I've written about the Washington Nationals' Bryce Harper before, and Keith Law and I discussed him at the start of the Arizona Fall League in this video, in which we talk about his timing and power and what makes him special.
He wasn't the youngest player ever at the AFL (Fernando Martinez of the New York Mets was a few days younger when he played here), but the 18-year-old more than held his own here. At various times over the years, I've been asked who the "best prospect I ever saw" was, and I say it was 18-year-old Josh Hamilton. There was nothing he didn't do well on a baseball field. I didn't even realize how much I had to learn about scouting back then, but you didn't need to know that much to realize how good he could be, even in the brief look I got at the time. I mention it because I had a conversation with a longtime scout who has a good reputation among other scouts for evaluating hitters, and who saw the 18-year-old Hamilton extensively. Quite simply, he said that in his evaluation, Harper at 18 is better than Hamilton was at 18.
The one thing that was evident over the last few weeks was that Harper was trying a little too hard to make things happen in his limited playing time here, being a little too anxious and overswinging. However, he didn't do anything to diminish his long-term outlook as the best prospect in baseball.
"It was kind of hard to play two times a week, and hard to get into a groove," Harper said. "I wanted to get up there and swing as much I can. Sometimes I look stupid, and sometimes I look good. Hopefully I look good more than I look stupid."
Can a lot of things happen on the road to the big leagues? Sure, like they can with any prospect. But if he doesn't live up to his promise, it won't be for lack of effort or work ethic; he's proved he's the kind of player who plays all-out all the time.
"I've always wanted to play my game like guys like Pete Rose and George Brett, guys that played hard every day," Harper said. "I think I have that old-school mentality when I play."
Besides Harper, here were some of the hitters who stood out at this year's AFL: