SURPRISE, Ariz.—The Arizona Fall League's Rising Stars Game will feature most of the top players in the AFL, but it doesn't have the one player everyone wants to see.
Bryce Harper, the Nationals' No. 1 overall pick in the 2010 draft, just missed being the youngest player in Fall League history. When made his debut in the AFL, he was four days older than Mets prospect Fernando Martinez was when he played here in 2006.
Harper has bigger tools than Martinez, who has reached the big leagues but hasn't established himself as a regular yet. It's not easy to say when Harper will establish himself, but he has already set himself apart from many of his AFL peers with his hard play and effort, not to mention his tools.
"He plays the game the right way and has baseball instincts," said East manager Randy Knorr, who managed Harrisburg in the Nats' system this season. "He goes hard at all times. He's fun to watch for sure."
Harper is on the taxi squad of the Scottsdale Scorpions and only plays two days a week. In both games this week, his hard play prompted the opposing team to hit a batter in response to Harper.
Wednesday against the Surprise Rafters, Harper's hard baserunning got him involved in a play where he almost ran up the back of the runner in front of him, Ryan Adams (Orioles). Adams was out and basically avoided contact at the plate with catcher Salvador Perez (Royals). Harper, though, barreled over Perez, trying to knock the ball free. He too was out, but the Rafters threw a purpose pitch behind a batter later in the game.
In Friday night's Scottsdale at Phoenix game, Harper went in hard at second base trying to break up a double play, though shortstop Tyler Pastonicky (Braves) successfully turned two anyway. Desert Dogs pitcher Travis Banwart (Athletics) hit the next batter with a pitch, prompting both benches to be warned.
"It was a little late but it was a good slide," Pastornicky said Saturday prior to the Rising Stars Game. "I didn't see anything wrong with it."
Harper's play has prompted Larry Walker comparisons from scouts for his combination of all-around tools, including above-average speed, his cannon throwing arm and obviously his power. Several scouts have said he may have to tone down his play a bit to stay healthy, but Knorr says he'd much rather have Harper going too hard than not hard enough.
"His first hit the other day, he singled to right, took a hard turn at first base, broke down to pick up the ball and went back to first," Knorr said. "I looked in the other team's dugout because I heard something, and a bunch of them were laughing at him for going too hard. I just turned to my team and said, 'Hey, we all need to play hard like that.' I love it."
• Giants first baseman Brandon Belt said he's just going to keep riding the hot hand he's on this year, a year when he led the minors in batting, rose to Triple-A and is finishing by hitting .362 in the AFL so far. "He's the best hitter in the league," Knorr said succinctly.
• His counterpart at first in this game, Royals prospect Eric Hosmer, is just 10-for-59 (.169) this fall, but scouts aren't worried about Hosmer. West manager Mike Guerrero said Hosmer may be a bit tired but isn't worried about him. "I never saw Joey Votto in the minor leagues," Guerrero said, referring to a scout's comparison, "but I know the ball sounds different coming off Hosmer's bat. I know he can hit it and hit it a long way."
• Lefthanders Mike Montgomery (Royals) and Manny Banuelos (Yankees) got the start, and neither was expected to go more than two innings. Guerrero said he set up his pitching for an 11-inning game, the maximum allowed in this all-star contest, but would play his pitchers by feel rather than mapping out who would pitch what inning.