Player Profile: Brett Harker

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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.

12 thoughts on “Player Profile: Brett Harker

  1. This was a good signing of a guy with a well above average chance to move fairly quickly into the Phillies major league pen. It is good to see more picks like this in recent years. Hopefully we can reverse what I feel has been a killer black hole in the Phillies player development system — developing our own relief pitchers. This is a hole that has cost the team dearly, forcing us to spend significant $, lost draft choices, and minor league talent on fill ins like Jackson (who never actually filled in), Mesa, Cormier, Wagner, Gordon, Rhodes, Urbina, Worrell.

  2. Pretty much a dead-on account of his stuff, though i’d probably disagree with his own account of the velocity of his curveball being ‘slider-like’. Maybe a college slider. Its 76-78 mph, which is good- its quite a bit like Gavin Floyd’s (with about as much control, or lack there of, but he he keeps it down pretty well). His fastball didn’t appear to have much movement, and he doesn’t seem to keep it down consistently. Maybe it does have some cutting action, something i wouldn’t have been able to see watching from the firstbase line- perhaps that would explain the success against lefties, because he looks like a guy they should wale on.

  3. Interesting that he really handled lefties and struggled with his own kind. I wonder if that will hold up over time? I have a feeling those stats will even up over time — hopefully via getting more righties out than the opposite.

    Harker is a guy I haven’t followed much. But he’s one of the 15-20 interesting pitchers the Phils have in their system.

  4. I was disappointed by Harker’s performance in his first year,
    after being such a high draft choice, but you may be right about
    the tired arm. He was heralded for his big curve rather than
    his heater (which we don’t seem to know much about), and that
    makes his (relative) ineffectiveness against RH batters rather
    surprising. He’ll be interesting to watch this summer.

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