Through 4 starts last June, New Hampshire’s Jonathan Harris was all but unhittable.
The 2015 1st round pick from Missouri State allowed but 2 earned runs during that stretch, which he kicked off with 6 no-hit innings against Akron, who he would stymie again in the Eastern League finals two months later.
With added velocity and some deception in his delivery caused by a back turn which, combined with his extension made the ball tough to pick up, Harris looked to be finally fulfilling the promise the Blue Jays saw when they drafted him for a second time (he was selected out of high school in the 33rd round in 2012).
While that run of June starts (the last of which was for AAA Buffalo) hinted at what might come, Harris came back to Earth in July. After limiting EL hitters to a .190 average for June, they hit him at a .385 clip the next month.
Like most college draftees, Harris’ debut pro season was on the shaky side, and if Harris seemed to be pitching from the stretch a lot with Vancouver in 2015, it’s only because a 1.92 WHIP means he was. He got back on track with a fine 2016 season split between Lansing and Dunedin, but when challenged with a promotion to AA in 2017, Harris was hit hard in his first go at advanced hitting. Keeping in mind the great Warren Spahn’s adage, “Hitting is timing; pitching is disrupting timing,” Harris sought to change things up when his return to New Hampshire in 2018 was not going as he had hoped:
The deception I started working on in June after looking over the numbers and looking at the results it was something that need to be addressed.
Paired with that added deception was an increase in his fastball velocity. Harris had touched 96 in the past, but usually sat 91-92. This season, he moved up to 94-96, and began missing more bats as a result. And it was the fastball that set everything else up, according to Harris:
The pitch that had the most effect was my fastball…. by adding the deception made it play better.
Harris knows he has to pitch better in order to move up in the organization, and reach the back of the rotation/innings eater projection he came into pro ball with:
My numbers just have to be better. They see I’m not very injury prone and I can with stand a whole season. But I just need to be more consistent.
What to do with Harris? The Blue Jays opted not to place him on the 40-man roster last fall, exposing him to the Rule 5 draft. No team took a chance on a guy who posted an ERA around 5 in two AA seasons, understandably. His splits told quite a story – at home, with New Hampshire’s short RF porch, hitters managed a .332 average against Harris, but just .235 on the road. Interestingly, while that back turn put some deception into his delivery, right handed hitters hit him better (.293) than lefties did (.278). His ground ball rate for 2018 (38.4%) was actually lower than it was in 2017 (45%).
The issue for Harris is the movement (or lack thereof) on his fastball.
Several years ago, the Blue Jays had a pitching prospect who posted numbers similar to Harris’ at AA, and when 2014 rolled around, Ryan Tepera came to spring training as a reliever. A little over a year later, he was in the big leagues. Over a year ago, Fangraphs was suggesting a similar switch for Harris:
Harris was seen as a mid-first-rounder in 2015, but he slid to the end of the round, surprising many, after fading to finish his spring. He’s been largely the same in pro ball, working 90-95 and touching 96 mph with his sinker, fringe slider, above-average curveball, and fringe changeup. His fastball command is below average, holding back the starter package at the moment, and the velocity and curveball would play in relief if it came to that.
For the time being, the Blue Jays will likely be content to let him continue to develop as a starter. But it may be a matter of time before they consider moving him to the bullpen.
Some Harris video……
- A clearly gassed Harris battles through a 7-pitch AB to fan the final hitter he faced in his final start of the year, a W to put the Fisher Cats up 2-0 in the EL final:
2. Harris fans the final batter in a 7-inning, 3 hit/1 run, 7K mid-July outing: