Hunter Harvey vs. Lakewood: An in-person observation

Joey Gardner

I went to Hunter Harvey's start vs. Lakewood on 5-12-14. This is what I saw.

Lakewood (Phillies) 0, Delmarva 3

RHP Hunter Harvey took the mound last night and pitched his best game as a professional. Luckily for me, I was in attendance (along with fellow Camden Chatter duck) to witness it. The stat line is gaudy enough: 7 innings, 1 hit, 1 walk, 0 runs, 10 Ks, 83 pitches, 61 strikes. The stuff was even nastier. Harvey did not look like a kid who was a senior in high school this time one year ago. Harvey also did not look like a kid who has much more to learn at the Low-A level.

The night started off with Harvey facing fellow 2013 1st Round draftee, SS J.P. Crawford, who sits near the top of many offensive leader boards for the South Atlantic League. Harvey worked his fastball around the zone, but ultimately walked Crawford. No worries. Hunter was just warming up. Three weak contact pop flies later and the inning was quickly over. A two-out double in the 2nd inning that skittered over the 3B bag would only momentarily interrupt Harvey's flow, as he went on to commence a string of 6 consecutive strikeouts. He was overpowering the hitters with a fastball sitting 93-94, giving it a little extra effect by working it up in the zone. As for Crawford, Harvey would go on to K him twice, once looking and once swinging.

The fastball is a sight to behold, mostly due to how little effort it seems to require from the still slightly built, but filling out, Harvey. He looked thicker than I recall from the time I saw him in Aberdeen last season, but there is still ample room for him to fill out, particularly in the lower half. With some added heft to his legs he should be able to get some better thrust during his delivery than he currently does; thus potentially adding a tick or two to his already impressive fastball. The ball explodes from his hand thanks to a windup deceptive in its leisurely pace. The mechanics are so simple, with almost no 'noise' in his windup as he rotates his arm up towards his release point. It does look as if he is just playing catch.

He remains a bit closed as the windup begins, keeping the ball obscured from the batter's view. He does seem to have a bit of a cross-fire to his delivery, as his foot points at a slight angle towards his arm side upon strike. So he needs to get good rotation out of his hips to get his shoulder caught up and aligned towards the plate in order to be able to command the ball where he wants it to go. But the windup is simple and repeatable, which in turn leads to his arm slot remaining nearly identical whether he is blazing a 94 mph fastball or breaking off a 79 mph curve or tossing an 84 mph change up. They are all coming from the same 3/4 arm slot.

The star of the show last night was Harvey's curve ball. He has predominately worked with his fastball this season, moving it around the zone with particular focus on keeping it low in the zone. But tonight it was clear pretty early on that he was going to be featuring the curve. And feature it to great effect he did. Working off the 93-94 mph fastball he established, Harvey showed a solid ability to fool hitters with the curve; using it to particular effect on the arm-side portion of the plate. He could terrify right handed batters with it as it started off looking like a fastball coming at their head before sweeping over the inside corner of the plate around their knees. The pitch was equally problematic for left handed batters who would either lay off the pitch thinking it a sure ball or flail at it without much hope beyond getting a piece of it and surviving to see another pitch.

His curve isn't a dramatic 12 to 6 breaker, more of an 11 to 4, but it does feature tight spin and gets some good depth on the hitter before breaking. I wasn't keeping a scorebook, but of the 4 Ks Harvey notched with the batter looking, I believe 3 of them were via the curve. The Lakewood lineup was kept off-balance all night; cheating (starting their swing early) in an attempt to keep up with the fastball or being unprepared for the break and command of the curve that Harvey demonstrated. There is a slightly visible pronation of his wrist when throwing the curve as he snaps the ball out of his hand. It can look as if he is 'casting' it towards the plate like a fishing pole at times, particularly if he is keyed in on placing it somewhere specific. Better hitters than he is currently facing may be able to key in on that, but if he can command it as well as he did tonight, it may not particularly matter.

It bears mentioning Harvey's third pitch, his change up. He didn't throw but a handful of them this game, similar to his other starts this season. The pitch comes out with arm speed that I can't discern differing much at all from his fastball and comes from the same arm slot as the fastball. But the effect of the pitch is a solid 10 mph difference in speed with a bit of arm side fade and late drop. He does seem to struggle with control of the change, and it will become imperative that he refine the offering as he progresses up through the minor league levels. But the basis is there for a major league quality pitch.

Some other observations from the game:

  • Harvey likes to work quickly. He isn't lollygagging around the mound between pitches. Yet, for some reason, batters do not attempt to interrupt his rhythm. It will be interesting to see how he copes with more advanced hitters who will step out on him or take their time adjusting their gloves in between pitches.
  • The hardest hit ball off of Harvey tonight was a lazy fly ball that managed to reach the left field warning track. Harvey had the lefty batter unable to catch up to the fastball enough to square it up, but after fouling off a couple he managed to slap one into left field that carried to the warning track.
  • Harvey oozes confidence. After striking out a lefty batter looking to end the 2nd inning, the batter remained in the box questioning the ump's call. As Harvey coolly made his way back to the dugout he stared down the batter, his glare essentially telling the batter he needed to giddy up back to the dugout and get his glove. Harvey would go on to strike the same batter out to end the 5th inning as well.
I have advocated for a patient approach with Harvey, preferring that he remain in Delmarva at least until mid-June so that he could get upwards of 15 starts under his belt at the Low-A level before possibly taking on High-A. After what I saw this night, though, I don't think there is much more for him to learn in Low-A. He may be one of the youngest players in the South Atlantic League, and would be a full 3.5 years younger than the average pitcher in the Carolina League if he were promoted, but his skill set is more advanced than that of Low-A hitters. His demeanor strikes me as that of someone who can handle potential failure while facing significantly better hitters in a more advanced league. As he stated upon news of being drafted, "I just want to get my pro career started and make my way to the big leagues." He's focused. He's driven. And he has the skills to make his hopes a reality.
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