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Top 50 Prospects: #2 – Bryce Harper

#2 Bryce Harper

Washington Nationals

DOB: 10/16/1992

Previous Rank: 1

ETA: 2013

There just isn’t very much to say that hasn’t already been said about Harper.  He is, in our opinion, the greatest offensive prospect in history, and he is second only to Strasburg in terms of history’s greatest prospects.  For an 18-year-old, Harper was insane in 2011.  He slashed .297/.392/.501 on the year across two levels including 37 games in Double-A.  He went deep 17 times and stole 26 bags.  He has no weaknesses aside from a lack of familiarity with professional secondary stuff, as his 87 strikeouts suggest.  Nevertheless, he is a quick learner and has already softened his stride to account for better breaking pitches.

2011 18 2 Teams 2 Lgs A-AA 109 452 387 24 17 58 26 7 59 87 .297 .392 .501
2011 18 Hagerstown SALL A 72 305 258 17 14 46 19 5 44 61 .318 .423 .554
2011 18 Harrisburg EL AA 37 147 129 7 3 12 7 2 15 26 .256 .329 .395
1 Season 109 452 387 24 17 58 26 7 59 87 .297 .392 .501

He followed up the Double-A season with a terrific 25 games in the Arizona Fall League, posting a 1.034 OPS and going deep six times.  Perhaps the most impressive aspect of Harper’s professional debut, though, was the fact that he seemed so comfortable being at the levels that he was.  The Sally League is no joke, and obviously an 18-year-old in Double-A is something to take note of.  He showed some flexibility in the outfield, collecting some innings in center as well as right.  His bat plays anywhere, but can you imagine a homerun champ in center?  He’d be Griffey Jr.  And that’s exactly what we think of Harper.

He can be one of the greatest players in the history of the sport.  We expect him to return to Harrisburg to open 2012, but no one would be surprised if he is quickly promoted to Triple-A and ultimately finishes the year in Washington.  We expect him to open 2013 in the Nationals outfield and to basically retire there 15 years or so down the road after winning several MVPs.

Top 50 Prospects: #7 – Anthony Rendon

#7 Anthony Rendon

Washington Nationals

DOB: 6/6/1990

Pre-2011 Rank: N/A

ETA: 2013

Rendon was our top guy going into the 2011 draft, injured or not.  This kind of bat is not common.  It might be draftable every five years or so, and it very rarely if ever can play a premium defensive position, let alone play it well.  Yeah, Anthony Rendon is a tremendously valuable prospect for the Nationals and should challenge for MVP votes as early as 2014.

When healthy he is a double-plus hit tool player, with plus present power with a chance at a 70 in that category too.  He has a plus eye, a plus glove, and a plus arm.  His speed is behind the other tools, but it is good enough for 2B if Washington decides to go with him there.  If that happens, then the club is looking at an infield of Ryan Zimmerman, Danny Espinosa, Rendon, and Mike Morse with Wilson Ramos behind the dish – every single guy on the dirt has a chance to make the NL All-Star squad.

Rendon signed late, so he has no professional statistics to assess, but we’d be surprised if he doesn’t go straight to Double-A and join Bryce Harper in the middle of the order for Harrisburg in the Eastern League.  We don’t see any reason that Rendon can’t force his way into Washington before the 2012 season is over.  Because he has such terrific makeup, adapting to professional baseball should be quite easy for him.  We expect Rendon to play a decade of excellent professional baseball with a chance to make the All-Star team every single season.  Aside from Bryce Harper, he is the top position prospect in the game.

Video: Bryce Harper adjusts stride, load at the plate


As you can see, Bryce Harper has fine-tuned his swing since making his professional debut in the Arizona Fall League in 2010.  Gone is the last minute, inward-foot-turn load.  Now, Harper has a more traditional stride and load that I would assume allows him to drive more off-speed and outer-half offerings.  But just because he’s made adjustments doesn’t mean he’s sacrificed any of his robust power.  From what I can see, and from what his Minor League and Arizona Fall League stats indicate, his power is just as ridiculous, if not more ridiculous – if that’s even possible.  All I know is that I can’t wait for Spring Training to roll around so that the “is Bryce Harper ready for the Major Leagues?” debate once again consumes the baseball world.

2011 Sombreros in Review: Adam Dunn

What’s there to say about Adam Dunn’s 2011 season that hasn’t already been said?  With an fWAR of -2.9 over 496 plate appearances, Dunn had one of the worst seasons in baseball history and recorded career lows in nearly every offensive category.  He finished the season with a triple slash line of .159/.292/.277, wRC+ of 59, .118 ISO, 27 extra-base hits, and a measly 42 RBI.

Along the way, the big man amassed three golden sombreros, putting him in a seven-way tie for first place in Major League Baseball.  He picked up his first on May 21 against the Dodgers and then followed it up with his second on May 26 against the Blue Jays.  The final sombrero came exactly a month later at the hands of the Washington Nationals.

Absolutely nothing went Dunn’s way in 2011; he hit like crap and was an utter disappointment in his first season with the White Sox.  There wasn’t a single moment where it seemed as though Dunn might turn the corner.  He never hit that dramatic walk-off bomb in front of a sold out home crowd or had a multi-home run game to rally the troops in his favor.

So what can be attributed to Dunn’s abysmal season? Well, his 35.7% strikeout rate is a good but obvious starting point.  In 415 at-bats this season, Dunn set a franchise record by fanning 177 times.  And although his penchant for striking out is as much of a defining trait as his longball potential, nothing pointed towards a complete offensive collapse.

In 2010, Dunn absolutely torched fastballs, as evidenced by a 32.1 wFB.  This past season, however, he posted a wFB of -8.5 (!), which is easily the worst of his storied career.  His inability to square up fastballs in turn damaged his approach at the plate, causing him to struggle mightily against offspeed pitches: -7.2 wSL (0.7 in 2010), -3.6 wCT (-2.5 in 2010), and -5.8 wCH (-3.9 in 2010) – all career lows.

Dunn also recorded a 57.8% O-Contact% (contact percentage on pitches thrown outside the strikezone), which, when supplemented by his 9.6% HR/FB rate, explains why he was seldom feared by opposing pitchers; they could comfortably attack him within the strikezone without the fear of 450-foot repercussions.

Here is Dunn’s ‘Swing Pitch Type’ chart from this past season:

While his selectiveness was decent—he did manage to coax 75 walks (15.1%)—Dunn simply was unable to consistently drive pitches within the strikezone, something that he’d never really struggled with.  Therefore, it comes as no surprise that Dunn failed to provoke an intentional walk all season for the first time in his 11-year career.

Yet, what Dunn’s season indicates, more than anything else, is a total lack of comfort and confidence at the dish – a realm of the game that cannot be quantified. Sure we can delve through endless statistics in search of some type of rationalization, but there is no true, metric-based explanation for why a player who averaged nearly 40 home runs and 100 RBI per season would suddenly hit his way out of a starting line up.

As any hitter will tell you, there’s nothing more detrimental to one’s performance than a waning level of confidence at the plate.  Once that confidence begins to waver, a hitter suddenly becomes susceptible to a slew of problems – some old, some new.  After scuffling through the first month of the season, Dunn never quite turned the corner as everyone expected he would, including himself.  Instead, his season spiraled out of control, as he absorbed the majority of the blame for the White Sox struggles, which in turn compounded his own personal issues.

Matt Purke getting rocked in the Arizona Fall League

The hitters in the Arizona Fall League haven’t been kind to Matt Purke.  After allowing an earned run over two innings in his AFL debut on October 15th, the left-hander has surrendered 10 earned runs over his last inning and a third.

Making his first start against Surprise on October 21st, Purke couldn’t escape a disastrous first inning. He allowed seven runs on five hits and walk, and managed to record only one out.  He followed it up with another brutal appearance nearly a week later in a relief appearance against Mesa.  Although Purke successfully made it through the inning, he still gave up three earned on four hits.

Just as it was towards the end of last season following several months of arm problems, Purke’s stuff has been flat this fall, and the 2010 velocity that once garnered No. 1 overall pick consideration is nowhere to be found.

According to Amanda Comak of The Washington Times:

Purke faced eight batters, he retired one. The one out he did get was a rocket high and deep to right field — but foul — that Phillies’ right fielder Tyson Gillies ran down and leapt for. He threw 22 pitches — 12 balls, 10 strikes — and fell behind to almost every single batter he faced. He walked one, Kansas City’s Wil Myers, on four pitches and hit another, Atlanta’s Todd Cunningham. His velocity reached 92 once but sat mostly in the 89-91 range and he didn’t seem to have great feel for his breaking stuff.

Sure Purke hadn’t faced hitters—let alone quality ones—since last spring before pitching in the AFL, but he has immediately emerged as the pitcher that no team wanted to touch with a 20-foot pole last June.

Here is some video of Purke during his breakout, red-shirt freshman season at TCU in 2010:

And here’s a video of Purke warming up before to his first AFL appearance: