potomac (6 games): Martin compiled a 5-1 record and a 1.65 ERA, recorded 13 saves -- all for the Senators -- and fanned 54 batters in 43 2/3 innings.

All this at age 27. The California native quit baseball after high school, took a job hauling concrete, then pitched for three seasons in the Mexican League before finding his way back stateside.

A new pitch in 2011 helped significantly. "He added a true, hard cutter," Harris said, "and it has been really why he's blossomed."

"He has unbelievable movement," Beasley said. "When you have that, it's hard for hitters to center you. That's what sets him apart."

Martin completed his year with a 1.50 ERA in 10 Arizona Fall League appearances as well as a 1.13 mark in seven Mexican Pacific League games.

Andrew Pentis is a contributor to MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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