After a terrific professional debut last year, Kyle Harrison has taken a step forward and established himself as the game’s top left-handed pitching prospect.
Ranked No. 2 in the Giants system, Harrison has tallied the most strikeouts per nine innings, 15.16, among all Minor League pitchers to complete at least 80 innings this season. His 137 strikeouts are fourth-most in the Minors, and he owns a 2.43 ERA with a .181 opponents’ batting average across two levels with High-A Eugene and Double-A Richmond.
The San Jose, California, native began his pro career in his hometown after being selected by the Giants in the third round of the shortened 2020 Draft. Harrison was in the unique position of being a third-rounder with first-round talent and first-round money, a trend that’s gained popularity in recent Drafts (think Bubba Chandler and Brock Porter). The 6-foot-2 lefty from De La Salle High School signed a reported $2.47 million bonus, more than three times his slot value.
Harrison remained in San Jose for the entirety of 2021, logging 157 punchouts over 98 2/3 innings with a 3.19 ERA in 23 starts. His 14.32 K/9 was among the best in the Minors, but he also showed some control issues, allowing 52 total walks, or 4.74 per nine innings. Overall this season, both numbers have trended in the right direction, though his walk rate since being promoted to Richmond on May 24 has gone up.
The 20-year-old is younger than all but two players who were on Eastern League rosters on Opening Day. But he’s been up to the task against the advanced competition, pitching to a 2.92 ERA with 78 strikeouts in his first 11 starts.
In the latest Prospect Q&A, Harrison talks about his work to gain better control of his pitches, his Draft experience and playing in front of the hometown crowd in San Jose. He also discusses his bittersweet Futures Game experience and his goals for the remainder of the season.
MiLB.com: You seem to be a little more settled in now in Richmond, following the Futures Game. How's everything going for you lately?
Kyle Harrison: Yeah, it's good to get back with the team and try to win some ballgames. My body's feeling great. After the All-Star break, I went home, got to see some family in L.A., so no complaints there. I'm happy to be back in Richmond.
MiLB.com: You entered the year coming off a really good first season. What was the offseason like? Was there a point of focus for you?
Harrison: I think last year, just really taking it all in in San Jose and soaking up all that experience there, and things I can learn from my daily routine that ultimately helped me this year. One thing I really stressed in the offseason was control. I wanted to go out and attack hitters and get ahead and put them out as quick as possible. That was something I really tried to do early in the season. I think it showed in my work in Eugene, and it's showing now in Richmond.
MiLB.com: Working on the control -- what goes into that? Was it more of an approach, or was it something where you actually had to get your body and mechanics right?
Harrison: I think that was part of it -- me kind of nitpicking a little at myself trying to be too fine. And then also just with the stuff I gained going into my first pro season, that was the first time I was really throwing harder. I was learning how to throw my changeup more often. And just, kind of all the above. Just learning about how to truly pitch. Not just throwing fastballs, like in high school, getting it by guys. I think that played into it. And then taking that into the offseason, I really just harnessed down and tried to focus on every pitch.
MiLB.com: Could you break down your pitch mix?
Harrison: I've got a four-seam fastball that a lot of people say doesn't play like a four-seam, because the way I throw from that low release height. And then I've got a changeup off that. I've also got a slider as well. So, I'm looking to have that changeup be a strikeout pitch. I've been experimenting with new stuff and really just trying to figure out the best way to get guys out.
MiLB.com: Why do some believe your fastball doesn't move like a four-seamer -- does it have some ride to it because of the lower arm slot?
Harrison: For sure. That's what analytically, I guess, it says. It has some some four-seam life to it. Not necessarily just a straight four-seam. That's kind of my go-to pitch. That's how I like to get ahead and put guys out. Just keep that attacking mentality.
MiLB.com: How do you grip the changeup? What kind of action is the goal?
Harrison: I'm changing it to more of like -- I was on the two-seam grip. So, I'm kind of varying off there, going toward the one seam right now. Really, just trying to get that extra movement down at the bottom of the zone. Make sure it's down in the zone. Not up, because we all know changeups up don't really play.
MiLB.com: Let's go back to the Draft. You were in a sort of a unique position as a first-rounder in terms of money and talent, but you go in the third round. What was that experience like?
Harrison: That was something my family and my agency talked about going in -- we were not really too concerned about where I went, but just how much the organization valued me. I knew I was ready for pro ball. My parents knew. It was just a matter of finding the right team and right place and I couldn't be more thankful to the Giants for giving me that opportunity. It was a day full of a lot of unknown, because that five-round Draft. So it's definitely weird. We had no idea where we were going, that's for sure.
MiLB.com: What type of communication did you have with the Giants before the Draft?
Harrison: We had some Zooms that they're all doing. All the teams are doing Zooms. We had area scouts come to the house and do the meetings early on in the year. We kind of just connected with them really on Zoom and got to know everyone pretty well. They kind of knew where I was coming from and being a local kid out of De La Salle High School just kind of seemed to match out.
MiLB.com: What was it like knowing that you're going to be close to home obviously -- your first assignment is basically where you were born, in San Jose?
Harrison: That was a blessing in disguise. Your introduction to your pro career, having friends, family, grandparents, all the above around to support you was really, really cool. And coming out of high school in that you're missing certain things like your mom's cooking and stuff. But me being in San Jose, I wasn't too far from that. It's just a great experience. I learned a bunch of great things last year from the manager and coaches, and I couldn't be more thankful for my time there. I learned a lot of things that I use on a daily basis now.
MiLB.com: Did you live at home when you were in San Jose?
Harrison: Definitely didn't live at home. I wanted to get out of the house and live the experience a little. It was about an hour commute, so I didn't really want to do that. I just got set up with the team wherever the team was staying and had a great time with the guys there.
MiLB.com: What was your Futures Game experience like? Obviously, giving up a couple homers isn't something you do often.
Harrison: It's something that you honestly -- growing up as a kid I remember watching on All-Star weekend. The whole game and just kind of being in that moment, it's kind of surreal and seeing all the familiar faces you've seen grown up around you. It's a surreal feeling. And it's, you know, it's rewarding and it's also very humbling. And also to get booed in Dodger Stadium as a Giants player. Now that's something we love to see. It was a great experience. The game didn't go how I wanted, but I just took it all in for what it was. And I'm hoping to get more experiences like that in the future for sure.
MiLB.com: Going from High-A to Double-A, what are the challenges?
Harrison: Definitely just being a lot finer with your stuff. The guys here are good. I mean, everywhere you look around and everyone here can play ball. Just having to show up on a daily basis and get your work in and really stick to your plan. I guess that's the biggest challenge. And that's something I've been trying to attack each day and figure out how to get better and just keep going, keep pushing.
MiLB.com: Is there anything in particular that you would like to see from yourself down the stretch?
Harrison: I definitely want to finish strong. You know, another strong finish to this season. Ultimately, help the team win a championship. We clinched the first half, so we're trying to figure things out now and put all the pieces together. I definitely want a championship with the Squirrels. Yeah, just really go out and attack and really finish strong and, you know, prove a point.
Gerard Gilberto is a reporter for MiLB.com.