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  • Writer's pictureSteve Potter

5/10/24 : Spotlight : Two Relievers heating it up

Boxscore tallies are not the sole indicator of player development - there are many other factors and processes that go into the progression of a player that fans aren’t always privy to.  It’s a great feeling to see players have in-game success when the back-story is known.  With similar paths (both came back from surgeries), roles and draft positions the spotlight subjects of this article are two relievers who have worked extremely hard to get to the point of their recent boxscore highlights - they are right handers Daniel Harper and Drew Garrett.

Twenty four year old Daniel Harper was drafted in the 17th round of the 2022 draft from the University of Kentucky.  He began his career with the Clearwater Threshers and posted a 1.08 ERA in his first seven appearances (8.1 IP).  The following season he spent the first couple months of the year on the IL before returning to action with the Threshers in early June  - Daniel appeared in 23 games (33.2 IP) and recorded a 6.42 ERA with 27 K’s and 25 walks.  This session he broke camp with Jersey Shore and has posted a 2.70 ERA in 9 appearances (10 IP) to date with 3 saves in 5 opportunities.

Daniel’s fastball ranges from 92 to 95 mph - it has touched 98.  He was a FB/Cutter closer at Kentucky, as a pro he’s incorporated a couple more pitches and is off to his best start.  Phillies Minor League Pitching Coordinator Travis Hergert told me, “Harper is a big arm that possesses a live fastball and hard slider. We’ve leaned into a sinker that can show something going in to right handed hitters to open up options with the four seamer up and slider away.  Along with cleaning up some ways he rotates to the plate, Harp is finally healthy and that is helping his ability to bounce back from outing to outing and have his best stuff.”

Twenty three year old Drew Garrett was selected in the 19th round of the 2022 draft as a power arm reliever from the University of Missouri. Coming off of Tommy John surgery he began his career on the IL working with the rehab team at the complex. Drew didn’t appear in a game till the 2023 season when he pitched in 12 contests with the FCL Phillies - stats weren’t telling of ability as he posted a 9.45 ERA in 13.1 IP with 15 K’s and 21 walks working on various aspects of his game.  This season he made the opening day roster of the Clearwater Threshers and in seven appearances has posted a sparkling 0.77 ERA in 11.2 IP with 20 K’s and 7 walks - a WHIP of 0.86 and an opponents BAA of .083.  His fastball now sits in the 93 to 96 mph range and he has strong secondary offerings.

Minor League Pitching Coordinator Travis Hergert said “when we drafted Garrett, our scouts gave us the insights on command issues while in college, but they were excited about the stuff he possessed.  One thing we all discussed was a way to shorten his arm stroke out of the glove.  With the hard work of Aaron Barrett (Minor League Complex and Rehab Pitching Coordinator) and the rehab team, Drew found an arm path that felt good and allowed him to land his stuff in zone.  He can spin the ball very well with a hard slider that profiles more like a cutter and a hard, downward curve ball.  He worked his tail off this off season and we pushed him to throw a lot throughout with the focus of getting off the mound throwing to different targets likes a 9-square or plyos off a mound into a padded target.  He’s fully healthy and having success, now we need to make sure he can sustain it through the end of the season.”

I asked both Daniel and Drew a few questions about their careers to date - following is our Q & A

Daniel Harper :

At the start of last season you were dealing with coming back from injury (bone spur - elbow arthroscopy) - can you describe what that time period was like?

Coming back from injury last year was tough. Having it be my first full in pro ball, I wanted to show up to spring training and make an impression.  Obviously that was not the case once I got surgery and I felt like I was way behind the other arms in my draft class. Throughout the rehab process everyone was super supportive. We had a great group of guys in rehab and having that camaraderie really helped the mental aspect each day.  Specifically, Aaron Barrett was a great help when it came to dealing with the struggles in my throwing program and understanding the long term goals verses the short term goals.”

Velo is a big part of your game however it seems to me that movement, location and mix have become just as big a part - what has been your focus in that regard?

“Velo is definitely the biggest part of my game. It has always been the one aspect of pitching that I have been able to excel at. We knew that once I was fully healthy, my velo would come back to where it was when I first signed and hopefully increase a little bit as it has this year.  An offseason goal was to add a new slider as well as a sinker that I could throw that would play better off of my four seam.  At first, I had been chasing a sweeper as that is what’s popular in the game today. After sitting down the with our pitching coordinators, we decided to add a hard gyro slider instead that would fit my arsenal and my mechanics best.  Having a pitch that I can throw hard and trust the movement to my glove side was a huge confidence builder in spring training.”

You’ve been put in game situations by Jersey Shore Manager Greg “Bull” Brodzinski that are considered high leverage - even when it hasn’t gone as planned he’s come back to you for more opportunities and you’ve produced - how important is it to have both the skippers and the organizations confidence in you?

“Being a high leverage guy is a reliever’s dream.  Obviously it doesn’t always go your way, but when it does the feeling cannot be matched.  Having a manager like Bull that understands this is huge for confidence.  After my first rough outing of the year, he told me that he still had full confidence in me and was going to get me back in there as soon as the situation called for it.”

As a reliever mindset is a big part of the equation - how do you prepare for the game spots you are brought into?

“Preparing for big spots is crucial. So far this year, I have been pitching later in the game so early on I have some time to “relax” and then I get to lock in once the 3rd or 4th inning comes around.  Having been a reliever in college as well, I have a decent awareness for how the game is going and when I may be needed to go out and pitch.  For me, my physical routine is what locks me in each game.  I know that if I knock out certain exercises, I can be fully confident once I get out in the game mound and let my competitive nature take over.  Sometimes it’s not always perfect and you have to get hot fast, so when this happens, I am able to lock in by controlling my breathing to help me be present in the moment.”

Pitch mix - what is it and have you added anything new since joining the Phillies ?  Also the radar lit up at 98 mph recently - are you cognizant of that ?

When I came to the Phillies in ‘22, I only threw a four seam and a cutter.  Since then, I have added a slider as well as a sinker that is opening new pitch sequence and parts of the zone that I wasn’t able to throw to.  Right now, I’m primarily throwing my four seam, sinker, and slider but plan on mixing in the cutter more when the situation calls for it.  We always get post game reports so seeing 98 on there a couple of times recently has been awesome.  In game, I try not to look at the radar gun as I just want to focus on getting the batter out.  I’d be lying if I didn’t say that every now and then I will take a peak to see what I’m working with for that day.”

Lastly - becoming a pro player requires a lot of support - is there anyone you would like to mention for their efforts to help you continue in your career ?

“First is my parents who have always been supportive of my dreams, no matter what the endeavor.  Since I can remember they were driving me to travel ball tournaments on the weekends and practices and training sessions during the week so I could get as much work in as possible.  On the training side, there’s too many to count.  Jason Yoder (my physical therapist at home), Bob Zimmerman (Premier Baseball KC) and Gabe Noyalis (Tread Athletics) have been monumental in my development over my career, especially as of late when coming back from my injury last year.”

Drew Garrett :

When you first signed you were coming off of an injury (Tommy John surgery) and spent the initial part of your career working with the rehab group at the complex.  Can you share what that was like and what you learned during that time?

“Rehab was probably the biggest teaching moment of my career.  It allowed me to learn how to deal with failure and figure out the tools in order to help when I did fail.  Rehab also allowed me to work on the rest of my body and strengthen areas where I was weaker.”

When we first chatted during your first year I asked you about velocity - I was aware of your ability to throw upper nineties - command was an issue in college - you are now a much more polished pitcher - what has been the focus ?

“The focus for me mechanically has been simplifying my delivery.  I used to have a very long arm path which made it tough for me to command the zone.  I have found that I am much more comfortable with the short arm path and can command the zone much better.”

You have shown a great curve ball that is an out producer - the confidence to throw the pitch is evident - how did you develop the pitch to its present form - has there been a particular coach that has helped?

“My curveball has always been my best secondary pitch, but I have made some changes to how I throw it this season. This year I am throwing it with more intent which allowed me to throw it harder and shortened the shape.  Many of the coaches helped me throughout spring training with it.  Jarrod Parker worked with me during spring training by telling me not to try to create the shape of the pitch with my body and to stay through my target.”

Coming off an injury how satisfying is it to be able to once again compete ?  The Clearwater team is also having great early success - can you describe the camaraderie on the club?

“Not being able to compete during injury was extremely tough.  But now that I’m healthy I couldn’t ask for a better team or coaching staff to play with.  It’s a great staff and group of guys that love winning and enjoy each other’s presence. I think everyone in the clubhouse is very close and everyone plays well together. We all know we have each others back.”

Lastly it takes alot of great support to become a pro ballplayer - especially one who has worked back from injury - are there any folks in particular you would like to mention for their efforts to allow you to compete?

“The whole rehab staff was amazing to get me back.  Mentally it was one of the biggest challenges of my life and Traci Statler (Mental Performance Coordinator) was amazing helping me through it, she really made me own the process to help imprint the tools to deal with failure in my mind.  Aaron Barrett also helped a ton mentally by being a great coach and a great person.  He also helped guide me through all of my mechanical changes.  Then the rehab staff of Justin, Brittany and Katy were awesome to help me get healthy.  They put together a great program to strengthen my arm and body to put me in the best place to compete. They challenged me every day to get better.”

Thanks to both Daniel and Drew as well as Coach Hergert for their responses.  I wish both young hurlers continued success as they climb the ladder. We will be watching and rooting for them!

One last note - recently I had a conversation with a fellow fan about the playing ages at the various levels of minor league baseball and whether it was a factor in determining placement and/or measured progression.  I asked the professionals for their input on the matter.  Assistant General Manager of Player Development Preston Mattingly told me “Age isn’t a factor for level, everyone has an individual development path and we assign them to the level we feel best suits their career.”  Minor League Pitching Coordinator Travis Hergert stated “It’s not a factor we look at in decisions. With players we ask ourselves “what is the level telling us” and what do we need to challenge them with in their development.” Just sayin 🤓

Happy Day, Happy Baseball ⚾️

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