Seemingly forgotten as an important member of the Oakland Athletics’ pitching depth, Hogan Harris enters 2024 with a chip on his shoulder to prove that he should be higher on that list. Though his 2023 debut didn’t go as smooth as he’d hoped, the fact that he was able to get through it mostly healthy and craft some moments of brilliance was a big step forward for him. He’ll have to make another this season to cement himself as a legitimate major league arm.
The A’s selected Harris with their 3rd round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft as the 9th-highest southpaw pitcher taken in his class. His most talked about attributes coming out of the draft were a couple of plus offerings in his power curve and changeup, a heater that could run up to 98 mph, his unreliable command, and a history of nagging injuries.
What were the expectations?
Those pre-draft analyses nailed Harris right on the head. After throwing 54 2⁄3 innings in 2019, the southpaw missed the entirety of the next two seasons due to Tommy John surgery. Year after year of seeing his name at the backend of A’s farm system rankings, it wasn’t until 2022 that A’s fans were able to see what he could do on the mound. Already 25 years old by that time, Harris made a quick ascent through the system. Following 13 innings with a 1.38 ERA and a barrage of strikeouts at High-A, he did much of the same in 32 1⁄3 innings at Double-A. He then hit a wall at Triple-A Las Vegas, like most other A’s pitchers do, but he was still getting hitters swinging with his fairly wild command.
All in all, Harris came back in 2022 after a couple of missed seasons with 73 2⁄3 innings, striking out a whopping 105 batters while also walking 43 of them. Though that wasn’t enough to get penciled into the rotation for the next season, it was intriguing enough to get him into the starter mix with the hope that he could improve him command and possibly break out as one of the team’s few high-octane arms.
As the A’s built Harris up slowly to start 2023, he got a quick callup to major leagues to give the team’s struggling bullpen a fresh arm. He had a forgettable debut as he only got one out in relief while allowing the New York Mets to get 6 earned runs off of him. The A’s then sent him back to Triple-A to get more of a starter’s workload and it went well enough that he was back in Oakland for his first major league start at the end of May. This debut went much better than the last as he pitched 5 scoreless innings against the reigning champion Houston Astros, striking out 5 and only walking 1.
That performance earned Harris — and his very Oakland A’s mustache — an extended run in the A’s rotation, half of the time as a starter while following an opener the other half. Despite more flashes of brilliance at times, Harris ended that stretch in the majors with an ugly 7.14 ERA with passable yet below average strikeout and walk percentages.
What went right? What went wrong?
ERA estimators didn’t think he was quite that bad, all agreeing he was closer to the low-5’s range, not much worse than the A’s other top pitching prospects like Ken Waldichuk and Luis Medina. Harris doesn’t have as much hype as those other two but in reality, his profile, past performance, and ceiling aren’t as far behind them as prospect lists would make you believe. He’s still got a strong and wide-ranging arsenal that he hasn’t had much time to hone at the professional level. Despite the mediocre walk numbers, his command actually improved in 2023; some further tweaks, both physically and mentally, could help him make a leap in 2024.
It seems like Harris has been forgotten a bit as people begin to project the A’s rotation for 2024. Though he’s moved down the depth chart a bit, a strong start in Spring Training or at Triple-A could easily catapult him back into the major league staff, either as a starter or long reliever. The latter may be where he eventually ends up if the A’s want to see how his stuff plays in shorter bursts. With the A’s as needy as ever for talented arms, I’m still bullish on Harris’ chances with the 2024 major league club.