One of my all-time favorite college players was a Mississippi State pitcher from the early ’90s named Jon Harden. I’m sure he was bigger than I remember him, but I’m guessing that he was somewhere around 5’9″ and 165 pounds, though he played a bit smaller than that. On his best day with a full windup, his fastball touched 80 m.p.h., and he didn’t really have much in the way of great breaking stuff as we usually think of it. What he did have, however, was three different, dancing changeups–he could throw, with the same identical motion, at 50, 60, 70, or 80 m.p.h., basically. Armed with that, he set a school record for appearances, serving quite successfully as the team’s closer for the 1990 College World Series squad and then as the setup man when Jay Powell took over as closer in 1991. That combination in particular was absolutely deadly–you’d go from a starter with good heat, to a couple of innings of Harden’s swooping changeups, to Powell, who could throw through the backstop at that point in his career. One of my favorite memories is of watching Harden throw to LSU’s Lyle Mouton, who was already huge, and simply screw him into the ground in frustration as he guessed, flailed, and missed.
Harden never really got any attention from organized baseball because of his size and his unusual approach. He was undrafted, and he was a bit too early for the independent leagues. At that time, there was an independent team in one of the Western minor leagues, and he pitched with them for a couple of seasons before giving it up. The last time I heard, he was pitching semipro ball and getting on with his life. I doubt that he would have done that much in the pros, but he would have been worth a low-A roster slot to find out.
J.P. Ricciardi reminds us of his scouting background. Scott Boras thinks clubs should be required to pay high school draft picks top-dollar. Paul DePodesta isn’t surprised by Milton Bradley’s actions. Tony LaRussa isn’t a big fan of head-hunting. And Corey Patterson doesn’t want to apologize for being aggressive. All this and many more quips from around the league in your Monday edition of The Week In Quotes.
Ray Durham is key to any run the Giants might make, and keeping him healthy will be job one once he’s back. Durham will head to Triple-A for a week of rehab, but news of a full week seems off. If Durham looks ready earlier, he’ll be eligible to come off the list as of Monday. With Durham’s chronic leg problems, an extended rehab could put him at risk. If he’s going to hurt himself again, he will likely do it trying to help the parent club, not Fresno.
As we discuss this injury, I’d like to point you to a simple, concise definition of “strain”. Dr. George Paletta has an interesting quote regarding the injury to Albert Pujols’ hamstring: “On exam, he’s got no defect. It doesn’t appear that he’s torn the muscle. So the question is, did it just spasm and cramp on him real bad, or did he strain it? Tomorrow we’ll probably be able to tell better.” The last part, at least, tells us something. Pujols will be out at least one game, probably more considering the Cardinals can’t risk losing him for an extended period. From all accounts, Pujols has a minor (Grade I) hamstring strain that is likely the result of a changed gait, part of a cascade from his strained right hip flexor. Pujols has had some past problems with the left hamstring, so keep an eye on how quickly he’s able to return.
As you read this, MLB teams are distributing the cream of the amateur baseball
talent amongst themselves. It’s no secret that this is a difficult year for
selecting among that talent; there is no Mark Prior or
Rickie Weeks in this pool, but rather a top tier of players,
mostly college pitchers, who all seem to have some problem with their
curriculum vitae. We know that no team is going to
be completely happy with who they pick.
For better or for worse, a draft is judged largely on what happens in the
first round. The lion’s share of bonus money is handed out to #1 picks, and
teams trot their first selections to press conferences and ballparks as a way of showing their fan base the future.
The emphasis on the first round is why teams should be a bit nervous about
today’s festivities. Four years ago, the player pool was similarly unexciting,
and the first 30 picks from the 2000 draft have generated precious little
performance, and the players still labeled prospects show little sign of
saving the first round of that draft. The first round of that draft appears to
be on its way to being labeled a complete disaster.