By Billy Liggett
His Campbell University teammate Zach Neto was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Angels last July and immediately tossed into the team’s farm system, showing a solid bat and glove at the Double-A level and earning an invite to this year’s Spring Training with the big boys.
For pitchers, life is just different. Thomas Harrington, also a first-round pick — this time with the Pittsburgh Pirates — has yet to see the field since July, admittedly (jokingly) spending more time with Netflix and potato chips while he waits for his chance. But that chance finally arrives this spring as the Southern Lee High School grad and Campbell University All-American joins the Pirates’ prospects for Minor League training in Bradenton, Florida.
While it’s still up in the air at what level Harrington will start this season — whether it’s in Bradenton or for the High-A affiliate in nearby Greensboro — but one thing is clear, Harrington is ready.
“I understand the wait. I threw so many innings in college, and it was just better for me to rest the arm and get ready for this year,” Harrington told The Rant in February, just five days before training officially began on Feb. 23. “The pro offseason is so much longer and so different from the college offseason, so I have to learn patience. But I feel good, and I’m ready to get out there.”
After the draft, the Pirates flew Harrington to Pittsburgh to sign his bonus and Minor League contract and gave him a tour of beautiful PNC Park in the city’s downtown area. He was then flown to Bradenton to train with his fellow draftees in September. Since then, it’s been a lot of “hurry up and wait.” Harrington trained in Buies Creek with his former Campbell teammates and recent Toronto Blue Jays draftee Ryan Chasse.
A walk-on at Campbell after a pandemic-shortened senior year at Southern Lee, Harrington was the Big South Conference Freshman of the Year and was the conference’s Pitcher of the Year as a sophomore before entering the draft.
He is currently listed as the Pirates’ 13th top prospect in the farm system, according to piratesprospects.com. He says his biggest goal this spring is to stay healthy.
“That’s the top goal, because that’s your biggest advantage in the Major Leagues,” he said. “Second, I just want to learn. There are great baseball minds from teams and colleges all over the country down here, and I’ve just been indulged by all these different cultures and ideologies. I’m looking forward to all of it. There’s a lot in baseball you can’t control, but there’s a lot you can. And I want to focus on what I can control.”
CARLOS COLLAZO ON HARRINGTON
MLB Network and ESPN baseball analyst and writer Carlos Collazo on fellow Southern Lee graduate and new Pittsburgh Pirates first-round draft pick Thomas Harrington:
“I can’t wait to see what Thomas does with the Pirates. He’s a great pitcher. I think what is most impressive about Thomas is that he is so advanced as a pitcher and his ability to throw strikes and throw strikes at a high level. At Baseball America, we talk about control versus command. Control is just your ability to throw strikes, and command is your ability to throw specific strikes. So hit targets within the zone, up or down, in and out to hitters. He has such a clean and easy arm action and delivery, and his athleticism is very apparent when he’s on the mound. And the stuff is coming.
“I think you look at him physically, there’s more strength that he’s going to add in the future, even with the way that his fastball velocity, and the power of his slider, the way those two pitches were trending up during his draft-eligible spring with Campbell was really impressive.
“I think we’re only really seeing the start of the sort of stuff that he’s going to throw in a couple of years. He’ll look like a different pitcher, just in terms of the radar gun readings and the stuff you’ll see out of his hand. But with his foundation of command and advanced pitching ability. I think that he’s got a really exciting future.”
FROM THE ATHLETIC
“Thomas had some helium (with evaluators) coming out of his freshman year because of the success he had. His delivery works easy, he’s a good competitor, he attacks hitters — all that stuff stood out right away — then you factor in he’s a projectable kid with not a lot of time on the mound, on top of the fact that he’s pitching 90 mph to 95 mph with a breaking ball.
“Thomas got better as the fall turned into the spring, and as the spring went on. He took those lessons he learned as a freshman and applied them this year. You’re watching a mid-major game and saying, “Hey, this is the best guy in my area — and I cover North Carolina and Tennessee.” I mean, think about how many colleges are in that area. He was the best one there.”