College Teammates Harris, Hall Forge Different Paths As Pros

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One is projectable, and the other is all about pitchability.

One touches 95 mph, while the other barely sniffs 90.

As different as righthander Jon Harris and lefthander Matt Hall are—and the differences go beyond the mound—the former Missouri State co-aces are both dominating in the Midwest League in their first crack at full-season ball.


Through the first two months of 2016, the hard-throwing Harris went 3-1, 2.43 in eight starts at low Class A Lansing with 35 strikeouts in 37 innings. During one six-start stretch, the Blue Jays prospect did not allow an earned run.

Toronto made Harris the 29th overall pick in the 2015 draft, and he has allowed just two home runs in 20 appearances since turning pro. He did leave Thursday’s game after five innings with a hip injury, according to report from John Lott.

Curveball-specialist Hall, a sixth-round pick of the Tigers last year, went 6-0, 0.72 through nine starts at low Class A West Michigan. Hall, who led Division I in strikeout rate last season, has whiffed 56 in 50 innings against 14 walks. He had allowed just 34 hits and no homers.

So while both Harris and Hall are succeeding, the way they go about achieving their success is what separates them.

Skill vs. Drive

The men who’ve coached Harris and Hall describe the pitchers as being as different off the mound as they are on it.

Longtime Missouri State pitching coach Paul Evans has mentored five first-rounders in the past 14 years, including lefthander Ross Detwiler, who was the sixth overall pick in 2007.

But the Bears enjoyed unparalleled success in 2015 with a school-record 49 wins and just the second super regionals appearance in school history, led by a hard-throwing righthander and the lefty with the killer curve. He said Harris and Hall served as motivation for each other.

“They’re friendly, but competitive with each other,” Evans said. “It’s like (Brett) Sinkbeil and Detwiler, though they were a year apart, or (Shaun) Marcum and (Bob) Zimmermann,” talking about past Missouri State aces.

“You know whatever Jon Harris did on Friday, Matt Hall was going to try to outdo (on Saturday). He’s as competitive a guy as we’ve ever had. He just knows how to pitch.

“I mean, 171 strikeouts—that’s a lot, right?” Evans said with a laugh.

Sure, Hall knows how to pitch, but he also has a devastating weapon in his quiver. His curveball is simply one of the best from the 2015 draft class. It’s a plus pitch he spots to both sides, but he also has confidence in it. He’ll throw it in any count, to any hitter, to any spot.

“He throws two types of curveball,” said West Michigan pitching coach Mark Johnson, the 19th overall pick in 1996 by the Astros out of Hawaii. “He has one he throws for strikes and one he can get you to chase. (But) it’s about pitchability.

“Pitchability is about being able to read swings and execute pitches when you’re ahead in the count or behind in the count. That’s what he does.”

Harris, meanwhile, is the one scouts dream on, because he is a 6-foot-4, broad-shouldered righthander who carries 190 pounds easily, with room for another 30.

He pitches with an above-average fastball in the 90-93 mph range, and he has touched 95 with life, particularly to his arm side. He can spin both a 12-to-6 curveball and a slider that has some depth, and his changeup gives him an average weapon.

“He has tremendous work habits,” Lansing pitching coach Jeff Ware said. “He’s a smart pitcher; he’s not a thrower. He knows what pitches to use to put away hitters. And the slider has come a long way.”

Harris and Hall arrived on the Springfield, Mo., campus with different expectations.

Speaking of Hall, Evans said: “He wasn’t unknown coming out of high school (in Lee’s Summit, Mo.), but he was 82-83 (mph), maybe a little hotter.

Evans said that Hall’s high school catcher Matt Fultz helped tipped the Bears to Hall’s potential.

As for Harris, Evans said: “Jon got all the attention. He was tall and slender. He was probably 160 (pounds) as a freshman . . . He had a clean (arm) stroke, so you could dream on the future.”

Also, Harris had been a 33rd-round pick out of his Florissant, Mo., high school in 2012.

Still, Evans knew from his vast experience not to sell an ultra-competitive player such as Hall short.

“What was really interesting with Jon and Matt is that after their freshman year, I sent them to Walla Walla, Wash,. to the West Coast Collegiate League,” Evans said. “Jon got the hype, and he didn’t pitch poorly, but Matt made the all-star team.

“Then, after sophomore year, they go to the Cape Cod League. Matt was in-between (that year)—a little bit of everything, kind of a jack-of-all-trades. But Matt made the all-star team.

“Any time we’ve sent guys to the Cape, those guys come back oozing a little more confidence. Maybe it’s the overall talent level, but even if they have limited success, they come back different cats.”

Learning On The Job

Harris struggled in his pro debut at short-season Vancouver a year ago, going 0-5, 6.75, but he still drew praise from one Northwest League manager who called Harris’ stuff “filthy.”

“Yeah, it was a long year,” Harris said. “Throwing (103) innings in college, then going straight to a pro season without time to recuperate. It was basically a learning experience for me, just because college to pro ball, that’s a huge jump.

“It was one of those things where I found out what worked for me in college doesn’t work in pro ball . . . It was a learning experience, getting my feet wet and learning what professional hitters can do.”

Evans said part of Harris’ problems might have been that he—and Hall for that matter—are too nice.

“Jon’s never had any arm issues,” Evans said, “but when you get into pro ball, everybody’s telling you what to do to be a success . . . you know, ‘pitch to contact, throw the sinker more.’

“They’re Midwest kids, so they tend to listen too much. They absorb everything to be nice, instead of funneling information.”

Ware agreed that workload probably played a factor. The college season runs from February to May, and then the minor leagues stretch into early September.

“Getting into pro ball, you have throwing programs every day and (pitcher’s fielding practice),” Ware said. “A lot has to do with fatigue, but also there were some (lack of) deception issues. Our pitching coordinator Sal Fasano tweaked his delivery a little bit.”

Hall had no such issues. After his success in college, notably in the regionals and super regionals, the 6-foot, 200-pound southpaw glided through 11 pro appearances, mostly at short-season Connecticut. He averaged about a strikeout per inning—naturally.

“Matt threw 125 innings for us, but he has a rubber-band arm,” Evans said. “He could start one day and then do long-toss the next day. Maybe he made some adjustments mechanically (once he got to the pros). His front side is not breaking down so much, and his velo kept creeping up.

“His breaking ball just wipes out righthander hitters, and if they sit on the breaker, he can throw his (mid- to high-80s) fastball by them. He can locate up in the zone.”

The Friendly Rivalry

“If I went eight (innings) and struck out 10, he would want to go out and want to try to throw nine and strike out 11,” Harris said of his rotation-mate Hall. “We had that drive and demeanor of ‘you’re not going to have any success against us,’ and that’s what drove us.”

Hall embraces his competitive nature.

“That’s one of the main words people use to describe me,” he said. “I don’t really compare myself to others. My goal is to compete against the hitter.”

Hall said he is not bothered by the difference in draft position for him and Harris.

“Not at all,” Hall said. “He’s a 6-foot-4 righthander with good velocity and projectability. I mean, I’m more of a guy who relies on pitchability . . . I have to try to be smarter.”

The two haven’t faced off as pros yet, though they did get together for golf recently.

A promotion to high Class A is possible for both Hall and Harris, given their college pedigrees and levels of success. Harris has the profile to remain a starter long-term, with his body and high-octane fastball. Hall has the pitchability and durability to remain a starter, but his curveball makes him a tempting left-on-left reliever possibility.

“I’d hate for them to pigeonhole Matt too early,” Evans said. “The process itself will take care of itself. He’s highly competitive and has pitchability.”

Johnson agreed.

“Each level is a new competition,” the West Michigan pitching coach said. “You figure out yourself, and the game will tell you how far you can go. I think (Hall is) a starter right now, and he’s going to move on with that, until the big leagues need to make a decision.”

Harris is in no rush to move up.

“It’s a work in progress for all my pitches,” he said. “I’m working to be able to bounce a curve when I need to. I have a lot of time before I need to master all. It’s starting to come together.”

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