07/04/11 11:46 PM ET
Harper contributes in debut at Double-A
Prospect skips Class A Advanced, raps two hits for Harrisburg
By Bill Ladson / MLB.com
Promoted from low Class A to Double-A on Monday, the Nationals' top prospect -- and the second overall in MLB.com's Top 50 -- collected two hits, walked and scored a run in his first game for the Senators.
The 18-year-old outfielder batted sixth and started in left field for the first time in his pro career. He didn't need any time to get comfortable at the plate, either, hitting a two-out single to center field on the first pitch he saw in the first inning. Harper came around to score on a double by Stephen King and Harrisburg went on to an 8-1 victory over Erie.
In the third inning, Harper was retired on a foul popup to the third baseman. He singled to left field in the fifth and walked on four pitches in the seventh.
Harper's journey north began on Sunday, when he received the news from Doug Harris, the team's director of player development, after Hagerstown's game. The plan is for Harper to play for Harrisburg for the rest of the season and then go to the Arizona Fall League. Unlike last year, when he played twice a week in that prospect-heavy circuit, Harper will play every day.
Harper has lived up to the hype of being the first overall pick in the 2010 First-Year Player Draft. In 72 games for Hagerstown, he hit .318, with 14 home runs and 46 RBIs. With the promotion to Double-A, Harper is skipping the Class A Advanced level. General manager Mike Rizzo believes that Harper had plenty of at-bats in the Class A level. Harper showed that he could handle top-flight velocity and breaking pitches.
As Harper plays for Harrisburg, the Nationals want to see him work on his baserunning, basestealing and defense. Rizzo said Harper is a work-in-progress in those areas.
"After going through a few nagging injuries, he showed me that he had enough at-bats at [the Class A level] and succeeded at that level," Rizzo said. "We figured we would challenge him to the next level in the Minor Leagues and see if he could handle Double-A pitching up there, with a good league and a bunch of prospects."
Nationals manager Davey Johnson said the club made a good move in promoting Harper. The skipper said Harper showed that he wasn't intimidated when he played in Major League exhibition games during Spring Training.
"He did pretty good there [in big league camp]. Whatever level he was at in the Minor Leagues during Spring Training didn't [bother] him, either," Johnson said. "He is going to be challenged [at Double-A]. ... They have better stuff, better command. For a hitter, it's better because the pitchers are around the plate. You see more pitches. Sometimes, the [ballpark] lighting is even better."
Harper will be on center stage once again on Sunday, when he will play in the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game for the U.S. squad in Phoenix.
Harper recently played in the South Atlantic League All-Star Game, going 0-for-2 with an RBI. Harper said his first All-Star appearance will not compare to what he will go through in Arizona.
"[Playing in the recent All-Star] Game was awesome, but I feel it's just a miniature game compared to the Futures Game," Harper said recently. "I was around a group of guys in the Sally League that are going to be big leaguers one day, but being able to go to the Futures Game and play there, it's going to be an incredible experience."
Bill Ladson is a reporter for MLB.com and writes an MLBlog, All Nats All the time. He also could be found on Twitter @WashingNats. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.