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Orioles may have struck gold with Hunter Harvey

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Despite elbow issues that ended his 2014 campaign prematurely, the Orioles may have gotten the best high school pitcher in the entire 2013 draft with the 22nd overall pick.

Joey Gardner

Entering the 2013 Draft, reports on Hunter Harvey sounded a lot like the reports of many high school pitchers. He was a right-hander from Catawba, North Carolina. MLB.com reported that Harvey could run his fastball up to 94 MPH, had an inconsistent curveball and changeup that had a chance to become Major League average, and the physical projection to add more velocity. At just 6’3" and 175 pounds entering the draft, Harvey was about as generic of a first round high school pitcher as one could create.

The Orioles, finding themselves in unfamiliar territory towards the back of the first round, selected Harvey with their first round pick. Along with Dylan Bundy and Kevin Gausman, Harvey became the third pitcher selected in the first round by the O’s in the past three years, all of which have proven to be good selections.

At the time, the selection of Harvey was rather uneventful and met with little fanfare, as Harvey was not a household name or even a name that was common in the showcase circuit during his amateur years. Son of former Major League pitcher Bryan Harvey, the younger Harvey was wise to follow the tutelage of his father by staying away from most of larger amateur scouting events. According to Baseball Factory, Harvey appeared in the Under Armour All America Game at Wrigley Field and the East Coast Pro Showcase, but other than that only played locally in North Carolina. Kiley McDaniel of Scout.com pointed out that this prevented many area scouts from seeing Harvey more than once or twice, which could have hurt his draft stock slightly but also helped limit the mileage on his young arm.


The Orioles were happy to select Harvey 22nd overall, and he quickly proved that they were wise in doing so. In 25 innings split between Rookie Ball and Short Season Aberdeen, Harvey was nothing short of dominant as he recorded 33 strikeouts while allowing just 21 hits, six walks, and five earned runs. It was a small sample, but scouts had certainly taken notice of Harvey for more than his bloodlines.

Baseball Prospectus blew up Harvey’s name in the following offseason, ranking him 58th on their Top 101 Prospect list. To put that in perspective, BP ranked Harvey just one slot behind highly touted Astros’ first baseman Jon Singleton, a few slots ahead of Mariners lefty James Paxton, and well ahead of feared Rangers slugger Joey Gallo. Other publications were a bit more hesitant to rank a player that had yet to reach full-season ball that highly, but as Harvey began dominating at Low-A Delmarva this season, even BPs ranking began to look conservative.

Harvey was recently shut down for the season with elbow issues that do not seem to be much of a threat to his long-term outlook, but when he was healthy he dominated. In 17 starts spanning 87.2 innings, Harvey struck out a whopping 106 batters, walked 33, and only allowed 66 hits. Opponents batted .206 off of him, which does not seem like a fluke considering his terrific 10.88 K/9 rate and reasonable .291 BABIP.

Even more encouraging, the scouting reports have matched the dominant statistics. I haven’t had a chance to see Harvey live this year, but from video and reports from others, his development has gone extremely well. Most significantly, the talk of Harvey having a chance to have a Major League average curveball is gone and in it’s place is discussion of whether Harvey’s curveball is one of the better curveballs in all of the minor leagues. Baseball Prospectus’s Tucker Blair filed a report on Harvey after his July 18th start where he graded the curve as a present 65 (on the 20 to 80 scouting scale) with a future projection of a 70. That’s a far cry from an average pitch, and gives Harvey a knockout offspeed offering that could be one of the best in the game.

The video below, taken by Baseball America during his May 29th start against Lakewood (Phillies Low-A), features many good looks at his plus curveball. The pitch has more of an 11-5 break than a true 12-6, but the sharp break and swing and miss capabilities of the pitch are apparent.

Hunter Harvey — Baltimore Orioles (via Baseball America)

His fastball, which was his carrying pitch in the draft, now sits comfortably in the 92-94 MPH range with good command and life. Still not close to being filled out, it is easy to project Harvey adding a few more ticks on the radar gun as he develops. Blair rates the pitch as present 60 pitch with the potential to reach a 65, noting his ability to cut the pitch or generate arm side run, attack hitters on the inner half, and hold the velocity through the entire outing.

This gives Harvey two present plus pitches with remaining projection, a combination that no South Atlantic League pitcher other than the Nationals’ Lucas Giolito can rival. His third pitch is a changeup, an offering that is serviceable but lags behind the others in terms of present utility and development. This makes sense as Harvey was able to dominate high school and the lowest levels of the minors with just the fastball and curveball, but as he progresses he will need to improve his third offering. Perhaps Harvey would be well served by taking a page out of Giolito’s book and abandoning the breaking ball for a start to focus on learning how to get outs with the fastball and changeup, or maybe Harvey can develop the pitch with measures less drastic. Either way, neither Blair’s present 45 grade nor future 55 grade are cause for significant concern, as those grades indicate roughly a Major League average pitch.

As for the delivery itself, Harvey employs a simple, balanced motion with a high three-quarters arm slot. There is little wasted movement in the delivery, which aids his balance and ability to repeat the motion. His stride is relatively short, but he stands tall throughout the motion, helping him stay on top of the ball and generate good downward plane. Harvey also adds a bit of deception by stepping across his body slightly, but the step is not extreme enough to be a hindrance in any other aspect of the motion.

One quirk in his motion is a slight hesitation just before foot strike. Clayton Kershaw is the best Major League example of a pitcher incorporating a similar hesitation, although Kershaw’s occurs slightly earlier in his motion and is a bit more drastic than Harvey’s. I don’t see the hesitation as a negative, as it seems to help Harvey gather himself prior to exploding through his backside and delivering the pitch. Harvey does a very good job finishing the pitch and as a result, is able to get good life on his fastball.

In the video below, taken from the South Atlantic League All Star Game, the hesitation and subsequent explosiveness of the motion are on display. I believe that this is just a part of Harvey’s signature as a pitcher and see no reason why the Orioles should attempt to remove it.

Hunter Harvey Prospect Video, RHP, Baltimore Orioles @orioles @Milb (via Big League Futures)

The final pieces to the puzzle are Harvey’s pitchability and mound presence, the former of which refers to his ability to properly mix his pitches and locations and the latter of which refers to his feel for the game, baseball instincts, and understanding of his craft. Harvey earns terrific reviews in these categories, as Blair writes, "He shows an innate ability to pitch, displaying extreme pitchability and cognizance of the situation surrounding him." As Harvey moves up the ladder, these aspects of his game will be tested more frequently, but the Orioles should be confident that Harvey will pass those tests with flying colors. Any pitcher with two plus pitches should be able to excel in the lower levels of the minors, but as he faces more advanced competition, he will need the pitchability, presence, and the changeup to a greater degree.

Harvey is still very young and not close to the Major Leagues, but the Orioles ought to be thrilled with his development thus far. He has two present plus pitches that he can throw for strikes, a third pitch that should be roughly Major League average, pitchability, mound presence, and advanced understanding of his craft. In my eyes, Harvey is currently the best high school arm from the 2013 draft, and the only player who can rival him is Twins’ righthander and number four overall pick Kohl Stewart. The Orioles’ picked later in this draft than usual, but they certainly got more than their money’s worth. Baltimore fans no longer talk about just Bundy and Gausman as future rotation cogs, they now talk about a future rotation featuring Bundy, Gausman, and Harvey, and with good reason.

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All statistics courtesy of FanGraphs. Reports and videos courtesy of Baseball Prospectus, MLB.com, Scout.com, and Baseball Factory.

Dan Weigel is a contributing writer at Minor League Ball, a video scouting intern at Baseball Info Solutions and a former left-handed pitcher at Bucknell University. He currently holds the Bucknell school records for most shirseys worn to class and most rounds of fungo golf played.You can follow him on Twitter at @DanWiggles38.