Under the Radar details players in the Chicago White Sox system who may have suffered setbacks, gotten lost in the shuffle, or just haven’t surfaced as significant prospects as of yet. Next up is Drew Harrington, a finesse southpaw who was drafted by the Atlanta Braves in the third Round of the 2016 MLB Draft.
Drew Harrington (LHP) — Kannapolis Intimidators
You doesn’t often see third round picks get released fewer than two years from being drafted. However, that’s the predicament Harrington was in after being cut loose by the Braves on June 9. A little more than a week later, he was signed by the White Sox in a move which garnered scant attention from national and local media alike. After a relief outing with the AZL White Sox, he’s been one of the most consistent starting pitchers on the current Kannapolis roster.
Let’s flash back to June of 2016. Harrington had just completed his junior year with the Louisville Cardinals, where he was selected the Atlantic Coast Conference Pitcher of the Year. He had a 12-2 record in his first year as a starter, with a nifty 1.95 ERA and 1.06 WHIP over 17 starts. During that time, he walked just 25 hitters while striking out 92. His peripherals were even better in his sophomore season, out of the bullpen: 0.29 ERA, 0.74 WHIP, 11 H, 12 BB, 42 K in 31 IP. The Braves drafted the Princeton, Kent. native with the third pick in that year’s 3rd round — ahead of players such as Jon Duplantier, Jesus Luzardo and Alex Call. Harrington’s first year with Rookie League Danville was indeed promising, as his ERA was just 2.45 in nine games — eight of which were out of the bullpen to save his arm after a long collegiate season.
The Braves had Harrington skip Low-A ball in 2017 and promoted him to the Florida Fire Frogs, their A+ squad. He had a mediocre season there, with a 4.50 ERA and 1.51 WHIP to go along with 23 walks (7.0%), 56 strikeouts (17.6%), and 84 hits (.298 OBA) allowed during his 70 innings of work (14 GS) through July 7, when he was sidelined for the remainder of the year due to an undisclosed injury.
After a rough outing in April this year, Harrington was demoted to Rome, the Braves Low-A affiliate, and things got much worse. In 11 games (six GS) for Rome, his numbers nosedived to a 7.22 ERA and 1.69 WHIP, in addition to permitting 10 walks (6.4%), 25 strikeouts (16.0%) and 47 hits (.343 OBA) in 33 2⁄3 innings. With impressive pitching depth in their minor league system, the Braves had very little use for a pitcher who was struggling that badly. As a result, they released Harrington two months ago, and the White Sox decided to take a flyer on him.
While not dominant in Kannapolis, Harrington’s numbers (with the exception of strikeouts) have rebounded. In 10 games (eight starts), he had enjoyed a 3.75 ERA and 1.19 WHIP over 48 innings while allowing 46 hits (.261 OBA) and 11 walks (5.6%); he’s also struck out 31 hitters (15.8%). Prior to his last start, where he was rocked mercilessly, Harrington’s ERA (2.51) and WHIP (1.03) were terrific. Was this most recent game, where gave up seven ER and nine runners in 1 1⁄3 innings, a harbinger of things to come, or simply an aberration? I’m a bit of a skeptic, but still cautiously optimistic.
As evidenced by his low strikeout totals, Harrington isn’t a power pitcher. His fastball typically runs from 86-92, which evidently plays up because of its sink. He has a decent, three-quarter curveball, and a changeup, which may actually be his best offerings, and grade out as average major league pitches. Harrington is a large pitcher (six-foot-three, 225 pounds) with a deceptive delivery, which makes him more ideal out of the bullpen because hitters would see him just once or twice a game. Harrington’s control has actually been quite good; his command, however, has been lacking because he delivers too many hittable pitches in the zone (as evidenced by his high OBA). Harrington is also extremely competitive — almost too much, at times.
Time will tell if Harrington’s signing was a good one. He was acquired at low risk, and could provide the value of a third round pick if he continues to make progress. His ceiling seems to be as a long reliever out of the bullpen, who could perhaps fill in as a fifth starter on occasion. His floor, is, ahem, what we saw in his last outing, on August 12. In the meantime, he’ll be given every chance to succeed as a starter and will likely earn a promotion to Winston-Salem to begin 2018. However, because of his age (23), the bullpen will ultimately give him his fastest track to the majors. Injuries are obviously a concern — were they the reason his numbers fell so precipitously for the Braves?
Harrington could be a terrific reclamation project, or he could end up being a bust. He seems to be worth the risk.