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In Arizona, Harper checks in

Bryce Harper, shown last month in Florida, is at 18 years 2 days old the youngest player on his Arizona Fall League team by two years.
Bryce Harper, shown last month in Florida, is at 18 years 2 days old the youngest player on his Arizona Fall League team by two years. (Jonathan Newton)

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By Adam Kilgore
Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Bryce Harper arrived at the Arizona Fall League late Sunday night, and Monday morning he began a new experience with a familiar scene. When he boarded the team bus in Scottsdale for a trip to Surprise at 9:15 a.m., eight or so autograph hounds were there, waiting for Harper. He signed for all of them. On the bus, his teammates joked they're glad they're not him.

Harper knew he would not play; because he's on the "taxi squad" for the Scottsdale Scorpions, he'll only play twice per week, on Wednesdays and Saturdays. He met Manager Randy Knorr - who also manages Class AA Harrisburg. "It's going to be tough for you because you're not playing all the time," Knorr told him. "Sit back, watch how guys do their stuff and go from there."

"It's going to be difficult playing only two times a week, but he'll all right," Knorr said. "He's going to work a lot the days that he's not playing. Hopefully, I wear him out so much that he's not so bored during games he can't play."

On his first day working out, Harper blended in. After he stretched with his teammates, he jogged out to right field. He played catch with Xavier Avery, an Orioles outfield prospect. He shagged in right center field, attentive and purposeful. He took batting practice with the third and final group.

On Harper's last swing, he drilled a long drive to right center. Caleb Joseph, an Orioles catching prospect also on the taxi squad, played announcer while standing behind the batting cage. "Back, back, back, back" - and then, as the ball landed in the bullpen - "it's over!"

During batting practice, Harper hit four home runs in 20 or so swings, a strong first impression. Harper stands apart from his teammates, talented as they are. He is, at 18 years 2 days, the youngest player on the team by nearly two years. He signed for a record signing bonus as the first pick in the draft. He's the only one here who has appeared on the cover of Sports Illustrated. The list goes on.

But you wouldn't notice by watching Harper interact with his new teammates. He lingered with the Nationals' contingent out in the field at batting practice began. Behind the cage, he chatted comfortably with Marc Krauss, a Diamondbacks outfield prospect, while he took warm-up swings.

Since he just arrived to a team that's been together for a week, it may seem like a difficult transition for Harper. But, "not with this group," Knorr said. "It doesn't matter who comes in. They're going to put their arm around and say, 'Come on. This is what we do. Let's have some fun.' He's going to fit right in. We're fortunate with the guys we have. They're all pretty good guys. They all like to come, play ball and have fun."

On Wednesday, Harper will become the second-youngest player to participate in an Arizona Fall League game. It is the best competition minor league baseball can offer - "It's like having an all-star team out there every day," Knorr said. No one seems worried.

"It is going to be a challenge for him," Knorr said. "But I think he's going to be able to handle it. I think he's going to surprise a lot of people. Already, taking BP, I think the guys are already impressed with him."


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