Tony Sanchez, an elite prospect in his own right, watched the 18-year-old from the Mesa dugout last night and started taking some mental notes.
And? The approach worked.
"He made me a better hitter today," said Sanchez, the Pirates' first-round pick in 2009. "I was watching him hit and I saw how he transferred his weight and I thought, 'Man, that's how he drives the ball 500 feet. Let's see what happens when I try and do that transfer.' And lo and behold, I hit a bomb down the line. I'm like, 'No wonder he's so good.'"
Sanchez hit his first Arizona Fall League homer and knocked in two runs Thursday, helping the Solar Sox defeat the visiting Scottsdale Scorpions, 4-2.
"The first one's always the hardest," he said. "Overall, I'm feeling good at the plate, a lot better coming back from the injury, so it's been fun."
Sanchez, who missed the final two months of the season due to a broken jaw, turned on a belt-high 2-0 pitch from Scottsdale starter Oliver Drake (Orioles) and blasted a two-run shot to left field.
"The kid had some two-seamer on his ball," Sanchez said, referring to the inside break of the pitch. "I had that in my head, I was hunting fastball. So I just wanted to stay short, try to drive the ball somewhere. I knew a double would get [the runner] in."
Despite summoning his inner Harper, there was no two-bagger off the wall.
"The ball just kept carrying," Sanchez said. "I was pumped."
The Harper-Sanchez comparison isn't all that far-fetched. Harper was a catcher and outfielder in high school and junior college, while Sanchez was drafted fourth overall in 2009 as a backstop out of Boston College. He's one of the bigger names in the AFL.
"I was thinking yesterday about myself; if I was an 18-year-old in this league, I would have not have made contact with one pitch," Sanchez said, referring to Harper's debut. "He really impressed me. He really handled the bat well. He showed off his arm. You can tell the kid's got talent. I've only seen him for four at-bats, but I was impressed, he's got bat speed. I wish I had his body. He came to play."
With five hits and three RBIs in five games this fall, Sanchez is off to a good start. And, Harper hype aside, he's not too worried about his own expectations.
"My game is what's gotten me here and will get me to the next level," said Sanchez, a Miami native who was a 2010 Futures Game All-Star. "I can't really worry about who's expecting what and the numbers I'll put up. I just go out every day and try to be the best one on the field."
Bucs fans will be watching Sanchez with high expectations after seeing youngsters Andrew McCutchen and Pedro Alvarez reach the Majors. For Sanchez, who had his jaw wired shut at the end of June, the Fall League is an opportunity to make up for lost time.
"[My top goal is] definitely my pitch-calling and seeing how quick I can learn these new pitchers," he said. "We have their strengths and weaknesses and I need to turn that into a good game-calling. That's one of the most important things and that only comes with experience. So this is a good way to get a little time against some of the best hitters in the country."
Sanchez spent his first full season at Class A Advanced Brandeton, where he was a Florida State League All-Star and hit .314 with four homers and 34 RBIs in 59 games. A solid AFL stint will only improve his chances of moving up to Double-A in 2011.
"We're all having a lot of fun," he said. "Baseball players always get along with each other. When I first got in here, all the guys were very friendly and we started meshing really easily. It feels like we've been playing a lot longer than a week or two, and that's why we're playing so well."
Sanchez marveled over the media coverage Harper got for his professional debut Wednesday.
"I get a tiny percentage of the attention he gets," he said. "He's got cameras on him while he's stretching. It's crazy. It's not his fault, though. Anyone in this clubhouse would die to be in his position."
NOTES: Mets LHP Robert Carson, a 2007 14th-round pick, got the start and the win, allowing three hits over three scoreless innings. "We faced him in the Florida State League and he give me [a hard time] because I hit the ball well off him. I know he struck me out, so the kid's got good stuff and he showed it today," Sanchez said. "He was jamming guys, they weren't getting good swings on the ball. He's a fun guy to catch, a fun guy. I just met him the other day and he battles. He's an awesome guy." ...Mets SS Jordany Valdespin slugged his first fall homer in the fifth and has hit safely in all seven games he's started. ...Who needs Harper? Giants 2B Charlie Culberson continues to rake, going 4-for-4 with two doubles and a run scored. The Georgia native is 14-for-26 (.528) with two homers, five doubles and four RBIs for Scottsdale.
Danny Wild is an editor for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.