Bryce Harper And Two Other Sens Named To BA’s Top 20 Eastern League Prospects

If you think that’s a contrived headline that does a disservice to Brad Peacock and Derek Norris while attempting to leverage a certain prospect’s “juice” to get more attention… you got me!

But it’s been done before, you know.

Harper, of course, was ranked as the #1 Prospect in the Eastern League by virtue of the .256/.329/.395 line he put up in 147 plate appearances with the Harrisburg Senators. As aforementioned, Brad Peacock (#4) and Derek Norris (#12) were the other two Sens to make the list. Will, however, Peacock be another two-fer with the International League’s Top 20? We’ll find out on Friday (unless BA flip-flops its schedule for a third time).

Harper, Norris, and Peacock were all teammates on the 2010 Scottsdale Scorpions, who begin their title defense tonight against Surprise. No, really: They’re playing the Saguaros.

Norris and Harper are back, along with 2010 teammate Sammy Solis, 2011 draftees Matt Purke and Anthony Rendon, and fellow Senators Rafael Martin and Pat Lehman. Zach Walters is listed on the roster without a number, a strong indicator that he is — as commenter Ernie Salazar first noted (H/T) — on the taxi squad.

As before, some highlights from the BA scouting reports…
Harper has excellent strength and bat speed and near-legendary power. He refined his two-strike mindset and learned to spread out and let balls travel deeper, an approach that culminated with a game-winning, 450-foot homer over the batter’s eye in center field against Trenton on Aug. 12. He does have some excessive movement in his swing that gives scouts and managers pause while grading his hit tool, though his fearsome presence ensures that he’ll draw plenty of walks.

Using a fastball that sat at 91-94 mph and touched 97, Peacock was leading the league in strikeouts when he departed for Triple-A in mid-July. He commanded the pitch much better this year than he had in a seven-game EL trial in 2010, thanks in part to working with Harrisburg pitching coach Randy Tomlin on keeping his front shoulder closed longer. The adjustment also added to his deception.

Though scouts still consider Norris an offensive catcher, he has improved defensively, so much so that his bat doesn’t completely have to carry the load. His receiving still needs polish, as evidenced by his 15 passed balls, but he doesn’t box nearly as many pitches as he used to. He’s refined his throwing technique and used his average arm strength to throw out a league-best 40 percent of basestealers.

Harper, of course, skipped Potomac so I have nothing to add or detract to the BA report. Methinks there are few other folks that might have an opinion that’s been written elsewhere.

Having watched Peacock last summer and in his September callups, I still maintain that his success as a starter will hinge upon his breaking pitches, particularly the changeup. Next spring should be fun as he, Tommy Milone and Ross Detwiler will be battling for a spot in the rotation.

As we’ve seen in the comments here and on Nats Insider, Norris inspires strong opinions on his future as a catcher, with his supporters pointing to his OBP and SLG and his detractors pointing to his PB and BA. I personally suspect that most of the Norris naysayers have never seen him for more than a game or two (if at all), but would also argue that most of his fans (disclosure: myself included) have seen him a lot and simply like his cut of his jib, as it were. He’ll be 23 in mid-February so time is still on his side, but the “should he shift to first base” question will be with us all winter long, I suspect.

UPDATE: As noted in the comments, Purke has replaced Rendon on the AFL roster per Adam Kilgore’s post this morning in Nationals Journal.

UPDATE #2: A couple of tidbits from the BA chat, which speak to some of the comments thus far:

Q: [JC (VT)] How much of Derek Norris’s contact issues can be traced to lingering effects of his wrist injury?
A: [John Manuel] Not sure we can blame that anymore, we have a two-year sample size of Norris not hitting for average, and the scouts and managers I talked too attributed it more to not knowing when to be aggressive and when to be selective. I ranked him as high as I did because they all like his swing, athletic ability and improved defensive ability behind the plate. He went from being an American League player to a legit option at C, though his defense is still such that he’s going to have to be an offensive catcher. He’ll never be a plus defender, it seems.

To repeat for the folks that haven’t been reading all along… Norris moves extremely well for his size and IMO, a switch to 1B would not take nearly as long as it did for Marrero.

Q: [Matt (West Chester, PA)]: I was surprised to see Peacock get grouped together with Turner and Banuelos, let alone rank ahead of both. Considering Peacock’s year and development, has his ceiling jumped from #3 to #2?
A: I really like Peacock a lot, and gave him the edge because of my single-minded (probably to a fault) emphasis of guys pitching off their fastball. Peacock went through lineups three times using mostly his heater. I like his fastball command…[it’s] electric… and he’s a good athlete. I like him as a future No. 3 starter, which is convenient as he slots in behind Strasburg and Jordan Zimmerman[sic].

Manuel goes on to say that Peacock has “average” fastball command, but I believe he meant it in terms of MLB average, not AA prospect.

Last but not least…

Q: [@Jaypers413 (IL)] If you’re Nats management, do you start Harper back at Harrisburg come April, or bump him to Syracuse?
A: I’m not sure why you wouldn’t include Washington as an option there. He’s probably the best CF in the organization, and I bet they are tempted to put him there. More likely they get a CF this offseason (they made a run at Denard Span in July), keep Harper on the corners and start him back at Harrisburg.

Just when I was starting to have my love/hate disdain with BA dissipate, that first sentence in Manuel’s answer reminds me that I can both respect them and mock them as I see fit 😉

Author: Luke Erickson

Since 2009, Luke Erickson has been chief writer, editor, and bottle-washer of Potomac is his home base as a season-ticket holder, but he has visited every affiliate north of Florida at least once, with multiple trips to Hagerstown and Harrisburg.

11 thoughts on “Bryce Harper And Two Other Sens Named To BA’s Top 20 Eastern League Prospects”

  1. I posted this in the “morning reading” thread before Sue started this one, but just to reiterate, it’s no surprise that Harper was #1, but what I did find surprising was Peacock at # 4, mainly because he’s ranked ahead of Jacob Turner, Manny Banuelos and Betances. But the one that i wasn’t all at expecting was Norris at #12. It was a pretty stacked league and to be ranked that that high is shocking given that i thought his lustre had worn off a little. I mean, ahead of Lavarnay and Romine? I guess it’s like you said Sue, as someone who hadn’t seen neither of them play in the minors, i should not have focused solely on stats.

    1. Nick: Norris lit up the post-season honor roles as a 20-yo converted CA in 2009, but broke the hamate in his left hand prepping for the AFL. He continued to tear it up early in 2010 w/Potomac until suffering a severe concussion (airlifted out of the stadium, IIRC) in 2010.

      Even with all that, he still shows a great eye at the plate, and has improved his defensive skills immensely since signing with the Nationals; His BAvg was the only thing that dropped significantly in 2011.

  2. Any thoughts on Matt Antonelli’s future? He’s getting no love from the Nats this September/October after a stellar Syracuse season …

    1. Unfortunately, he’s five months older than Ian Desmond and turns 27 next April. It may sound harsh, but he’s probably viewed as AAA inventory for and by most teams — especially after missing almost all of 2010 and half of 2009 with injuries. That said, he could go the Bixler route and play his way back into the majors as a bench player. But the odds are against him.

  3. Richard, thanks for jumping on the Antonelli bandwagon! Unlike Bowden’s Folly Matt can’t change his age, but I view it as misleading since he lost more than two years to injury. Before he hurt his wrist he was on the fast track; Baseball America had him as the #50 prospect in baseball entering 2008, but he hurt his wrist and couldn’t get it properly diagnosed. And even when he couldn’t hit he always had a good batting eye. After finally getting surgery in 2010 the Padres let him go and Rizzo jumped in. Now that he’s healthy he’s playing like the guy rated so highly before his injury. John Sickles at had him as a B+ prospect and the #2 guy in the Padres system before the injury, and recently said he thinks that Antonelli is a good gamble to take (floor is AAA fodder, and he could still surge in his late 20’s into the player it once looked like he could be).

    It’s clear to me that Antonelli has turned a corner, but even though he’s done very well at AAA – he led the team in OPS – the corner isn’t going to lead to DC unless someone is moved as part of a trade. If Desmond is traded to the Rays for Upton, then I’d love to see the Nats bring Antonelli back and let him compete for the 2b/utility IF job with Lombardozzi. Being a more established player it would also be easier keeping him in a utility role while Lombardozzi plays every day in Syracuse. If he doesn’t make it in DC though, I hope Antonelli gets a chance someplace.

    1. John C: Antonelli & Bixler were both term insurance policies stashed in Syracuse by Rizzo; When the FotF tore the abdominal in April, he cashed in (called up) Bixler & turned 3B over to Hairston/Cora. At the time, it could have gone either way (Bixler or Antonelli), but the call was for the ‘more experienced player’. The next opportunity was probably at the trade deadline, but by then DJ had the reins & he was asking for “big, hairy-chested guys” to come off the bench (Gomes).

      Bottom line is that Antonelli proved he still has marketable skills with his season in Syracuse, but he’ll probably have to go to another organization to get another shot at ‘the show’, given the Nationals current outlook around the infield. I wish him well, as he seems like a pretty decent guy.

  4. According to WaPo’s NATS Journal, Rendon is being held back in FIL because is shoulder is still not 100%. It appears Rendoin in going the CMW route for coming back.

    1. I read as He needs to work on his throwing motion and mechanics because he didn’t play must of last year. They say he’s shoulder is fine. Don’t start a riot…ha!

    2. Kilgore’s post was going up at roughly the same time I was writing this. Thanks for the heads-up. Like my copyeditor, it’s now fixed,

  5. From Nats Insider, NatsJack mentions that he’s seen Rendon once, and that was just hanging around the batting cage watching Harper, so there’s that tidbit to mull over.

    Of the three IL stars, while they all still need a bit more polish, Peacock would probably benefit the most from starting 2012 in Syrcause, imo. Maybe Knoor & Booker could work with him on refining his 3rd & 4th pitches, turning his ‘knuckle-curve’ into a plus pitch, and giving him another reliable off-speed option.

  6. John Manuel’s continued view of Norris is still in line with what some of us have seen – A good eye and patience at the plate, a quick bat (he absolutely kills mistakes), and improving skills behind the plate. As to the comments about Peacock living off his fastball in MLB as a SP and Harper in CF with the big club in April? I have to wonder what John may have had in his coffee cup as the chat wore on.

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