When 2018 spring training got under way, you might have gotten the impression from what the Orioles were saying and what they refused to deny that Hunter Harvey, then the top pitching prospect in the system, might break camp with the team. A lot has happened since then, with Harvey suffering a setback during the recovery from his most recent injury.
The Baltimore Sun’s Eduardo Encina reported on Tuesday night that Harvey, who was on the mend from the shoulder injury he suffered while trying to dodge a foul ball that went into the dugout for Double-A Bowie, has now experienced elbow discomfort and has had that rehab throwing program stopped.
It’s been one thing after another for Harvey since the Orioles drafted him with the 22nd pick in the 2013 draft. Within months, as Harvey dominated the low minors after being drafted, this looked like a bit of a shrewd pick and prospect rankings like Baseball Prospectus noticed right away, putting Harvey as the #58 prospect in MLB prior to the 2014 season. They bumped him up to #20 prior to the 2015 season.
However, Harvey never pitched in that 2015 season. He had been dealing with forearm issues that led to an early shutdown in the 2014 season. In 2015, he was struck by a line drive during spring training and never pitched. In 2016, the forearm problem returned and he had to get Tommy John surgery, effectively making all of 2015, 2016, and 2017 lost seasons. He has now thrown just 63.2 innings since 2015.
Harvey still rated as high as #8 in the Orioles system in the most recent MLB Pipeline prospect rankings. That may be because that ranking just couldn’t ignore his prior prospect pedigree, instead ignoring his injury history. Even so, he has been passed by 2017 draftee DL Hall, 2018 draftee Grayson Rodriguez, and 2018 trade pieces Dillon Tate and Luis Ortiz. Other pitchers who can actually stay on the mound probably deserve to be ahead of him as well.
As a 2013 high school draftee, the O’s added Harvey to the 40-man roster last offseason and he even had a two-game stint in Baltimore earlier this season, in which he did not pitch. He’ll have two option years remaining after this, so there’s still some time for the 23-year-old to try to reclaim some prospect stock, but he’s burned through a lot of time already and it’s starting to run out.
Did the Orioles do something to set all these Harvey injuries in motion? Have they handled his recovery ineptly and made things worse? He is not the first well-regarded pitching prospect to have fallen into this trap, with Dylan Bundy also withering in the O’s organization - though Harvey’s luck with the injuries is much, much worse than Bundy’s. Hopefully, part of the rebuilding will involve the O’s taking a tough look at the answers to these questions and if necessary, firing the responsible people.