Athletics Top 10 Prospects
By Casey Tefertiller
Age: 21. B-T: L-R. Ht.: 6-1. Wt.: 180. Drafted: Central Arizona JC, 2000 D/F (17th round). Signed by: John Kuehl.
Background: The hard-throwing Harden emerged as a top prospect in 2002, making the leap from high Class A Visalia to Double-A Midland with hardly a struggle. He dominated after the promotion, and it was all the more impressive because he was 20 and in his first full season as a pro. Harden grew up in Victoria, B.C., and played mostly outfield in summer-league competition. He did pitch enough to catch the attention of the Mariners, who drafted him in the 38th round in 1999. He opted instead for Central Arizona Junior College because he didnt believe he was ready for pro ball. Athletics scout John Kuehl kept his eye on Harden and persuaded Oakland to call his name in the 17th round in 2000 as a draft-and-follow. Harden returned to Central Arizona and led all juco pitchers in strikeouts as a sophomore before signing in May. He tied for the short-season Northwest League lead in strikeouts in his pro debut, but he had a problemhis curveball was below pro standards. So Harden and the As agreed scrapped it in favor of a slider. The results came almost instantly.
Strengths: With a fastball that hits 95 mph and a deceptive changeup, Harden has two outstanding pitches as the foundation of his arsenal. He also throws the slider and a splitter, which can be above-average at times. While the slider isnt an exceptional pitch, it provides an effective balance to the fastball and changeup, keeping hitters off-balance. He has added a two-seam fastball, a mid-80s sinker that gives hitters something else to worry about. Harden has a calm demeanor on the mound and is rarely flustered with runners on base. He has shown the ability to work out of jams.
Weaknesses: Hardens pitch counts are too high. He has yet to learn to retire batters early in the count to allow him to go deeper into games. He sometimes reaches his pitch limit in the fifth or sixth inning. While his slider has shown dramatic improvement, it still needs more consistency.
The Future: Hardens combination of power and deception is intriguing. He has the potential to become a legitimate No. 1 starter. Harden is ticketed to begin 2003 at Triple-A Sacramento and could contribute in the majors by seasons end.
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