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Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospect scouting report: James Harris, OF

Our Oakland A's 2017 top-50 prospects list is out. Now find out more about the players on that list. In this piece, a close look at top-50 prospect James Harris. Harris has experienced a career revival since joining the A's in 2015. Can he reach Triple-A in 2017?

Name: James Harris
Position: OF
Height/Weight: 6’1’’, 180
Bats/Throws: R/R
Age: 23
How Acquired: Signed as a minor league free agent on April 9, 2015.

Sometimes all it takes for a player to reach his potential is a change of scenery. James Harris has seen his career take off since moving from the Tampa Bay Rays’ organization to the Oakland A’s. Once burdened with the “bust” label, the former Compensation Round A pick is back in the prospect lane. Can he make the successful jump to the upper-levels in 2017? Harris took the long way back home again. The former Oakland Tech star was a 2011 Compensation Round A selection by the Tampa Bay Rays. Harris was the last of 10 players the Rays selected before the start of the second round that year. The draft was supposed to remake the Rays’ foundation, but, instead, only three of the 10 players have seen any major league time and two are already out of baseball.

Harris was one of the picks that didn’t pan out for the Rays. He spent four years in the Tampa organization and he appeared in just 70 games above the short-season level. He never posted an OPS higher than 655 in any of those four seasons. At the end of spring training in 2015, the Rays released Harris. It was that moment that his career began to turn around.

A few days into the regular season, Harris signed a minor league contract with his hometown organization, the Oakland A’s. He spent a month at extended spring training and was sent out to Low-A Beloit on May 9. Harris appeared in 70 games for Bowling Green in the Midwest League in 2014 and managed to hit only .230 with a .299 OBP. In 2015 with the Snappers, Harris found a good deal more success, batting .255 with a .359 OBP in 86 games. He finished the year with a cameo appearance for Triple-A Nashville.

James Harris stats

2016 Stockton 492 .303 .379 .423 41 21 9
2016 Midland 37 .216 .250 .243 1 2 1
Career 1648 .248 .329 .351 112 84 45

Harris worked with A’s coaches – including Hall of Famer Rickey Henderson – on base-running and swing mechanics during the 2015 fall Instructional League. He came out of that camp with an improved swing and a better feel for stealing bases. That carried over into spring training, when he had an impressive camp that included three appearances in big league spring training games. In those games, Harris walked three times and stole two bases. He was assigned to High-A Stockton out of camp.

Harris hit the ground running with the Ports. He hit .376 with a .413 OBP in April and was one of the talks of the league in the early going. Harris would struggle a bit in May, but would follow that up with two months of better than .400 OBP. He split the month of August between Stockton and Double-A Midland and finished the year with a .297/.370/.410 line with 23 stolen bases in 33 chances between the two levels. For Stockton, he hit .303/.379/.423 in 119 games and landed on the Cal League’s post-season All-Star list.

Oakland A’s Director of Player Development Keith Lieppman says that Harris always had the talent, but that he just needed time and the right situation to tap into it.

I think it was a matter of him getting comfortable where he was with Tampa and now understanding the opportunity he has here is really essential to his motivation. His maturity is so much better, Lieppman said. He’s an excellent base stealer. He hits at the top of the line-up. He does everything that we have asked. The change of scenery. The maturity. His own awareness of himself and his impact on the game – he’s a really good teammate and spark plug at the top of that line-up. All of those factors have led him to playing like he is now.

Harris has a classic lead-off hitter profile. He works the count well and finds ways to get on-base through his batting eye, his bat and his legs. He saw a lot of pitches out of the leadoff spot for Stockton and ranked 13th in the Cal league in walks and tied for 8th in the league in OBP. His walk rate dipped roughly 4% from the Midwest League to the Cal League, but Harris worked himself into favorable counts in 2016 and had a nearly 27% line-drive rate, up 4% from the year before. Harris BABIP went up from .315 to .384 from the Midwest League to the Cal League.

Harris is one of the fastest players in the As system, but it has taken him some time to learn how to translate that speed into in-game success stealing bases. He improved in 2016, going from a less than 50% success rate to a 70% success rate. As Harris continues to develop, he should be able to up that rate even more. He also used his legs when at the plate. Harris had 15 infield hits in 2016. His bunting could still use some work, and if he can learn how to bunt better, he should be able to add to that infield hit total in 2017.

Defensively, Harris played all three outfield positions at various points in 2016. His arm strength is average, at-best, so he profiles either as a centerfielder or a left fielder moving forward. He has the speed to cover a lot of ground and he made several spectacular grabs during the year, but he is also still learning how to take the most efficient routes to balls in the gaps at all three spots.

Harris got a taste of Double-A at the tail-end of 2016, but that time was interrupted by a lower body injury. He should return to Midland to start 2017 and could reach Triple-A by the end of the year. Despite being in his seventh professional season, Harris will be 23 until August. This 2017 season is an important one for Harris, who will be eligible for minor league free agency at the end of the year if the As dont add him to their 40-man roster. 

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