Hoping To Make History

Navy's Harris could set a draft record

At first, before the physical pain and mental anguish, Mitch Harris laughed, just like his teammates.

The Navy righthander was rounding third base after a home run during a Feb. 17 intrasquad scrimmage when he took what appeared to be a humorous tumble.

"I went to raise my arm to say, 'Yeah, I'm fine,' " Harris said. "And I couldn't."

The senior, who could make history June 5 by becoming the highest draft pick ever from a military academy, soon discovered he had separated his pitching shoulder.

For a player with one major obstacle—his military commitment¬≠—already standing between him and a pro career, the injury was difficult to handle.

As he waited more than a week for doctors to determine the severity of his separation, Harris said he wondered, "Am I done? Am I going to be able to throw again? Am I going to be able to throw at the velocity I was?"

Those fears were alleviated when doctors concluded Harris, a 24th-round pick of the Braves in the 2007 draft, had the most minor separation possible.

After some painful rehabilitation and a few weeks spent regaining his arm strength, Harris returned to the mound March 30. In his first six starts, he went 2-2, 2.90 with 31 strikeouts against seven walks in 31 innings.

Harris, who stands 6-foot-4 and weighs 215 pounds, throws a fastball in the low- to mid-90s, a splitter in the mid-80s and a cutter in the mid-70s. Based on talent alone, he would be drafted in the top five rounds, according to one American League scouting director.

But it's not that simple.

A month before the draft, Harris said his coach, Navy's athletic director and the academy's superintendent were working with the Navy to find a way for him to balance his baseball career and service commitment, which is five years of active duty after graduation.

In the past, a few athletes from other sports have served in active duty for just two years before starting a pro career. But even if Harris is allowed to follow that path, he wouldn't play in the minors until he's 24.

"At that age, they're kicking guys out," he said.

If Harris' future remains uncertain come draft day, his value could drop a great deal.

"It's hard to pinpoint a round," the scouting director said, "but you're just going to have to let him go for a while. And depending on what you do earlier in the draft, there will be a time to call his name and see how it works out. But you don't want to lose a pick."

Harris said he hopes to have some arrangement with the Navy worked out before the draft. "There's probably options that exist that are maybe out of the box a little bit," Midshipmen coach Paul Kostacopoulos said.

Whatever happens, Harris wants to be picked higher than 225th overall. That's where Army's Nick Hill, a lefthander, went to the Mariners in the seventh round last year, setting the mark for a military academy player.

"For it to say in the paper that Harris from Navy is the highest pick from a military academy, rather than someone from Army, I think that would be great," Harris said. "And not only for me."

Nelson is a sportswriter for the Washington Post