7 Nationals Currently Playing in AFL

The 2011 Arizona Fall League season is just about at its midway point, so it seems like a good time to check in on the players the Nationals sent to the premier fall league this year and see how they’ve been doing. In total the Nationals have seven players participating in the AFL this year as part of the Scottsdale Scorpions roster. (Stats are all season-to-date, ending with 10/23/11.)

Bryce Harper, outfield

Easily the biggest name out of the players representing the Nationals in Arizona this fall, Harper seems like the logical place to begin. On paper, the Scorpions have what should be one of the better outfields in the AFL considering they are able to play Harper, Mike Trout, and Tyson Gillies in the same outfield. Yet, Harper has been struggling mightily through his first 42 at bats. In 11 games he is batting a mere .214/.313/.381 with just a single home run.

The consensus top prospect in baseball has had a long first professional season in 2011. He amassed 387 total at bats during the regular season while reaching Double-A. His overall numbers were solid – .297/.392/.501 with 17 HR and 26 stolen bases. A disappointing performance in the AFL won’t necessarily change Harper’s prospect status as some of this could simply be attributed to the amount of time he’s already been playing baseball this year.

Zach Walters, infield

Walters was originally acquired by the Nationals this past July from the Arizona Diamondbacks in exchange for Jason Marquis. After the deal, the organization assigned the shortstop to their High-A affiliate where he batted .293/.336/.371 in 126 plate appearances.

The 2010 Draft selection (9th round) was sent to the AFL likely to continue his development and to allow the Nationals organization to see how he fares against primarily more advanced competition. In 9 games (35 at bats) he is hitting just .200/.243/.343, though with 2 doubles and a home run nearly half of his hits have gone for extra bases.

The other shortstop on the team’s roster, San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford, is among the league leaders for the batting title so it’s easy to understand why Walters may not be getting the bigger share of the playing time going forward.

Derek Norris, catcher

One name that most Nationals fan know – aside from Harper, of course – is likely that of Norris. The 2007 Draft selection (4th round) has twice been named to Baseball America’s pre-season Top 100 Prospect list (#38 in 2010, #72 in 2011) and is considered a big part of the organization’s future. However, where that contribution will play in the field remains to be determined. Norris has long been behind the plate but there exists a sizeable group who believe he’ll ultimately end up at first base long term (he’s only played one game at 1B in his minor league career and that was in 2007).

In 9 games (31 at bats) behind the plate for Scottsdale the right-hander is hitting .290/.395/.419 and has shown good patience (6 BB, 5 K) at the plate. The 22 year old spent this past season with Double-A (his first at the level) and hit .210/.367/.446 with 20 HR in 423 at bats. It’s not out of the question that Norris will see significant playing time in Triple-A this coming season, perhaps even including an appearance in Washington if the need arises.

Pat Lehman, pitcher

Lehman was initially signed after the 2009 Draft – the same class that brought Stephen Strasburg and Drew Storen to Washington – and has been steadily working his way through the organization’s minor league ranks since, reaching Double-A in 2011. A reliever by trade, Lehman has pitched a total of 206.1 innings since signing shortly after the draft. He holds a 13-8 record, 3.45 ERA, 13 saves (all this past season), and an 8.1 K/9 rate.

The results thus far in the AFL haven’t quite been so kind, however, for the right-hander. In 6.2 innings (5 games) he has allowed 8 earned runs (10.82 ERA) but his control has been good (7 K, 2 BB).

Rafael Martin, pitcher

Martin was signed out of the Mexican League prior to the 2010 season and has spent the better part of the past two seasons with Washington’s Double-A affiliate. This past year he posted a 1.65 ERA in 43.2 innings of work with an 11.1 K/9 rate.

The 27 year old right-hander has appeared in just 3 games in Arizona (4.0 innings pitched). He has a 2.25 ERA and opponents are batting just .214 against him.

Matt Purke, pitcher

Purke is a unique case. Originally drafted in the 1st round of the 2009 Draft (#14 overall by Texas), the young left-hander instead chose to attend college before being selected this past year’s draft (3rd round) by the Nationals. Purke did not sign until the August deadline so he did not make his professional debut until just recently, pitching two innings in relief on October 15th. He’s made one start since, getting shelled for 7 runs on 5 hits in just a third of an inning. Overall he currently has a 30.86 ERA in 2.1 innings of work.

Sammy Solis, pitcher

Finally, we have Solis. The left-hander was taken in the 2010 Draft (2nd round) and is highly regarded as one of the organization’s better pitching prospects. In 19 career minor league starts (100.2 innings) he is 8-3 with a 3.13 ERA and 8.6 K/9. The organization has intentionally kept his progress through the minors at a slow pace, but it would not be out of the question to see him spend significant time at Double-A this coming year.

He’s been hit hard in three AFL starts thus far, allowing 9 earned runs in 10.0 innings of work (8.10 ERA). Control has been a problem, with 8 BB allowed.

Topics: Arizona Fall League, Bryce Harper, Derek Norris, Matt Purke, Pat Lehman, Rafael Martin, Sammy Solis, Washington Nationals, Zach Walters

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