Hunter Harvey Debuts in Aberdeen
Since there were three of us from BSL in Aberdeen to cover Hunter Harvey’s first start, we’re going to write a tandem piece on the game. You’ll see thoughts from Tucker Blair and I below, while Luke Jackson provided the video. I hope you enjoy this format.
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Last night in Aberdeen, Orioles first round draft pick Hunter Harvey made his debut with the Iron Birds. The 18 year old had previously made 5 starts with the GCL Orioles down in the Gulf Coast League. He had compiled a 1.35 ERA while striking out 18 batters and walking two in 13.1 innings prior to last night. Drafted with the 22nd overall pick in the 2013 draft, the young right hander from North Carolina was anxious to make his debut with the Iron Birds. He was pitching in front of a real crowd for the first time with an announced attendance of 5,485.
Listed at 6’3” and 175 pounds, he appears to be every bit as slight as his listed height and weight make him out to be. One of the reasons the Orioles are so high on him is that his broad shouldered frame looks to be able to carry a lot more size as he fills out. Since his fastball on this night topped out at 96, there’s a lot to get excited about should he add velocity as he matures. As he irons out his mechanics and fills out, I think we will see more velocity from his precocious young right arm.
As for the game, he came out of the gate throwing mostly fastballs sitting in the 93-95 range. The New York Penn League hitters on the Hudson Valley Renegades had almost no chance to hit Harvey when he hit his spots. The first hitter of the game grounded out weakly to second base on a fastball in. The second hitter struck out swinging on Harvey’s first off-speed pitch of the night, an 81 mph curveball with 11 to 5 break. After starting the third hitter of the game Johnny Field with a curveball for a strike, he struck him out when Harvey elevated a fastball up at his shoulders. Harvey made the Renegades first three hitters look as if he was still in high school facing 16 and 17 year olds.
Harvey would go on to get two more swinging strikeouts in the second inning, and one in the third. Actually, all five of his strikeouts were of the swinging variety as he got a ton of swings and misses. I regretted not counting them from the start as soon as the first inning was over. If I had to venture a guess, I’d say he got about 12 or 13 whiffs on the night in his 4 1/3 innings. The Renegades hitters were overwhelmed anytime Harvey threw an elevated fastball or a well located curveball down in the zone.
In the third and fourth innings, he would break out his only two changeups of the night. He threw these at 82 and 84 mph creating just over 10 mph of separation between his fastball and his changeup, which is ideal. The pitch has some vertical drop to it, though not a lot of run like many changeups do. Both times he threw it, he missed off to the arm side and wasn’t able to throw it for a strike. The changeup is clearly the third pitch in his arsenal at the moment, and he’s not quite comfortable with it yet. This is the pitch that will need the most work before it can find success at the upper levels of the minors, but the potential is there for it to be a good pitch.
The curveball is short and tight, not slow and loopy like something Barry Zito would throw. It had good tilt and was thrown hard from a high three quarters arm slot. There is a lot of potential in the pitch, and you can tell that he’s already comfortable throwing it. At such a young age, it was impressive that could bury the pitch in the dirt when he was looking for a strikeout and also throw it for a strike early in the count. He started off a few Renegades hitters with a curve that stayed in the zone for a strike. Most young pitchers aren’t able to command a breaking ball the way Harvey already can at the age of 18.
While there was a lot to like in an outing that saw Harvey only give up four hits and one walk over 4 1/3 innings, there’s also a lot for him to work on. But first let’s recap his outing. The only run he let up scored on an errant pickoff throw from Dylan Rheault after he had left the game so it ended up being unearned. He struck out five, all in the first three innings. There were really only two hard hit balls off of him all night, one was a double down the right field line and the other a line drive back up the middle for a single. The other two hits he gave up were both infield singles. Of the balls that were hit off of him, nine were groundballs, one was a flyball, and two were line drives. The batted ball distribution speaks to his ability to command his fastball low in the zone. When he elevated it, hitters just had no chance.
As I mentioned in the last paragraph, he does have a few things to work on. His foot strike in his delivery comes towards the third base side, which helps create deception and hide the ball from the hitter. However, I’d prefer his foot strike come on a straight line to the plate, allowing him to have better balance during his delivery and leading to better command. This would also allow him to get all of his momentum going on a straight line toward the plate, which could potentially allow him to get more velocity.
The other flaw I noticed in his delivery was that his leg kick was different from the stretch. From the wind up, he had a nice high leg kick bringing his left leg up near his chest and allowing him to use the power in his legs during his delivery. But from the stretch, he stopped his leg kick below his waist and it almost looked like he was using a variation of the slide step on every pitch. I’d prefer he use the same or at least similar leg kicks out of both the wind up and the stretch so that it’d be easier for him to repeat the timing of his delivery to the plate. If he has a different timing pattern on each pitch, it’s going to be hard for him to repeat his delivery on a consistent basis.
That said, this is a really promising arm and you could definitely see why the Orioles made him their first round pick in the 2013 draft. I enjoyed my first look at him in person and look forward to seeing him down the road as he progresses through the Orioles minor league system.
Hunter Harvey is the best talent I have seen in the NYPL so far this season, not just the Ironbirds. In a league that often has some of the rawest players in the minors, Harvey proved that he was ready for his promotion from the GCL.
Harvey stands tall on the mound, with some clear growth left into his frame. I suspect the Orioles could take the same approach with Harvey as they did with Josh Hader. They slowly worked him through the system, clearly making strength and conditioning a priority. Harvey has a similar frame, as he is tall and skinny, although he has broader shoulders as Kevin noted. This conditioning will further increase his stamina and allow him to pitch longer and remain durable throughout the treacherous battles of the season. The important aspect to note is that he is already touching 95-96 mph on his fastball. Often times we hear of pitchers having the “potential” to do this, yet Harvey is already rearing it back at age 18. That’s exciting.
FB: 93-96 mph in first three innings with great explosion and some natural movement. Fell to 91-94 in last two innings as he ran out of stamina.
CV: 79-82 mph with tilt, sharp bite, and good depth. Potential to be a plus pitch, ability to snap into the dirt and still fool batters. Telegraphs the pitch at times, noticeable in his release and the distance he strides on his delivery. Even so, hitters could not make solid contact on it.
CH: 82-84 mph with average fade. Pitch is much further behind the others.
Delivery Times: 1.43, 1.48, 1.43, 1.47, 1.53, 1.41
A scout’s thoughts before Harvey’s professional season started (using the 20/80 scouting scale):
FB: 55 with room to grow.
CV: 55 that could go 60 with strength development in wrists.
CH: 40 when I last saw.
From my first impression, the scout was spot-on with his analysis. Obviously the fastball and curve are terrific pitches at this point in his professional career, with the change clearly lagging behind. This is natural with a young pitcher straight out of high school, as a change is almost unnecessary when you throw mid 90′s with your fastball. Overall, Hunter Harvey is a stud, but he is not on the same tier as Dylan Bundy or Kevin Gausman in terms of readiness. Harvey is still in a highly developmental stage, but his stuff is just better than your typical developmental prospect.
Video by Luke Jackson