[Interview] Hobie Harris Looking to Carry AFL Momentum Into Upper Levels in 2019

The Yankees selected right-hander Hobie Harris out of the University of Pittsburgh with their 31st round draft selection back in 2015. The 25-year old Harris has posted a stellar 2.73 ERA with 213 strikeouts and a 1.24 WHIP in 184.1 innings of work spanning four seasons in the system. After pitching for Glendale in the Arizona Fall League, Harris was kind enough to speak with Pinstriped Prospects via telephone at the end of December to recap his 2018 campaign and his career as a whole heading into a vital 2019 season.

Matt Kardos (MK): You obviously had a longer season than a lot of other guys. How has the offseason been since returning from Arizona?

Hobie Harris (HH): I’ve just been doing my training program five days a week. I do that in the morning, and I actually just started throwing today (December 17), it’s actually more of a light catch.  I will probably ram that up after the holiday season.

MK: Does your offseason routine kind of change at all because of the extra work that you got in the AFL?

HH: As far as the training aspect, it’s going to be pretty similar. I jumped right back into a similar routine that I have had over the last three or four years. The only thing that is going to change a little bit is my throwing program because I did take that extra month and a half of throwing, so I will take a little bit more time off from that. Other than that, everything is similar to years past.

Glendale Desert Dogs relief pitcher Hobie Harris (41), of the New York Yankees organization, delivers a pitch during an Arizona Fall League game against the Salt River Rafters at Salt River Fields at Talking Stick on October 31, 2018 in Scottsdale, Arizona. Glendale defeated Salt River 12-6 in extra innings. (Zachary Lucy/Four Seam Images via AP)

MK: What was that experience like going down to Arizona and pitching in the fall league? It’s regarded as a premiere showcase of sorts with all sorts of talent, did you notice a difference in the level of competition there, specifically from the hitters that you were facing?

HH: It was definitely an honor for me to go out there. I was pretty excited when I got the call saying that I was going to be able to go out there and represent the Yankees. Just being able to be in that group of guys, with all of these young prospects coming up; guys who are all over the pipeline that had stellar years and careers up to this point and to be able to showcase myself with and against those guys is a cool experience.

As far as the hitters go, I definitely noticed a bit of a better approach as well as a smaller strike zone. A lot of small differences that I saw even from when I got up to Double-A. Guys are more so hunting one pitch or one zone and they know what they’re looking for. Some of the pitches that I may have gotten away with earlier in my career at the lower levels; trying to expand the zone with my curveball or get guys trying to chase up with a fastball, you’re not going to get as many swings because they have that discipline at the plate and more of a plan. For me, all I had to do was adjust and make sure that the pitches that I was throwing, especially late in counts, were a little bit more competitive.

MK: You’ve historically been really good with limiting walks, and when you came up to Trenton last season, granted it was a very small sample size, the walk numbers were a bit higher and that is probably what hurt you a little bit. Do you think that was a result of those more advanced hitters and not being able to get away with dabbling or experimenting with different things like you may have been able to do in the Florida State League?

HH: Up to the point, even early on when I started out in Tampa and had my first little stint up in Trenton, I was controlling the strike zone and I felt like I was filling it up. Once I got to Trenton I feel like the first time, I tried to press a little bit and do a little too much. Obviously being outside of my comfort zone just a little bit I tried to reach, I tried to kind of outwork things that I had done in the past that had worked rather than trust in my stuff and just allow myself to go out and compete like I normally had done. That is the biggest change that I had made from the end of the season going into the fall league, was just making sure that I was comfortable in that aggressive mindset. That is where I am the most comfortable, that’s where I strive to be and that’s where I find the most success. Whenever I am on the attack, rather than nitpick at the corners or try to be too cute with certain pitches, I just have to go after guys knowing my stuff is good enough to get them out.

MK: Do you think those innings that you got in Trenton last season gave you a good barometer for what to expect heading into 2019, where you should see a solid amount of time in the upper levels?

HH: Absolutely. I think that my past can kind of speak for that as well. After spending all of 2016 with Charleston, I broke camp with Tampa in 2017 and started off a little bit rough. Same thing, just trying to overdo it a little bit, not really finding that comfort zone. I went back down to Charleston and kind of found myself again and at the end of 2017 I had a good finish to that year. Turn around last year, I started with Tampa and seeing as though I already knew my comfort level there; I knew what to expect and had been through those motions before, it was a lot less of me being reactive and more of me knowing what I had to do in order to get the job done. I feel like now that I’ve gotten my feet wet up in the Eastern League with Trenton, I will be able to use that to my advantage.

MK: What has it been like work with Norty (Tim Norton)? You had him down in Tampa in 2017 and then again for the time you were in Trenton. How important has he been in your development and helping you work through certain things?

HH: Norty has been very important to me, first and foremost in the sense that he is a players coach. He is not ever going to tell you anything that will negatively affect how you do on the field. On the flip side of that, he is not one to shy away from telling you what needs to be said. We have really been able to break down my film, break down my mentality on the mound, whether it’s attacking the zone or how I am going after each hitter, just the knowledge that he has in all of those areas has really helped me. Just beyond that, being personable and having faith in every one of his guys knowing that we’re there for a reason and he would go to war with every single one of us. Knowing that you have a guy like that in your corner makes it a lot easier not only to pitch to your potential but to find that success that he is looking for.

Hobie Harris

MK: Looking back to the day that you started in pro-ball, where do you think you have grown the most as a pitcher?

HH: I think overall it’s just how to control my body and how to really take care of my body. When I was drafted, my velocity was around 91-93 MPH. I was in the low 90’s – I always had that curveball that I am working with; that’s kind of what carried me through high school and college as well. Just being able to feel how my body works while I am on the mound and knowing how to take care of it while I am off of the field allowed me to get stronger and use it more efficiently and effectively. Now being able to pitch at higher velocity has helped me use that curve more effectively and then after developing a split-finger in my first offseason, overall it has been more successful because I feel like I have been able to figure out how to really use my body properly and take care of it throughout the course of a season.

MK: Once you get to Double-A, really anything can happen. We saw a lot of guys in Trenton over the last few years go right up to the big leagues. Does it feel like the big leagues are not too far away if you continue to pitch the way that you have?

HH: It is definitely surreal in the sense that it’s just a phone call away when you’re in Trenton and once you make that journey up to Scranton as well. Being in the clubhouse and seeing these guys get the call-up to Triple-A and then seeing those same guys play on TV in the big leagues is eye opening. This guy may have shared a locker with me two weeks ago and now he is pitching in the big leagues. It can be that quick of a turnaround and it’s definitely a surreal thought. As exciting as that is, I definitely look forward to it, but at the same time, I try to just take things one day at a time because I know that if I continue to progress the way that I have that is going to be a viable outcome down the line for me to ultimately achieve my dream of pitching in the big leagues.

MK: Favorite team and player growing up?

HH: Growing up I was a Texas Rangers fan. I lived 45 minutes from the Ballpark at Arlington and their Double-A team was in the town over from here, so I grew up going to RoughRiders games and being able to turn around not too long after that and see those guys play in the big league park was pretty cool.

My favorite player growing up was Michael Young. Reason being is that he was a humble guy, hard-working guy, and you knew what to expect from him every day at the field. Never heard a negative thing about him off of the field and all of his teammates loved him. He was just that hard-working, blue-collar player that you knew exactly what you were going to get day in and day out. It was nothing short of impressive watching him play and seeing the impact that he made on the guys around him.

MK: 2019 is going to be an important year for you. Probably going to be your first full-season in the upper-levels, what is your main goal heading into camp in a few short weeks?

HH: My main focus going in is, number one, from a numerical standpoint, I need to make sure to minimize my walks. That is something that over the last few years I have really tried to hone in on. Really want to limit the free passes and focus on being able to fill up the strike zone and be aggressive with each one of my pitches to give myself a chance to be successful so that I can get into those strikeout counts to where I can use my secondary stuff. Beyond that, I am hoping going into camp and when camp breaks, to feel that same comfort level that I felt on the backside of the fall league. I am hoping to carry that into Trenton to start the year and then my goal each year has been to move up one level from the previous year. I touched Trenton this past year so I am hoping to go there and put up good numbers and show success and hopefully end up in Scranton by the end of the year.