As the postseason reaches its final leg -- the 107th World Series begins Wednesday in St. Louis with an unlikely Rangers-Cardinals matchup -- baseball's various off-season leagues are just starting to heat up.
In Arizona and across the Caribbean, more than a dozen members of the Nationals organization are getting in some extra work. Some of them are downright dominating the competition (hello, Jesus Flores!) and some of them are ... well, they're still trying to rediscover their swing (coughBryceHarpercough).
Several of you have been asking for some news on these guys, so here is the first of what will become regular updates on the Nats playing fallwinter ball. (Note: You can track everyone's progress on a daily basis via this site.) ...
Bryce Harper remains the biggest name out there; baseball's top-rated prospect just celebrated his 19th birthday yesterday with a day off from the Arizona Fall League (which doesn't schedule games on Sundays). Harper's second foray into the AFL has gotten off to a sluggish start. He went hitless in his first 15 at-bats with the Scottsdale Scorpions and enters this week sporting a .111 average (3-for-27) with three RBI, two walks and five strikeouts.
Harper, a notorious slow starter in just about every league he's ever played, does have two hits in his last eight at-bats, including a two-run triple during Friday's game. Suffice it to say, club officials aren't concerned in the least with his less-than-stellar stats to this point.
There are six other Nationals farmhands along with Harper on the Scottsdale roster. Catcher Derek Norris is 4-for-20 with a double, three RBI, two walks and three strikeouts. Third baseman Zach Walters (acquired from the Diamondbacks in the Jason Marquis trade) is 5-for-24 with two doubles, two RBI and four strikeouts.
Left-hander Matt Purke, the Nats' third-round pick in this summer's draft, made his AFL debut Saturday and allowed one run over two innings of relief, striking out one and walking one. Fellow lefty Sammy Solis, a 2010 draft pick, has allowed five runs and seven hits in eight innings over two starts, walking four and striking out two. Reliever Pat Lehman, who pitched at George Washington, has allowed three earned runs on seven hits over 5 13 innings. Right-hander Rafael Martin has given up one run on two hits over 2 13 innings, striking out three while walking one.
The most impressive winter ball performer to date has been catcher Jesus Flores, who took a back seat to Wilson Ramos this season but has seeing significant playing time in his native Venezuela since arriving last week and is tearing up the league. In his first four games for the Navegantes del Magallanes, Flores is batting a scorching .611 (11-for-18) with three doubles, two homers and seven RBI.
Several other farmhands are playing in Venezuela, including infielder Seth Bynum (5-for-19, two homers), outfielder Gregor Blanco (7-for-19, one homer) and relievers Josh Wilkie (three scoreless innings, five strikeouts) and Ryan Tatusko (one run, three walks in two-thirds of an inning).
Only two members of the Nationals organization are playing in the Dominican Winter League so far (rosters there frequently change, and plenty of guys wait until later in the offseason to join). Outfielder Eury Perez is 3-for-10 with three walks and three stolen bases for the Leones del Escogido. Catcher Jhonatan Solano also is 3-for-10 with a double and three RBI for the Tigres del Licey.