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Ryne Harper makes his case for a spot in the bullpen

The career Minor Leaguer has revived both his curveball and his chances of making the big club.

MLB: Minnesota Twins-Media Day
Behind that right arm is a curveball that will wreck your day.
Jasen Vinlove-USA TODAY Sports

If you’re like me, you skimmed over Ryne Harper’s name in the list of non-roster players invited to 2019 spring training. Mixed among the Preston Guilmets, Mike Morins, and Lewis Thorpes of the squad, there seemed to be no reason to pay any attention to Harper, who is neither young nor a top performer in Triple-A over his career.

A 37th-round pick by the Braves in 2011, Harper’s one foray into the majors came in 2017, when the Mariners called him up at the end of May. Three weeks later, the organization sent him back down to Tacoma without even appearing in a game.

Through his years in the minors, Harper has regularly performed well in Double-A, recording a 2.25 ERA in 182 appearances over six seasons. But at Triple-A, where Harper has only spent parts of two seasons, his ERA jumps to 4.35.

Yet this spring, as of the time of writing (March 19), Harper has pitched in eight games, tied for the team lead in appearances. In those eight games, his ERA is the same as John Blutarsky’s GPA:

Obviously, this is tied for the team lead. Of the nine other pitchers with a 0.00 ERA in camp so far, only Andrew Vasquez (who has already been optioned to Triple-A) made more than three appearances, with five. Harper has eight.

The rest of his stats are just as impressive:

  • 0.88 WHIP, consisting of seven hits and no walks in eight innings, third among Twins to make more than two appearances. (Mike Morin and Ryan Eades just better him with 0.81 and 0.86.)
  • 11 strikeouts, tied for the team lead alongside Preston Guilmet, Tim Collins, and (gulp) Jose Berrios.
  • Two saves. Regardless of what you think about the value of this statistic, Harper is still the only Twin with more than one.
  • .219 AVG against, not a team leader (ranking eighth with the more-than-two-appearances qualifier) but an impressive number.

His outings have not gone unnoticed, as his knee-buckling curveballs have made several appearances on Twitter, including one highlight from the official MLB account.

For a player looking to break into the majors after eight years in professional baseball, there’s nothing Harper hasn’t done to make his case. Even advanced projection metrics have taken noticed: averaging the conclusions of Steamer, ZIPS, and PECOTA, Harper is projected to record a 3.98 ERA in 2019, third among Twins relievers still in camp:

Hindering Harper’s chances is the crowded bullpen, including six returning relievers from 2018, one recently converted starter, one free agent signing, and five other non-roster invitees. Has he done enough to demonstrate his value on the pitching staff to beat out at least one of the returning players?

While we may not find out the staff’s answer to that question for another week, it’s clear that Harper has changed perception of himself from career minor-league reliever to potential key bullpen piece. He, his fans, and those of us watching that curveball on loop can only hope it will be enough.


Has Ryne Harper done enough to earn a bullpen spot?

This poll is closed

  • 79%
    (356 votes)
  • 1%
    (6 votes)
  • 19%
    Not for opening day, but at some point this season for sure
    (86 votes)
448 votes total Vote Now