Bryce Harper’s bat has been pretty quiet down at Class AAA Syracuse, as he is hitting just .232 with no home runs and one RBI in 14 games.
But Washington Nationals general manager Mike Rizzo isn’t worried, telling CSN Washington’s Mark Zuckerman that Harper, one of the top prospects in baseball, is progressing just fine.
Rizzo insists that Harper has a good approach at the plate and is hitting the ball hard, even if the results haven’t been there.
“I think it’s an adjustment period for him,” Rizzo said before Thursday’s game against the Astros. “It’s a different kind of pitching than he’s ever had in the minor leagues. You’ve got some hard-throwing prospects, and you also have some veteran, AAA/AAAA type of pitchers that can really pitch and command their stuff. They’re not the blazing fastballs, but they try to get you out different ways.”
Rizzo also said that Harper’s conversion to center field is progressing as planned, despite a pair of errors at the position so far. “He’s taken good routes. His throwing is really improved.”
With all the hype around Harper, it’s easy to forget that he is only 19 and in his second season in professional baseball. The fact that he’s playing on the AAA level is impressive enough, and his track record suggests that he will adjust to the new challenge in time.
As Zuckerman points out, the Nationals can keep Harper from reaching free agency until after the 2018 season if they wait one more week to call him up. But it seems likely they will wait much longer to give him his first taste of the major leagues.
The 10-4 Nats currently reside in first place in the NL East on the strength of a pitching staff that is allowing just over three runs per game.
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Orioles third baseman Manny Machado will become a free agent after the 2018 season and there hasn’t been much in the way of progress on a contract extension between the two sides. It seems as if Machado will test the open market next offseason.
The Phillies, currently with relatively minuscule obligations for the 2018 season and beyond, are expected to be big players for Machado, as well as other potential free agents like Bryce Harper. In fact, the Phillies may not even want to wait until next offseason, as Roch Kubatko of MASN reports that the club has expressed interest in Machado to the Orioles. In return, the O’s have been doing their homework on the Phillies’ minor league system.
Kubatko notes that the Orioles like, in particular, Phillies prospects Sixto Sanchez and Scott Kingery. The Phillies may be hesitant to part with either considering they can get Machado for a lot of cash but no prospects next winter. MLB Pipeline rates Sanchez as the Phillies’ best pitching prospect and the second-best prospect overall in the system. Kingery is third overall and the top infielder. While the Phillies’ system is among the best in baseball, its notable weakness is pitching, so parting with Sanchez — who throws in the upper 90’s and can hit triple digits — would be a big ask. Kingery is seen as the club’s next second baseman of the future, so much so that the Phillies are shopping Cesar Hernandez at the Winter Meetings.
As usual with rumors during the Winter Meetings, there may be some smoke but no actual fire here. The Orioles are likely to get continued interest in Machado from many teams between now and the July 31 non-waiver trade deadline. They are simply doing their due diligence by seeing what the Phillies and others have to offer for Machado.