Greetings from lovely Rome, Ga., where the visiting Hagerstown Suns of the Class A South Atlantic League are about to open their season against the Rome Braves. Of course, that’s not the reason I’m here. I’ll be documenting the minor league debut of Nationals top prospect Bryce Harper, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2010 MLB draft.
Not much electricity here, to be honest. As of an hour ago, the game was still not sold out. There is very little of the buzz that accompanied Stephen Strasburg’s debut a year ago for Class AA Harrisburg in Altoona, Pa. There were only a few dozen onlookers in the stadium as Harper and the Suns took batting practice — and that’s too bad, because Harper put on a show, launchinga handful of towering, long drives over the fence in right and center field.
Harper is batting third and playing right field for the Suns. Just now, as the Suns’ starters were being announced, Harper’s name drew only a handful of muffled cheers.
In any event, I’ll provide some periodic updates here, as Harper and the Suns face Braves lefty Carlos Perez, one of the top-ranked pitching prospects in the Braves’ organization, so hang with us.
UPDATE, 9:27 p.m.: Facing right-hander Danilo Alvarez in the eighth, Harper rolled over on a 2-2 change-up and grounded out to second base. After getting ahead 2-0, Harper took a called strike one, then missed a fastball on the outside edge, setting up the ground out. The Suns are leading now 3-2, as we go to the bottom of the eighth.
UPDATE, 8:39 p.m.: Add “first minor league strikeout” to the list of Bryce Harper’s firsts tonight. He just whiffed against Braves right-hander Tyler Hess on what appeared to be a well-placed two-seamer off the outside corner. Harper swung and missed twice in the at-bat, and also hit a weak foul-topper, appearing less at ease against Hess than he had against the lefty Perez. Harper is 2 for 3 tonight with a pair of singles, and the Suns lead the Braves 2-0 as we head to the bottom of the sixth.
UPDATE, 7:53 p.m.: He’s a finesse, small-ball type of player, this Bryce Harper. Facing Perez again in the third, with a runner on first and one out, Harper just dropped a perfect bunt down the third base line, beating it out without a throw for a single. The bunt came on an 0-1 count, after Perez got him to swing and miss at a first-pitch slider. And so, young Mr. Harper is still batting 1.000.
UPDATE, 7:14 p.m.: Harper’s first minor league at-bat produced his first minor league hit, first minor league RBI and, eventually, his first minor league stolen base. Facing Perez, Harper took a couple of monstrous cuts early in the count, fouling off pitches both times, then worked the count full. On 3-2, he was fooled slightly by an off-speed pitch, but reached out and poked a soft liner into shallow center. It scored Suns left fielder Randolph Oduber, who had led off the inning with a walk. Harper subsequently stole second, sliding into second base head-first. He has a dirty uniform, and the Suns have a 1-0 lead as right-hander Cameron Selik pitches the bottom of the first.