Prospect Report: Ryne Harper

Can Ryne Harper make that next jump on the minor league ladder to Triple-A?

Ryne Harper was a late-round draft pick in 2011, as he was drafted in the 37th round out of Austin Peay University in Tennessee. But in his four seasons in the Atlanta farm system, Harper is quickly making that pick perhaps one of the best in recent memory in the late rounds for the Braves.

Harper spent the entire 2014 season in Double-A Mississippi. He had a 2.58 ERA with 69 hits allowed in 76.2 innings, 24 walks and 93 strikeouts.

In 148 career relief appearances with the Braves minor league teams, Harper has a 2.18 ERA with 274 strikeouts in 231.2 innings pitched.

After last season, the Braves sent Harper to the Arizona Fall League. Harper pitched in nine games for Peoria and had a 3.97 ERA. He allowed five runs on nine hits in 11.1 innings, with four walks and 13 strikeouts.

Harper will turn 26 as spring training winds down in late March. The 6-3, 215-pound right-hander is getting closer to the big leagues with his solid performances, and this could be the spring he truly gets on the radar.

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.

The Braves have now seen Harper in Double-A for 89 games – the last two full seasons, so there’s little reason for him to return there for 2015. Harper needs to win a job in the Gwinnett bullpen to be tested at the next level.

If he fails to win a job in Triple-A, that will be a sign that Harper’s career has stalled. Harper still has done enough good work the last two seasons to be looked at closely, but this is when a pitcher like this must take that next step to become a serious prospect.

It’s time for Harper to show that his solid numbers in Double-A the last two seasons (2.25 ERA) makes him a legit prospect. He’ll likely get some looks in big league spring training games and will be pushed to get that next promotion. If Harper does well, he’ll be one of the many relievers in the top two farm teams that could be on the radar if Atlanta needs help during the season.

Listen to “The Bill Shanks Show” from 3-6 p.m. weekdays on WPLA Fox Sports 1670 AM in Macon and online at http://www.foxsports1670.com/. Follow Bill at twitter.com/BillShanks and email him at thebillshanksshow@yahoo.com.

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