A take on the Orioles minor leagues: pitcher Hunter Harvey

By almost any measure, Hunter Harvey’s first pro season was a rousing success. The 18-year-old right-hander, drafted with the 22nd pick in Round 1 by the Orioles in June, went 0-1 with a 1.78 ERA over eight starts between the Gulf Coast League and short-season Single-A Aberdeen.

Today I’m beginning an offseason series of blogs where I provide information and opinions on an aspect of the Orioles minor leagues with a closer look at their 2013 top pick.

If you count five no-hit innings Harvey pitched in a New York-Penn League playoff game on Sept. 7 for Aberdeen, he gave up 21 hits with six walks and 40 strikeouts over 30 1/3 innings this season.

I was in Aberdeen’s Ripken Stadium on the night of Aug. 20 when he made his IronBirds debut. Harvey went 4 1/3 innings, throwing 77 pitches and giving up four hits (two infield hits) and one unearned run. He walked one and fanned five using a fastball that clocked between 93 and 95 mph that night. He showed an excellent curveball as well.

The manager in the home dugout that night was very impressed. And Aberdeen’s Matt Merullo is not only a former big league catcher, but he spent 13 years as Northeast scouting supervisor for the Arizona Diamondbacks. He knows something about young prospects.

“Very impressive,” Merullo said of Harvey’s outing that night. “Not only his stuff, but his poise, his presence. He looked like he’d been out there for years. It was a real treat watching him pitch.

“He was intimidating, he was not intimidated. That is what good pitchers do. He fed off the crowd and off the spotlight. He felt no pressure.”

The baby-faced Harvey can be reserved and quiet during a pregame or postgame interview, but he looks completely at home and in charge when he’s out on that mound.

“He looks like he’s 14, but he pitched like he is about 34,” Merullo said. “You know, you have a body that will get stronger and fill out. The ease of delivery and command of a plus fastball and plus breaking ball. When you take a guy in the first round, you are trying to find a top-of-the-rotation guy and that is what he looked like.”

I don’t think I could say it any better and certainly couldn’t do it with any more credibility than Merullo did.

At 6-foot-3, Harvey has room to add to his listed 175 pounds as he matures and gets on a pro conditioning program. He is clearly much more savvy about pitching than most kids his age and it doesn’t hurt that his dad, Bryan, pitched in the majors.

Jim Callis, previously of Baseball America and now a senior writer with MLB.com, also came away impressed with the kid.

“He’s a guy that really came on this spring (during his senior year in high school),” Callis said. “He touched 97 (mph) in one outing. I don’t think he did that repeatedly, but you know it’s in there. He’s got the bloodlines because his dad was an All-Star.

“He’s flashed a changeup. He flashes a breaking ball. He’s got the projection and he’s shown you the 97. He could be a guy with three pretty good pitches.”

The O’s got him with the 22nd pick, but Harvey was ranked by the Orioles among the top 15 players on their draft board. Dan Duquette scouted Harvey in person. Harvey may even add velocity as he gets bigger and stronger.

Looking to the future, Harvey now needs to face more advanced competition. He should start the 2014 season in Single-A Delmarva’s rotation with a strong chance to advance to Single-A Frederick before the year is out. He needs to develop a changeup and find out what it’s like to pitch through an entire pro season next year. I would guess the Orioles have him throw somewhere between 100 and 125 innings.

I have a feeling this kid will do very well in the South Atlantic League and face his first real challenge in the Carolina League, similar to Dylan Bundy.

I would expect him to easily be among baseball’s top 100 prospects when those lists come out. With Bundy coming off surgery, Harvey could be ranked closer to Bundy on those lists than you might think.

Harvey has good size, good velocity, good bloodlines, a very smooth delivery and a good work ethic. As with most top prospects, we’ll continue to see how he handles the hype and pressure that go with being a first-round pick.

He was better than the hitters he faced last summer, but that won’t continue to be the case as he begins to advance up the minor league ladder. That is when we begin to find out if the very good first impression the kid made this year continues to hold up.

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