LAKE BUENVA VISTA, Fla. - Pitching prospect Hunter Harvey’s path toward the big league rotation took another big step last month when he was added to the Orioles’ 40-man roster. Now the club anxiously awaits his 2018 season. It could be a season that ends for him in the majors.
Even if it doesn’t, the Orioles are excited that Harvey is healthy again after his 2016 Tommy John surgery and the club can now foresee a day coming when he joins Kevin Gausman and Dylan Bundy to head up a mostly homegrown rotation.
Harvey has dealt with a shin injury and had a sports hernia procedure, but the Tommy John surgery in July 2016 was the big one. It limited the one-time top 100 prospect to 31 1/3 combined innings in 2016 and 2017.
But Harvey returned to game action just over one year past his surgery, last July in the Rookie-level Gulf Coast League. And he found he was throwing the ball better much sooner than expected coming off the procedure.
His velocity quickly came all the way back as he touched 96-97 mph late in the summer. Over 18 2/3 combined innings between the GCL Orioles, short-season Single-A Aberdeen and Single-A Delmarva, he gave up just 11 hits and two runs with six walks to 30 strikeouts. He averaged 14.5 strikeouts per nine innings.
During a live interview today on “MASN All Access,” O’s director of player development Brian Graham said the club is not going into the 2018 season with a set innings limit on Harvey or a preconceived notion about the highest level he could impact this coming season. They will see how the kid is throwing without any set limits.
“I think the sky is the limit,” Graham said. “I don’t think we can put an innings limitation on him. I think he will start probably at the (Single-A) Frederick level, possibly at (Double-A) Bowie. I think the adjustment of getting him back into a five-day rotation, getting him back into his bullpen routines and long toss, just getting him going in the right direction is important. We could limit his innings early and get him to a point where he could pitch hopefully (in the majors) in September. That is the plan for Hunter Harvey.”
So even with all the injuries that have kept Harvey from being further along at this point, the club is open to Harvey moving fast this year.
“I don’t think anything is aiming too high,” Graham said. “I think he needs to start at a level where he can compete and get the correct innings in. You just never know. Dylan Bundy didn’t have a lot of experience in Double-A and fared very well in the big leagues.”
We also discussed with Graham how quickly outfielder Austin Hays moved through the farm this past year. Coming off a 2016 draft and year where he began his pro career at Aberdeen, Hays was skipped Delmarva and began the 2017 season with Frederick. From there, he moved to Bowie and ended the year getting a call to the majors, where he hit .217 in 20 games.
Graham said it was more than just the talent level that led the club to realize that Hays could move so fast.
“Obviously, he is physically talented and has a skill set that is special,” Graham said. “But the mental side for me is so important. The way he handled the pressure, the way he handled success. The way he handled his small failures that he had. That is the most important thing. The guys that are mentally tough, that can handle the pressure and bounce back from any kind of defeat, those are the guys that have a chance to move quicker.
“Austin Hays fits right in that field. Jonathan Schoop is that kind of guy. Manny (Machado) and Caleb (Joseph), they fall into that category. That is what so important about Hays and guys like Cedric Mullins and Ryan Mountcastle and some of the other kids we have coming. It is exciting to watch some of these kids. They are truly big leaguers. It is going to take time, but they are going to help our big league team win.”
The Orioles recently added Harvey, Hess and catcher Austin Wynns to their 40-man roster to protect them from being selected in the Rule 5 draft. But several others were left unprotected and could be taken by another organization in that draft, which closes out the Winter Meetings on Thursday.
The Orioles had some tough decisions to make and hope they get through Thursday without losing any players.
“It will be interesting to see how the industry views some of our players that didn’t get added,” Graham said. “For us to have a catcher on the 40-man roster and have an optionable piece with Austin Wynns and to have Harvey and Hess as options - and Hess will most likely be at Triple-A - it is just good for the organization to have homegrown players at that level.”