Baseball is a game of failure and retribution. Players can strike out four times and then homer to win a game in the bottom of the ninth. Stockton Ports outfielder James Harris knows all about the peaks and valleys of professional baseball.
Harris, 22, was drafted 60th overall by the Tampa Bay Rays in the 2011 draft -- one of 10 first-round picks Tampa Bay had that season. The speedy outfielder out of Oakland Technical High School was praised for his superior athleticism but scouts felt he may need extra seasoning.
Harris failed to crack .200 in first two professional seasons but did bounce back in the New York-Penn League in 2013. Harris was unable to carry the momentum into 2014, where he struggled at Low-A Bowling Green. Ultimately, the Rays released Harris during spring training in 2015. After toiling in professional limbo for a few weeks, his hometown Oakland A’s came calling -- a move that revitalized Harris’ career.
“Being released by Tampa has been the biggest difference in my career. I was young when Tampa signed me -- I had a lot of growing up to do, I needed to mature physically and mentally," Harris said just hours before participating in the Cal League-Carolina League All-Star Game in Lake Elsinore on Tuesday. "It also helped me with my approach to the game -- I can’t let things I can’t control affect my game.”
The Oakland A’s organization is reaping the benefits of the new, refined James Harris. The outfielder hit a solid .302/.379/.393, with a pair of home runs and 11 stolen bases during the first half of 2016. Harris was also Stockton’s lone representative on the California League All-Star roster. He credits his success in 2016 to a simpler approach in preparation and at the plate.
“I’ve been more consistent with the way I approach my at-bats, as well as the preparation I do before a game," Harris said. "I have also done some physical work with my swing. I really believe in what the hitting coaches and instructors in the A’s organization are saying and doing with me, as far as mechanical side goes. I have simplified my swing and I am focused on just seeing the ball and hitting it."
Harris has also enlisted the help of one of his idols: Hall-of-Famer and A’s legend Rickey Henderson, who is a roving minor league instructor with Oakland.
“Rickey has come in and worked with us. He’s done base-running instruction and we’ve talked about hitting, jumps in the outfield," Harris said. "He was an all-around great player who affected the game in many different ways. It’s been a good experience to work with him and just know him as a person. It’s an incredible experience learning from someone you idolized."
Harris said he will need to continue to be consistent in the second half, in order to climb the ladder in the A’s chain.
“Consistency is what has helped me get here and how I have had success," he said. "I need to continue to keep the same approach and not stray because I’ve been really successful this season. I am just staying in the moment. I feel like at this point I just need to play the game and relax. I tried to do too many things in the past and that is why I struggled. Now I just play my game and I don’t worry about doing too many things on the field."
Harris’ first half culminated with a multi-hit game in the California vs. Carolina All-Star game. While he made the final out, he hit a ball on the screws into the vast outfield in Lake Elsinore.
Harris feels the best is yet to come.
“I know that I can be a player that can rise through the organization. I am just going to work hard and let everything take care of itself,” Harris said.
Harris’ story is far from finished.