Back on December 4, 2015, sandwiched between sending Mark Trumbo packing for Baltimore and jettisoning fan favorites Carson Smith and Roenis Elias to Boston in return for veteran innings-eater Wade Miley, to nobody's surprise, the Mariners shipped unimpressive bullpen arm Jose Ramirez to Atlanta for a PTBNL. Exactly one week later, the player was named, and his name was Ryne Harper (before you look, no, that's not Bryan Harper, Bryce Harper's brother).
Harper, 27, was drafted back in 2011 in the 37th round out of Austin Peay State. In six seasons spanning six levels of the minors since being drafted, Harper has compiled quite the impressive track record, amassing 412 strikeouts in 335.0 IP. Harper's full minor league statistics can be viewed here. A quick glance at the Mariners Top 30 Prospects will not reveal a mention of Ryne Harper, who notched 2 K's, 2 BB's and no hits allowed in his lone big league Spring Training appearance to date.
This excerpt from Bill Shanks at Atlanta Dugout sums up Harper's repertoire and delivery pretty well:
"Harper has a fastball that sticks in the 92 mph range, a slider that sits around 78 mph, an occasional changeup that is usually in the low-80s and a slow curveball. His slider seems to be his most effective pitch. He’s mainly a fastball-slider pitcher.
Harper’s motion is rather herky-jerky. From the stretch, he separates his pitching hand from his glove rather early in his delivery. Then he actually drops back a bit before he comes back over normal for a decent landing. It doesn’t look unnatural, and he looks comfortable. It’s just a bit different.
Harper climbed the ranks head-scratchingly slowly, spending each of his first two professional seasons split between two levels, before spending the entirety of his third professional season at Double-A Mississippi. The right-hander posted some eye-popping numbers in his first stint at Double-A, at one point tossing 28.1 innings of 3-ERA baseball spanning June and July. Assuming he passed his toughest test to date, you’d expect to see him get challenged with Triple-A hitting to round out the summer, but I’m sure he nobody was fuming when he finished out 2013 without a promotion. He can test his stuff at the next level in 2014, right? Wrong.
So, a 24.1% increase in strikeout rate, decreased walk rate, and he even lowered his FIP by nearly 20 points. Pretty nice numbers, and considering that Harper’s only about seven months older than the league average age at this level, we can still firmly entrench him as a "prospect", seemingly ticketed for AAA in 2015. But then something strange happened…
Yep. Even after a moderately successful fall competing against some of the games’ top prospects in the Arizona Fall League, Harper was again assigned to the Double-A level out of spring training. Well, shoot. Now he’s about 21 months older than the average player at this level…
After a third successful season at the Double-A level without being promoted even to Triple-A--mind you this is an Atlanta Braves team that went 67-95 in 2015, and was on their way to a 68-93 record in 2016--Harper was traded away to our beloved Seattle Mariners in the 2015-2016 offseason. Cool! A promising bullpen arm we can stash down in Tacoma and probably use in the bigs if needed!
Okay, what the hell? Did Ryne Harper steal Jerry Dipoto’s lunch money or something? This is a 27-year-old who has now posted these numbers throughout his minor league career:
And he still can’t get called up? Even to Triple-A? And in case you were wondering, he also managed to avoid an invite to major league spring training this year. At this point, I cannot tell you what the organization needs to see from Harper to feel comfortable advancing him through the system, but I can tell you with certainty that I’ll be rooting for the guy. It will be interesting to see if Harper is given an opportunity to show how his stuff plays at the Triple-A and Major League levels this season.