Bryce Harper Tasting Failure in Debut, Not Ready for Arizona Fall League
As it turns out, even Harper isn't above the challenges instructional league can present. Harper is no doubt rusty, as he's just a few games into the fall schedule, but there are clearly adjustments he's going to have to make. He was given a significant and early test on Saturday, getting to square off against Braves star pitching prospect Julio Teheran.
It was an interesting first look at Harper, and sometimes it can be easy to forget just how young he is. But the message here is to not get ahead ourselves when it comes to him. While he may be an impressive talent, he is not ready for competition like the Arizona Fall League later this year as some have speculated.
That is in no way a slight to his abilities. He is, quite simply, just as vulnerable as any other highly touted teenager taken in the first round. He is not super human. He has flaws and he will have to make adjustments as he advances. In that sense, he is no different than big-time draftees like Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas, who are elite hitting prospects now, but had their holes coming out of high school and were certainly not ready for a league like the AFL straight out of the draft.
With that notion out of the way, let's take a look at what I saw from Harper at the instructional league on Saturday. He had about as tough of an assignment as a hitter could get in his first at-bat, getting to face Teheran. On paper, it's a clash of prospect titans, but in reality, it's one that Harper isn't ready for at this stage. Teheran is as good as they come in terms of stuff and has pitched at the Double-A level. That experience and polish won out quickly in Harper's plate appearance.
The lefty-swinging Harper saw fastballs running away from him on the outer half at 94-96 mph to start and found himself quickly in a two-strike hole. He looked perhaps a bit passive on those well spotted fastballs away from his power zone, and was then frozen by a biting back-door curveball from Teheran for a called third strike.
Many a player has and will continue to strike out against Teheran, so there is certainly no shame in doing so. However, as the pitchers continued to come in following Teheran for the Braves, they continued to pitch Harper in the same fashion. In his third plate appearance, he at least made a good attempt at an adjustment. He got behind in the count again, but sat on a two-strike breaking ball and had a very strong pass at it. Just working underneath the pitch, Harper skied it to center field for an out. More importantly, he showed he could adapt to how pitchers were exploiting him.
In terms of the big picture offensively, Harper looks very sound both mechanically and in his approach. He's going to be very disciplined at the plate and the swing mechanics you look for are all there. Although they setup differently, Harper resembles Justin Morneau mechanically in some ways. Like Morneau, he has an excellent load and uses his hands extremely well. He also gets outstanding extension and finish on his swing, giving him that extra gear in the power department.
As far as Harper's defense is concerned, it looks like the transition to right field is going to be rather seamless. He got some good reads off the bat in Saturday's action and showed he has enough speed and more than enough arm strength to handle the position.
If there's a statement to be made about Harper right now, it, more than anything, has to do with where he is in his development, and not with his skills. His raw power is as good as I have ever seen in a player his age, his physical strength and maturity at the plate are beyond his years and he has a chance to be a very strong defender in right field. All that said, everything has to be kept in perspective. From what I saw this week, he is an elite talent, but an elite talent that has much to learn about strategizing against pitchers who can locate away from his power and spot their secondary pitches. These things, among others, are hurdles through which hitters this young must work.
Harper isn't beyond those hurdles, and he will need to adjust to how pitchers are attacking him just like everyone else. That, as well as simply dealing with failure, are aspects of the game that Harper still needs to experience. When it's all said and done, his tools as an offensive player, which are legitimately special and as advertised in my eyes, will win out and make him a star player at the next level.
• Nationals right-handed pitching prospect A.J. Morris was among the more impressive arms in camp for Washington, showing off a lively 91-94 mph fastball and a feel for a sharp slider at 82-84 mph. He has the look of an effective late-inning arm for Nationals in the near future.
• Zeke Spruill, a righty who a year ago was cruising up the ladder in the Braves system, did not look like the pitcher I scouted and thought very highly of last season. His typically low-90s fastball sat around 88-90 on this day, which can possibly be chalked up to a layoff between the season and now, but he also struggled with his command and feel for his secondary pitches.
• Teheran, as mentioned above, threw on Saturday in Braves camp, and, as usual, his stuff looked that of a front-line starter's. Sitting comfortably at 93-96 mph with his fastball, Teheran showed big-time movement on his fastball, breaking multiple bats. He didn't feature many changeups in this outing, but he did show off his plus downer curveball. It's not news that Teheran has all-world type stuff, but it's certainly worth noting again.