PHOENIX, AZ - JULY 10: U.S. Futures All-Star Matt Harvey #43 of the New York Mets throws a pitch during the 2011 XM All-Star Futures Game at Chase Field on July 10, 2011 in Phoenix, Arizona. (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images)
When I first heard about Matt Harvey, he was considered as a first rounder out of high school, but he had a big price tag and teams were laying off due to signability and a commitment to UNC. Well, Harvey ended up taking his talents to Chapel Hill and had some ups and downs (mostly downs) in his first two years, before re-establishing himself as a first round option in his Junior year. The talent was always there for Harvey, but the consistency was missing, ironic given that his consistency has been his trademark throughout his time in the minors.
Drafted with the 7th overall pick in 2010, there was some sentiment that you were either getting a top of the line starter or a dominant reliever without much in between. Well, everything since then profiles as in between, with Harvey looking like a 2/3 starter who can eat a ton of innings. That's still a really valuable piece and there's a chance Harvey matures into something more than that. Harvey had a dominant debut, posting a 2.37 ERA at Hi-A, striking out just under 11/9 IP and walking just under 3/9 IP. After 14 starts he was bumped up to Double-A and we saw his strikeout rate drop to under 10/9 IP and his BB/9 jump to just under 3.5. Harvey's Double-A numbers were both expected and disappointing in a way. One would expect some of the regression in numbers, making the jump from Hi-A to Double-A, but they were disappointing given his impressive velocity and dominant stuff. So far 2012 and Triple-A have resulted in more of the same for Harvey: consistently good-not-great results, that leave one a bit underwhelmed give Harvey's potential to dominate. He has allowed more than 3 earned runs only three times in 17 starts this year, and only 7 times in 43 career starts in the minor leagues. That said he's also only posted over 5 strikeouts in 7 starts this year, that number buoyed by a recent streak of 4 starts with over 5 K's. All of these numbers work out to a solid, but not great ERA (3.41) with a matching FIP (3.39) and an elevated BB/9 of 3.90 while he maintains his impressive 9+K/9 IP. Harvey is the rare pitching prospect that is showing us good results, but still has more in the tank in terms of ceiling due to size, velo and the ability to miss bats on a consistent basis.
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Since we're on the topic of stuff, let's review what exactly Harvey brings to the table. He has prototypical size at 6'4/210 lbs and will sit in the 92-94 MPH range with his fastball, touching 98 MPH. He throws both a two- and four-seam fastball with the former offering good late life down in the zone. He'll use the four-seamer to throw it by hitters up in the zone. Though he didn't use his change-up much until arriving in Double-A, it has turned into a pitch that he can use to attack both lefties and righties, arriving in the mid-80s with some late fade to it. He also throws a low-80s slider that has nice shape and bite, which BaseballAmerica has called a plus pitch. They also refer to a 12-6 curve that he will mix in, though ESPN's Keith Law says the two pitches run together and he'd likely be better off junking one of them and focusing on the remaining pitch. Harvey does well to hold his velocity deep into games, though he doesn't always get deep into games averaging under 6 innings per start in his minor league career. There isn't a ton of projection left on Harvey as he is currently pitching in the upper minors to some degree of success. He has to the stuff to be a top of the rotation pitcher, and while his control has wavered a bit this year, it is his command that ultimately is his weakness.
Harvey has been mentioned as an internal option to bolster the 2012 Mets as they continue their improbable run for the playoffs, so we could see Harvey "arrive" sooner rather than later. It might do him well to pitch out of the bullpen in the manner Earl Weaver broke pitchers in upon getting called up to the majors, in an effort to get him to attack hitters immediately and not do the rookie-nibbling-at-the-plate thing that undoes many a prospect early in their careers. Some still see Harvey as a reliever long term, due to his struggles with command, though Sandy Alderson knows that there is far more value in a #3 starter who can eat innings than in a reliever, and I would expect him to be given every chance to prove himself every 5 days as opposed to coming out of the bullpen. If he can repeat his delivery well, he has a good shot at improving his command issues and perhaps becoming the top of the rotation candidate he was thought to be out of high school. If he can't, he could still settle in as a middle of the rotation guy or a high leverage reliever with 3 pitches. Either way, he's not far off from the majors and his upside is worth a risk in any league that carries a minor league system, though he wouldn't be worth grabbing in leagues where you'd have to keep him on your major league roster.