Bryson Stott began the week with nine home runs and an .864 OPS in 178 minor league at-bats this season. He will end it Sunday by representing the Phillies in the annual Futures Game, part of Major League Baseball’s three-day All-Star festivities in Colorado.
But what everyone really wants to know is how Stott got Bryce Harper to pump his gas — and in full uniform, no less.
Surely you saw the photo. Harper, back to the camera but unmistakable in his untucked red No. 3 uniform with gray pants, red socks hiked to the knees, and hat turned backward over a pinstriped bandanna, was standing in front of a self-service pump at a gas station in Clearwater, Fla. Stott captured the moment before a March 19 spring-training game and plastered it on social media, where it predictably went viral.
“Yeah,” Stott said last week, “it made its rounds on the internet.”
As most Phillies fans know by now, Stott and Harper are Las Vegas natives whose mothers have been friendly for several years. The prospect and the superstar roomed together in spring training and often carpooled to games. They had finished a pregame workout at the Phillies’ complex and were headed across the bay to Tampa for a 6:35 p.m. game against the Yankees.
“And he goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I need gas,’ ” Stott recalled. “But this was the first time that he put his uniform on before he left. I said, ‘Are you going to pump it with your uniform on?’ And he started dying laughing. So I had to take a picture. It was so funny. It was like a club-ball outing.”
In time, Stott may share more workplace laughs with Harper. But the lefty-hitting, 23-year-old shortstop must first finish off his development after not playing in games last season because of the pandemic.
Drafted 14th overall out of UNLV in 2019, Stott began this season with high-A Jersey Shore and batted .288 with four doubles, five homers, and a 1.001 OPS in 73 at-bats. The Phillies promoted him to double-A Reading at the beginning of June, and the learning curve has been apparent. Through 28 games, he batted .248 with four doubles, four homers, and a .763 OPS in 105 at-bats.
“The biggest thing is the pitchers go in with a plan, and they’re not going to get away from their plans no matter what is going on in the game to get you out,” Stott said. “At the lower level, they got behind, and it was usually a heater.”
Perhaps that explains the rise in Stott’s strikeout rate from 23.2% at Jersey Shore to 27% at Reading. Making consistent contact may be his biggest challenge. One scout from a National League team said Stott “has a good gap-to-gap swing with power to left-center and right-center” that should naturally produce doubles and homers but worries that Stott, like many young players, will get consumed with launch angle and try to pull everything.
Defensively, the scout characterized Stott as “not a traditional shortstop” because of limited range and an average arm but wondered if he will stay at the position because the frequency of shifting often mitigates those shortcomings. The Phillies had Stott play four games at shortstop and two at second base each week at Jersey Shore; with Reading, he has played only short.
“I think it’s going good,” Stott said. “In 2019, it was kind of working on my pre-pitch/first step, and that’s gotten a lot better. You can never stop working at it.”
In spring training, Harper described Stott’s defense as “not super flashy” but compared him to “a very good mix of J.J. Hardy and Brandon Crawford,” who have six Gold Gloves between them. Harper said Stott’s swing reminds him of Garret Anderson, a .293 hitter with 287 homers and a .785 OPS in a 17-year major league career.
So, yeah, Harper is bullish on his protégé. Then again, he’s biased.
Harper and Stott, five years apart in age, have gone from family friends to college football-watching pals back home in Las Vegas. They get together almost every Saturday to watch their adopted favorite, Ohio State, where Harper’s wife played soccer.
“I’m over there pretty much every weekend in the offseason,” Stott said. “I love playing with [Harper’s toddler son] Krew. He hits the ball off the tee already, so I chase those balls around for probably a couple hours a day. It’s just kind of spending time as friends and family that’s the most important thing.”
Harper stresses to Stott the importance of not skipping steps on the way to the big leagues. To wit: When the Phillies assigned Stott to the Lehigh Valley training site last season, he focused on getting as many at-bats as possible against lefties in scrimmages.
It hasn’t paid off yet. Stott is 9-for-40 (.225) with 18 strikeouts so far this season against lefties compared to 38-for-138 (.275) with 37 strikeouts against right-handers. But he said he’s more confident against lefties than he was in 2019.
Stott’s development bears watching. Depending on how he plays over the next two months, he might factor into the team’s 2022 plans for an infield that has below-average defenders at third base (Alec Bohm), shortstop (Didi Gregorius), and first (Rhys Hoskins).
First, though, he will be the only Phillies farmhand in the Futures Game, a showcase that will include blue-chip shortstops Bobby Witt Jr. (Kansas City), Marco Luciano (San Francisco), Austin Martin (Toronto), and Jeter Downs (Boston), all of whom are widely regarded as top-100 prospects.
Stott said his parents, sister, and brother will travel to Denver from Las Vegas for the game. One friend who won’t be there: Harper, who hasn’t been selected to the All-Star Game since he signed with the Phillies three years ago.
“I’m just going to go and play like I normally do and just have fun and enjoy the weekend,” Stott said. “I’m there representing the Phillies, so that’s always a good thing that you get to represent a whole organization and try to show how we play and how we do things.”