Harker was a guy that just missed my “Arms to Watch in 2007” piece, so I felt he was due a proper writeup here. The Phillies selected RHP Brett Harker in the 5th round of the 2005 draft out of the College of Charleston, in a draft that is quickly turning into a pitching coup of sorts, with the likes of Matt Maloney, Mike Zagurski, Patrick Overholt, Josh Outman, Matt Olson, Darren Byrd, and Justin Blaine also being selected in the first 20 rounds. Harker stands 6’3, 185 lbs according to his bio, and signed as a junior with 1 year of eligibility remaining. Harker appeared in 17 games as a freshman, starting 13 of them, but was used exclusively as a reliever his sophomore and junior seasons. After a rough sophomore year, he seemed to make all the right adjustments, posting a 2.47 ERA in 51 innings with 15 saves and 60 strikeouts, against only 10 walks.
Harker was assigned to Batavia after signing, and the Phillies, like they choose to do with many college arms, erred on the side of caution, using Harker as a starter and only pitching him 9 times, 7 of them being starts, and limiting him to just 37 innings. He struggled, posting a 5.06 ERA, allowing 38 hits and 12 walks against only 5 strikeouts. With a fresh arm, he was sent to Lakewood to start 2006, and it was a completely different kid on the mound. In his age 22 season, Harker pitched extremely well at Lakewood, throwing up a 2.92 ERA in 64.2 IP (46 games), allowing 53 hits and 12 walks while striking out 55. In addition, he had a solid 1.46 GB:FB ratio, and was lights out against LH batters, holding them to a .148 BA and a .435 OPS overall. He struggled a bit against RH batters, allowing a .283 BA and .778 OPS. This may be an aberration, or it may be a potential issue, we should know more after his second full season.
Unlike many relievers, Harker is known more for his breaking ball than an overpowering fastball. His fastball is probably a tick above average with low 90’s velocity, but his curveball is a true hammer, with sharp downward break and good velocity. It’s been described as having “curveball break with slider velocity” by Brett himself, and is his true out pitch. His success against LH batters (it should be noted, he had a .201 BABIP against LHB, which is abnormally low) might indicate the presence of an above average changeup as well, but he’s going to need to develop something to work against RH batters, maybe along the likes of a cut fastball, a splitter, or some sort of sinking fastball. When he gets ahead, he can bury the curve/slider on hitters and record the strikeouts, but he has to improve his consistency against RH batters going forward to be any kind of high leverage reliever.
Harker’s poor 2005 was probably just a tired arm and adjusting to an old role starting games. In 2006, he was used as the closer in Lakewood, and could assume the same role in Clearwater, depending on the positioning of guys like Pat Overholt in the system. While you have to consider the small sample size, Harker experienced varying results depending on the inning he was pitching. He had an OPS allowed of .882 in 18 innings of 8th inning pitching, but only a .595 OPS allowed in 23.1 IP in the 9th inning of games. You see lots of closers at the big league level struggle in non-save situations or when they come in to pitch in the 8th inning, perhaps Harker already has taken to that “showdown” mentality of pitching in the 9th inning to save/finish games. His K/9 rate also rises as the game goes on, from 6.75/9 in the 7th, to 7.50/9 in the 8th to 7.71/9 in the 9th inning. Again, probably just anecdotal stats from one season in Low A, but fun to ponder no less.
While he doesn’t appear to have the power stuff of a guy like Pat Overholt, he does appear to have the ability to close out games, and should remain in that role as he climbs the organizational ladder. It’s pretty tough to predict guys will become a closer at the big league level, but he at least looks like a potential 7th/8th inning guy down the road, and those commodities are very desirable. He’ll be one to watch in 2007, and if he continues his improvement he showed from ’05 to ’06, he could start creeping up the top 15 or so prospects lists.