When the Orioles selected Hunter Harvey with the 22nd overall pick of the 2013 draft, he was just another name on the board. He wasn't exactly a diamond in the rough late-round pick; Harvey was seen as a consensus late first-round pick and, without any four year college commitment, there were no signability concerns with him. Anyone could have had him. He wanted to play pro ball.
After mowing down Gulf Coast and New York-Penn League players for eight starts last year, Harvey got more attention on the prospect radar. One publication, Baseball Prospectus, rated him as the #58 prospect in all of baseball before this season. ESPN's Keith Law was even more aggressive in ranking Harvey, putting Harvey at #38 in his own list with the belief that Harvey could end up as a #1 or #2 starter, depending on the development of a changeup. Getting such a fast rising prospect at #22 overall is something most teams would dream about.
The 2014 season was Harvey's first full season in professional ball. The 19-year-old Harvey spent the whole year pitching for the Low-A Delmarva Shorebirds. He was nearly three full years younger than the average player in that league. He did not look like it. Through 87.2 innings, he struck out 106 batters while holding up a 3.18 ERA.
Harvey pitched so well that, in Law's midseason prospect ranking update, Law had moved Harvey up to the #13 prospect in all of baseball, with Law wondering why the Orioles had not moved Harvey up to Frederick or even Bowie. He believed that the South Atlantic League just couldn't challenge Harvey enough for him to develop that crucial changeup any further.
Unfortunately for Harvey and for the Orioles, he suffered an injury that became apparent during a start on July 25. He returned to Baltimore for an MRI that revealed what was alternately referred to as elbow inflammation and a flexor mass strain in his pitching arm. If they might have had any plans to challenge him at a higher level for the last month of the minor league season, they were scuttled by that injury.
The particular description of the flexor mass strain is something that will remain worrisome until Harvey is back and pitching and clearly healthy again. The injury suffered by Dylan Bundy that ultimately required Tommy John surgery was first diagnosed as flexor mass tightness. One key difference for Harvey is that he was not prescribed a platelet rich plasma injection; he was only told to rest and rehab the injury. That meant he was shut down for the rest of the minor league season from then on.
It would be a huge disappointment if things go that direction with Harvey, but at least so far there's no indication that it will. That's just me being paranoid. I'm going to stop being a downer.
Here's some video taken by Baseball America from a May 29 start against Wilmington:
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Hunter Harvey — Baltimore Orioles (via Baseball America)
Yeah, those are Low-A hitters, but look at him mowing down those guys. The curveball is a beautiful thing to see. These poor guys have no chance when he's getting that thing in there. It's the curveball that has created even more excitement about Harvey. In an August assessment of Harvey at fellow SB Nation blog Minor League Ball, Harvey has gone from "a chance to have a Major League average curveball ... to discussion of whether Harvey's curveball is one of the better curveballs in the minor leagues."
After viewing Harvey in July, BPro's Tucker Blair pegged Harvey for a 2016 arrival in MLB, which would really be something. Blair liked, among other things, that Harvey has "a quick delivery and works fast on the mound." As Jim Palmer always says: Work fast, throw strikes, change speeds. Harvey has a chance to be able to do all of that. If he can develop a changeup the way that prospect evaluators seem to think he can, he'll be able to work with three speeds.
When it comes to throwing strikes, Harvey has some more to work on that front at this point. He walked 33 batters in his 87.2 innings this year, which is on the higher end of what you'd like to see, if not quite into Kevin Gregg or Ubaldo Jimenez territory. The minor leagues are there for learning, anyway.
It's always important to remember not to put too much stock in minor league numbers, good or bad. A player might look bad due to spending time working on a particular pitch during an outing. Good numbers could be due to accumulating gaudy stats against inferior competition.
Still, it's not just the stat lines that are impressive for Harvey. People who make their livings evaluating prospects find much to be excited about with him. He was as high as #13 in Law's estimation at midseason. Perhaps he'll find himself just as high on next year's prospect list.
As long as he stays healthy, he should find himself starting out the season in Frederick and if he does well, maybe he'll end up the year in Bowie. Based on this year, the O's don't seem to be in a hurry to move him up, but Harvey seems like he is capable of forcing their hand.