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Bryce Harper impressed at the plate but remains a work-in-progress in the field.
Which means this afternoon's finale against the Mesa Solar Sox will be Bryce Harper's last opportunity to make an impression on the diamond until he arrives in Viera in February for big-league spring training.
Not that Harper feels any pressure to do something special in his fall finale. The 19-year-old has already more than made a name for himself over the last month and will close out his AFL season with some impressive stats.
Entering today's game, Harper is batting .322 with six homers, 26 RBI, a .392 on-base percentage and a 1.003 OPS that ranks 10th in this offense-heavy league for premier minor-league talent. And don't forget, he opened his fall in a 3-for-27 funk, meaning he's hit a robust .413 since. Not bad for the youngest kid in the AFL.
Before you get too excited, though, Harper's overall play was far from pristine. He committed six errors in 24 games, perhaps evidence he's still a work-in-progress in the outfield and perhaps more reason to believe the Nationals want him to continue to work on his defense and baserunning in the minors come Opening Day 2012.
That said, Harper certainly acquitted himself well in his second AFL stint (he received only minimal playing time last year as a member of the Scorpions' taxi squad) and put to rest any lingering concern about the hamstring injury that prematurely ended his season at Class AA Harrisburg.
In short, the Nationals' opinion of Harper hasn't changed one bit based on his play this fall. He remains the crown jewel of their farm system, one who should get a chance to bring his talents to the big leagues in the near future.
The most encouraging developments of the AFL season for the Nationals' front office might actually involve the performances of several other prospects who made names for themselves.
Catcher Derek Norris enjoyed a productive season at the plate; he'll carry a .288 average and .379 on-base percentage into today's finale, and those numbers were much higher only a week ago before Norris hit a rough stretch that saw him go 2 for his last 20. (Like Harper, though, Norris continues to need some work in the field; he committed seven errors in 20 games.)
Left-hander Sammy Solis, meanwhile, really turned heads with a couple of dominant starts late in the AFL season, including one in which he struck out a league-high nine batters in only four innings. Solis' overall numbers (4.50 ERA, 25-to-16 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 26 innings) weren't spectacular, but the 2010 second-round pick certainly showed his potential to dominate on any given night.
The overall numbers also don't look good for fellow lefty Matt Purke, but those don't tell the entire story. The third-round pick in this summer's draft was done in by one horrendous start in which he surrendered seven runs while recording only one out. But over his last four relief appearances, Purke tossed four scoreless innings, allowing just two hits and one walk while striking out four.
Key stats for the other Nats in the AFL: right-hander Rafael Martin (0-1, 1.50 ERA in 10 games), right-hander Pat Lehman (0-4, 9.82 ERA, 17 strikeouts, three walks), infielder Zach Walters (.200 average, one homer, nine RBI, .250 OBP in 20 games).