Results tagged ‘ Steven Souza ’

Down on the Farm: Souza’s Patience Pays Off

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by Mike Feigen

November 1 was a significant day in the history of the Washington Nationals. Matt Williams was welcomed to Nationals Park and introduced as the club’s fifth manager since baseball returned to The District. It was a day of celebration.

But earlier that morning, the Nationals made a less heralded move – one that signaled redemption for a young player who hopes to play for Williams in the near future.

Souza_StevenSteven Souza, Jr., drafted by the Nationals in June of 2007 – the 100th-overall player selected and the sixth pick in the first three rounds by Washington – was added to the 40-man roster. Two of the players taken before him, Ross Detwiler (sixth overall) and Jordan Zimmermann (67th overall) are already household names in D.C., while Souza’s path to the Majors remains a work in progress.

Unlike the aforementioned college pitchers, Souza, an outfielder, came to the Nationals straight from the prep ranks. He bypassed a college scholarship to sign out of Cascade High School in Everett, Wash., a program that had sent former third-round pick Grady Sizemore to the big leagues just a few years earlier. Upon signing, Souza headed across the country to Viera, Fla., where he hit four home runs and added four stolen bases in 44 games for the Gulf Coast League (Rookie) Nationals.

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound right-handed hitter split time between Short Season-A Vermont and Class-A Hagerstown in 2008, then repeated at Hagerstown in 2009 and 2010, hitting a combined .235 with 15 home runs and 43 stolen bases in 207 games with the Suns. At the age of 22, after being sidelined for 50 games, he advanced to High-A Potomac, where he hit .228 but improved his on-base percentage – posting a .360 mark – while adding 11 homers and 25 steals.

At that point, with five seasons of professional baseball under his belt, the young outfielder found himself at a crossroads.

The setbacks had been difficult, the progression through the Nationals system had been slow, and he’d made his own mistakes to compound the situation. Souza contemplated walking away from his dream.

***

Souza will join his Mesa Solar Sox teammates in the quest for an Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday (MLB Network, 3 p.m. ET). It’s been two years since he reconsidered his place in the game, and in that time he has developed into a legitimate five-tool threat. Most recently, he’s become one of the top performers in the prospect-rich AFL circuit – all while playing less than most of his AFL counterparts.

Designated a “taxi squad” player, restricted to two games per week, Souza has maximized his opportunities in limited at-bats. While he wants to play every day, Souza said he’s learned that any chance to play is a blessing.

“Playing on the taxi squad has taught me a lot about coming off the bench,” Souza said.  “You have to take advantage of every opportunity.”

Souza hit .357/.426/.476 with eight runs, eight RBI and 10 stolen bases this fall, while hitting safely in 10 of his 11 games for the AFL East Division Champion Solar Sox. Twice he stole three bases in a game, showing off his explosive speed.

Down on the Farm_StevenSouza“As a bigger guy, speed is what separates me from some other bigger guys,” Souza explained. “I’ve worked a lot on agility and footwork. I owe everything to (Nationals first base coach) Tony Tarasco. He’s taught me everything I know about baserunning, and it’s translated well on the field.”

Souza’s AFL performance is coming on the heels of an All-Star showing at Double-A Harrisburg in 2013, where he hit .300/.396/.557 with 39 extra-base hits and 20 stolen bases in just 77 games. In 2012, with renewed enthusiasm for the game, Souza compiled an OPS (on-base plus slugging) of .938 with 23 home runs and 14 stolen bases across two levels.

The transformation has been striking; after hitting no better than .237 at any of his primary stops in his first five years, Souza has hit no worse than .290 in the two seasons since.

Doug Harris, Washington’s Director of Player Development, has been thrilled to see Souza’s career blossom.

“Steven has really come into his own over the last two years,” Harris said. “He has a broad skill set with the ability to impact a game in a variety of ways. Not only has he performed at a high level during that span, but also exhibited many intangibles that have earned him a 40-man roster spot.”

For Souza, being added to the Nationals 40-man roster was a validation for all of the hard work he put in to revive his career.

“I was really honored and humbled,” Souza said of receiving the call from the Nationals. “I’m thankful to be in such a great organization.”

When offered a chance to look ahead, Souza was reluctant to set goals, saying instead that he would let his faith guide him. He made it clear, however, that he’d love to have an opportunity to play at Nationals Park in the near future.

“Honestly, if Matt Williams wants me to come in and help the team win, I’ll do that in any way I can,” he said. “If I don’t make it this year, I’ll work hard and play wherever they send me. I just want to contribute somehow – either to a win or two, or winning a championship. I’d be happy to fit in somewhere and just fade into the background.”

***

Mesa experienced a symmetrical season, racing out to a 7-0 record (plus one tie), dropping 11 of 17 games in the middle of the year, and then rallying to win its final six contests to finish with a 19-11 record. The furious finish was just enough to edge Salt River for the East Division title by a half game, as the Rafters ended their year with seven consecutive wins.

Saturday’s AFL Championship Game will be broadcast live on MLB Network at 3 p.m. ET, with the Solar Sox taking on the West Division Champion Surprise Saguaros.

Arizona Fall League, Week 2 (10.15-21)

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by Noah Frank

Each week, we will recap the performances of the eight members of the Nationals organization participating in the Arizona Fall League, a “finishing school” for top prospects.

The eight Nationals players are members of the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of young stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers farm systems. The Solar Sox will battle the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions and Surprise Saguaros during the six-week season, with each team made up of players from five MLB organizations.

Here is a look at the Week 2 performances from the Valley of the Sun, where Mesa’s 8-2 record is easily the league’s best:

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Weekly Totals: 3 IP, 4 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Overall Totals: 4 IP, 5 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 2 BB, 3 SO

After allowing a single run in each of his first two outings, the former Florida State Seminole has posted consecutive scoreless frames in his last two relief appearances. 

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Weekly Totals: .235/.235/.235, 1 R in 17 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .290/.333/.355, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 3 R, 2 SB, 1 BB in 33 plate appearances

The top position prospect in Washington’s system hit safely in six of seven AFL contests so far. He’s teed up left-handed pitching in the early going (in, albeit, a very small sample size), going 4-for-8 with both of his extra-base hits against southpaws. Goodwin also stole a pair of bases in his second week with the Solar Sox.

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Weekly Totals: 2 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 2 SO

Overall Totals: 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 0 BB, 3 SO

The 24-year-old right-hander continued to impress against right-handed hitters, who are 0-for-6 with three strikeouts against him. While Mirowski did allow his first run of the fall, he has yet to yield a walk through his first three outings.

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Weekly Totals: .143/.333/.143, 1 RBI, 2 BB in 9 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .308/.444/.385/, 1 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 SF, 4 BB in 18 plate appearances

The switch-hitting Nieto continued to show an impressive eye at the plate, where he racked up four walks with just three punch outs so far. This should come as no surprise to fans of the Potomac Nationals, who saw Nieto draw 53 walks while fanning just 82 times in 452 plate appearances this season.

Purke dominated through four hitless innings last week.

Purke dominated through four hitless innings last week. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

MATT PURKE | LHP

Weekly Totals: (1-0), 4 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 HBP, 1 BB, 7 SO

Overall Totals: (2-0), 7 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 HPB, 2 BB, 9 SO

Purke cruised to his second win in as many Arizona Fall League starts with four hitless innings of work last Thursday against Peoria. While he walked and hit a batter, the promising lefty fanned seven — half of the 14 batters he faced as Mesa cruised to a 6-1 victory. Nationals officials said Purke did well attacking hitters, showing good command of his fastball and his changeup.

After two outings, Purke is tied for second in the league in wins (2), third in WHIP (0.57), fourth in opponents batting average (.083) and tied for fourth in strikeouts (9).

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Weekly Totals: .375/.643/.875, 1 2B, 1 HR, 2 RBI, 4 R, 6 BB in 10 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .313/.542/.750, 1 2B, 2 HR, 5 RBI, 6 R, 8 BB in 24 plate appearances

Despite opposing pitchers’ best efforts to pitch around him, Skole managed hits in each of the three games he played last week, while also collecting six walks. He continued to display the dual ability to show great patience at the plate while also hitting for power, as he swatted his first double and second home run of the fall, striking out only once this week.

In his five games played, Skole has reached at least twice in four of them, so it should be no shock that his .542 on-base percentage  ranks second in the league. Skole, who spent much of the year rehabbing April Tommy John surgery on his non-throwing elbow, also ranks among league leaders in walks (tied for third, 8) and slugging percentage (fifth, .750).

Solis earned two victories last week and leads the circuit with three wins.

Solis earned two victories last week and leads the circuit with three wins. (Jason Wise/MLB.com)

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Weekly Totals:  (2-0), 9.0 IP, 9 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 3 BB, 12 SO

Overall Totals: (3-0), 12.2 IP, 12 H, 2 R, 2 ER, 4 BB, 14 SO

Solis may have had the most notable week of all the Washington prospects, starting twice and pitching Mesa to a win both times. His eight-strikeout performance in just four innings in a 7-4 win over Scottsdale stands out as a particularly good sign for how he’s progressing, as he fanned no more than five batters in any of his 14 regular season outings this year.

After missing the 2012 season, Solis entered 2013 ranked as  the 11th-best prospect in the Washington system by MLB.com. But the left-hander now leads the AFL with three wins and ranks second in both innings pitched (12.2) and strikeouts (14).

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Weekly Totals: .200/.500/.200, 2 RBI, 1 R, 1 SB, 3 BB in 8 plate appearances

Overall Totals: .308/.500/.385, 1 2B, 5 RBI, 2 R, 6 SB, 5 BB in 18 plate appearances

Souza started just two games last week, but reached base twice in each contest. He walked twice, stole a base and scored a run on Saturday against Salt River. He is now a perfect 6-for-6 on the basepaths, sharing the league lead in steals.

Arizona Fall League, Week 1 (10.8–10.14)

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Each week, we will recap the performances of the eight members of the Nationals organization participating in the Arizona Fall League, a “finishing school” for top prospects.

The eight Nationals players are members of the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of young stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers farm systems. The Solar Sox will battle the Glendale Desert Dogs, Peoria Javelinas, Salt River Rafters, Scottsdale Scorpions and Surprise Saguaros during the six-week season, with each team made up of players from five MLB organizations.

Here is a look at how each of the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League performed during the season’s first week:

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP
Weekly Totals: 1 IP, 1 H, 1 R, 1 ER, 1 BB, 1 SO

Reliever Robert Benincasa made one appearance for the Solar Sox during the first week of the season, closing out the ninth inning of Mesa’s 13-3 victory over the Glendale Desert Dogs on October 9.

Despite allowing a leadoff home run to White Sox prospect Brandon Jacobs, Benincasa settled down to record the final three outs, including a strikeout of Reds farmhand Travis Mattair.

Brian Goodwin collected two doubles on October 14. (photo by Will Bentzel)

Brian Goodwin collected two doubles on October 14. (photo by Will Bentzel)

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF
Weekly Totals: .357/.438/.500, 2 2B, 2 RBI, 2 R, 1 BB in 16 plate appearances

Brian Goodwin, rated the 65th-best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, got off to a quick start in his second appearance in the Fall League, after playing for the Salt River Rafters in 2012.

He collected two hits in the season opener on October 8, drove in a pair of runs on October 10, and went 2-for-4 with two doubles on October 14. His work at the plate helped Mesa to a league-best 4-0-1 record (the Solar Sox tied their opening contest against Glendale).

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP
Weekly Totals: 1 IP, 0 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 0 BB, 1 SO

Former 45th-round draft pick Richie Mirowski earned one appearance during the first week of the Arizona Fall League campaign, a 1-2-3 seventh inning in the Solar Sox 7-3 victory over the Surprise Saguaros on October 11.

The right-hander stymied all three hitters he faced, including a strikeout of Red Sox prospect Mookie Betts ­– who fanned just 57 times against 81 walks during his impressive 2013 season at Single-A and Double-A.

ADRIAN NIETO | C
Weekly Totals: .500/.556/.667, 1 2B, 1 RBI, 2 R, 1 SF, 2 BB in 9 plate appearances

Cuban-born backstop Adrian Nieto had a successful first week for Mesa, catching the team’s wins on October 9 and 14 over Glendale and Scottsdale.

He went 1-for-2 at the plate with a double, a walk and a sacrifice fly in the first of those two contests, then collected two hits and a walk in five plate appearances five days later. The 23-year-old had a slash line of .285/.373/.449 this season for the High-A Potomac Nationals.

MATT PURKE | LHP
Weekly Totals: (1-0), 3 IP, 2 H, 1 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Pitching prospect Matt Purke cruised in his first appearance of the Arizona Fall League season, allowing an unearned run in three innings of work in an October 10 win over Salt River.

The 6-foot-4 southpaw surrendered two hits and a walk, striking out two, while throwing 30 of his 46 pitches for strikes. He was credited with the win in Mesa’s 8-1 victory.

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B
Weekly Totals:  .250/.400/.625, 1 HR, 3 RBI, 2 R, 2 BB in 10 plate appearances

Corner infielder Matt Skole received the Opening Day nod at designated hitter on October 8, clubbing a game-tying, two-run home run as part of a 2-for-4 afternoon. He drove in a total of three RBI in the slugfest, which ended in an 8-8 tie between the Solar Sox and Desert Dogs.

Skole made an important step physically on October 10, getting the start at first base for the first time since an injury to his non-throwing elbow prematurely ended his 2013 campaign. He walked and scored a run in support of Purke in the Solar Sox 8-1 win.

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP
Weekly Totals:  (1-0), 3.2 IP, 3 H, 0 R, 0 ER, 1 BB, 2 SO

Sammy Solis earned a start and victory for Mesa on October 9, tossing three scoreless innings in 13-3 rout of Glendale. The 6-foot-5 left-hander threw 56 pitches in the effort, allowing three hits and a walk in 3.2 innings of work, striking out two batters.

Solis, a native of nearby Avondale, Arizona, threw 59.2 innings this season after missing the entire 2012 season due to injury.

Souza made the most of his two starts during the past week. (Diamond Images)

Souza made the most of his two starts during the past week. (Diamond Images)

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF
Weekly Totals: .375/.500/.500, 1 2B, 3 RBI, 1 R, 5 SB, 2 BB in 10 plate appearances

One of the biggest stories of the Arizona Fall League’s first week was Souza’s performance on the basepaths. The big, physical athlete stole five bases in his two starts, giving him the league lead in the early going.

Souza’s most impressive individual performance came in a 7-3 win over Surprise on October 11, in which he went 2-for-3 with two walks, a double, three RBI and a trio of steals. He followed that up by representing the Nationals in the AFL’s inaugural Bowman Hitting Challenge on October 12, a competition similar to a Home Run Derby. Souza was also a finalist for the Arizona Fall League Player of the Week.

Down on the Farm: Arizona Fall League

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Though the regular season has come and gone and the postseason has entered its second week, eight members of the Washington Nationals organization will have the opportunity to continue their development this year in one of baseball’s most talent-rich environments.

Pitchers Robert Benincasa, Richie Mirowski, Matt Purke and Sammy Solis will be joined by catcher Adrian Nieto, infielder Matt Skole and outfielders Brian Goodwin and Steven Souza in the Arizona Fall League, a self-described “finishing school” for top prospects. The Nationals players will compete for the Mesa Solar Sox, which is comprised of Minor League stars from the Nationals, Angels, Athletics, Cubs and Tigers organizations.

Souza has slugged 38 home runs over the past two seasons.

Souza has slugged 38 home runs over the past two seasons.

Over the course of the six-week schedule, the Solar Sox will battle five other teams located throughout the greater Phoenix area – each featuring prospects drawn from five clubs – showcasing their talents in front of scouts, front office executives and fans of the game.

The Solar Sox open their season today at 3:30 p.m. ET when they take on the Glendale Desert Dogs. Center fielder Brian Goodwin has been penciled into the No. 2 spot in the batting order this afternoon for Mesa, while Matt Skole will hit eighth and serve as the designated hitter. Former Nationals farmhand David Freitas, now with Oakland, will do the catching for the Solar Sox, which will be opposed on the mound by Minnesota prospect Alex Meyer –  the former first-round pick for whom the Nationals acquired center fielder Denard Span this past offseason.

The season’s midway point will be marked by the Rising Stars Game on Saturday, November 2, and will conclude with the Arizona Fall League Championship on Saturday, November 16. Both November showcase games will be broadcast live on MLB Network.

Here is more a comprehensive look at the Nationals participants in this year’s Arizona Fall League:

ROBERT BENINCASA | RHP

Age: 23 (9.5.90) | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 180 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Selected in the seventh round of the 2012 First-Year Player Draft out of Florida State University

Robert Benincasa has solidified his place as a dependable bullpen arm in the Nationals organization, saving 27 games between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac during the 2013 season. The 23-year-old right-hander showed a strong command of the strike zone, totaling 64 strikeouts against just 14 walks in 51.0 innings pitched across both levels.

The Florida State University product was also a closer at the college level, saving 16 games and compiling a 1.32 ERA as a junior with the Seminoles, earning first team All-ACC as well as first team All-American honors from Baseball America.

Brian Goodwin heads back to the Fall League for a second year.

Brian Goodwin heads back to the Fall League for a second year.

BRIAN GOODWIN | OF

Age: 22 (11.2.90) | Height: 6-1 | Weight: 195 | Bats: Left | Throws: Right

Selected in the first round (34th overall) of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Miami Dade CC

Brian Goodwin, rated the 65th-best prospect in baseball according to MLB.com, is an energetic young outfielder who just completed his first full season with the Double-A Harrisburg Senators. He collected 40 extra-base hits (19 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs) on the year, adding 19 steals on the base paths.

“(Brian) is a rangy center fielder who gets good jumps,” said Nationals Director of Minor League Operations Mark Scialabba during the 2013 season. “He has the potential to play center field in the Major Leagues, and is a very athletic, dynamic baseball player who can show you flashes of all five tools.”

RICHIE MIROWSKI | RHP

Age: 24 (4.30.89) | Height: 6-2 | Weight: 190 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Selected in the 45th round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Oklahoma Baptist University

Like Benincasa, Richie Mirowski is a talented right-hander who tallied eye-popping numbers out of the bullpen during the 2013 campaign. The 24-year-old breezed through High-A Potomac en route to Double-A Harrisburg, going a combined 10-3 with a 1.83 ERA, seven saves, and 88 strikeouts against just 15 walks in 68.2 innings of work. His 11.5 strikeouts-per-nine innings and 0.90 WHIP both ranked among the best in the organization.

Mirowski has emerged as a late-round steal from the Nationals talent-rich 2011 Draft. Selected in the 45th round out of Oklahoma Baptist University, the Nationals converted Mirowski from a college starter to his current relief role.

ADRIAN NIETO | C

Age: 23 (11.12.89) | Height: 6-0 | Weight: 200 | Bats: Switch | Throws: Right

Selected in the fifth round of the 2008 First-Year Player Draft out of American Heritage (FL) HS

Cuban-born catching prospect Adrian Nieto enjoyed the finest season of his professional career in 2013, contributing in the batter’s box and behind the plate for the Potomac Nationals. The 23-year-old switch-hitter slashed .285/.373/.449 in 452 plate appearances, with a career-high 11 home runs and 53 RBI. He also threw out an astounding 42 baserunners, giving him a total of 100 caught stealings since 2010.

Nieto, whose family defected from Cuba when he was a child, teamed up with future Kansas City Royals first baseman Eric Hosmer to win a Florida state championship in high school. The 2008 fifth-round pick participated for Team Spain in the 2013 World Baseball Classic.

MATT PURKE | LHP

Age: 23 (7.17.90) | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 205 | Bats: Left | Throws: Left

Selected in the third round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Texas Christian University

Talented left-hander Matt Purke will try to build on a successful – and healthy – 2013 campaign when he takes the hill for the Solar Sox this fall. Purke completed 90 innings between Class-A Hagerstown and High-A Potomac this season, hinting at the dominance that made him a consensus All-American during his freshman season at TCU in 2010.

Purke started six games for the Suns, striking out 41 and walking just seven in 29 innings, before earning a promotion to the P-Nats. He finished the year with a flourish in Woodbridge, going 5-0 with a 2.11 ERA and 1.04 WHIP over his final seven starts of the regular season.

Skole was a non-roster invitee to Major League camp this spring.

Skole was a non-roster invitee to Major League camp this spring.

MATT SKOLE | 1B/3B

Age: 24 (6.30.89) | Height: 6-4 | Weight: 220 | Bats: Left | Throws: Right

Selected in the fifth round of the 2011 First-Year Player Draft out of Georgia Tech

Nationals 2012 Minor League Player of the Year Matt Skole will have an opportunity to further his development in the Arizona Fall League, after suffering an injury to his non-throwing arm in the second game of the year and missing the entire 2013 season.

Skole, a physical specimen at 6-4, 220 pounds, is expected to play third base for Mesa after serving as a first baseman this spring. The Georgia Tech product hit an impressive .291/.426/.559 with 27 home runs and 104 runs batted in a season ago, earning an invitation to big league camp.

SAMMY SOLIS | LHP

Age: 25 (8.10.88) | Height: 6-5 | Weight: 230 | Bats: Right | Throws: Left

Selected in the second round of the 2010 First-Year Player Draft out of the University of San Diego

Solis, the Nationals second selection in the 2010 Draft (Bryce Harper being the first), will continue his road to recovery from Tommy John surgery, which wiped out his 2012 campaign. The big left-hander completed 59.2 innings in 2013, going 2-1 with a 3.43 earned run average across 14 games for the Gulf Coast League Nationals and the Potomac Nationals.

The Avondale, Arizona native and University of San Diego star will pitch in the Fall League for the third time in his young career, after throwing 23.2 innings in the circuit in 2010 and 26.0 more in 2011.

STEVEN SOUZA, JR. | OF

Age: 24 (4.24.89) | Height: 6-3 | Weight: 220 | Bats: Right | Throws: Right

Selected in the 3rd round of the 2007 First-Year Player Draft out of Cascade (WA) HS

Souza has come into his own during the past two seasons, hitting 38 home runs and stealing 34 bases in 174 games between Class-A Hagerstown, High-A Potomac and Double-A Harrisburg. In 77 games with the Senators in 2013, Souza compiled a .300/.396/.557 slash line, earning All-Star Game and Home Run Derby appearances at the Double-A level.

“(Steven) is a big, strong, physical presence with big-time raw power to all fields – and he can fly,” Scialabba said about the 24-year-old slugger. “He’s someone who has the potential to hit in the middle of the lineup and be a run producer.”

30 Players in 30 Days: Bryce Harper


Bryce Harper 3.JPGBryce Harper has been labeled the Lebron James of baseball. So in case you didn’t watch “The Decision: Part II,” Bryce Harper is taking his talents to the desert and
will join the Scottsdale Scorpions in the Arizona Fall League. It was a decision–influenced by Harper’s talent–and made by General Manager Mike Rizzo and his staff because they didn’t want him to be idle for the next two months after he held own in the Instructional League. Yeah, there are drawbacks but Rizzo believes the benefits will easily outweigh the possible cost: struggling.

Harper proved he can play in the Florida Instructional League. He batted.319 (15-for-47) with four doubles, a triple, four homers, 12 RBI and seven walks. Harper–who led Washington’s Instructional League squad in homers, RBI and walks–posted .407 on-base and .702 slugging percentages en route to a stellar 1.110 OPS (OBP+SLG).

Now, this isn’t the Instructional League–the AFL offers the top-talent that is knocking on the door of the Majors–but Rizzo isn’t concerned.

“There is a high level of baseball going on,” Rizzo said. “Two months of this guy working out, practicing and playing will only benefit him. He is going to be fine in the [AFL].”

To ease Harper into the action they will restrict his playing time. He will join his new club on Tuesday as a member of the Scorpions’ Taxi Squad. Translation: he will work out, travel and dress normally as do members of Scottsdale’s active roster but he will only be eligible to participate in games twice a week, usually on Wednesdays and Saturdays. Harper will also be eligible to replace Nationals farmhands on Scottsdale’s active roster due to injury.

Part of the incentive to send Harper to Arizona is that he will be able to work extensively with Manager Randy Knorr, considered one of the best teachers in the Nationals organization, to learn the intricacies of right field. He will also work with Hitting Coach Rick Eckstein to refine his swing.

“He’s 17 years old and he doesn’t even turn 18 until Saturday,” Rizzo said. “He is very excited. What I had to decide on was: ‘Is he going to be over his head in the AFL?’ It’s a very advanced league, but I think he is going to handle it. It’s going to be very valuable to him.”

While this may seem like it is putting him on a fast track to the Majors, it isn’t. He is still expected to start the season in Single-A.

“He is going to A-ball, make no mistake about it,” Rizzo added. “He is not going to be a rushed guy. We are going to let his performance and development dictate where this guy goes.”

In other news not Harper, here are a few Nationals farmhands who performed at high levels during the just-completed Instructional League: outfielder Tyler Moore (.550, 4 doubles, 2 home runs, 11 RBI), catcher Sandy Leon (.429), outfielder Eury Perez (.357, 3 stolen bases), infielder Steven Souza (.345, 4 doubles, 2 home runs, 4 RBI), righthander A.J. Morris (0.00 ERA in 4 games, 7 strikeouts in 5.0 innings), lefthander Sammy Solis (0.00 ERA and 9 strikeouts in 9.0 innings spanning 3 games), righthander Ryan Mattheus (1.35 ERA and 6 strikeouts in 6.2 innings) and lefthander Robbie Ray (2.53 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 10.2 innings spanning 4 games).

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