Will Harvey Pitch?

At one time, the notion of former first-round draft pick Ryan Harvey trading in his power bat for a spot on a minor league pitching mound was downplayed if not altogether dismissed by Cubs brass with little to no hesitation.

Harvey, now 23 years old and having just completed his fifth professional season in the Cubs' farm system, was the organization's first-round pick (sixth overall) in the 2003 draft from Dunedin (Fla.) High School.

In five seasons in the Cubs' system, Harvey holds a career batting average of .252 with 70 home runs and 275 RBIs. He has also struck out over 400 times while drawing an embarrassing numbers of walks (83) in that span.

Has Harvey been a disappointment in terms of first-round hype? Most would say yes. Has he been a complete wash? Most would say no.

Regardless of the answer, the real question on the minds of many is:

Will he pitch?

It has happened before, but not recently; not since Harvey was hitting 90-94 mph on the radar gun as an amateur for Dunedin in 2002.

At the Florida State League All-Star Game in Daytona earlier this year, Cubs Farm Director Oneri Fleita was asked – perhaps not for the first time – about the concept of the former prep pitcher one day making a return to the mound.

"I don't think we're getting ready to do that," Fleita had said. "He's got too special a power bat to be given up on at this point."

Nobody had said anything to Fleita about giving up on Harvey, and at the time there were many reasons to quell any such talk of a position change.

For one, Harvey was in Extended Spring Training in Arizona rehabbing a hamstring injury and had not been running on all cylinders.

Besides, a serious discussion about a possible position switch with any player, especially one with the name recognition that Harvey carries around the minor league community, in the middle of the season and on the eve of his return from an injury? Well, you get the picture.

Moreover, Cubs Minor League Hitting Coordinator Dave Keller had reported that Harvey had been making strides with the bat prior to the injury.

"He cleaned up his mechanics and was handling the strike zone better," Keller had said. "I think he was back on the right road, working some things out with his swing and understanding exactly what he needs to do."

But now another minor league season has come and gone, and though it's all a matter of perception, it would seem that the organization is not quite as cold to the idea of giving Harvey a look-see on the mound as before.

"You never know. You never know," Fleita now says when asked about Harvey potentially making the switch. "Right now, you can't teach power and he (showed) some flashes in the last couple of months. If we can keep the guy healthy, he's got a chance to hit and hit with a lot of power."

Keeping Harvey healthy has been a challenge at times.

He has been plagued by hamstring injuries on at least two separate occasions in the past two seasons, plus back spasms.

This past season, Harvey would play in only 11 games with Class-A Daytona in the first half after seeing limited reps in Spring Training.

Given his past experience on the mound, Harvey would certainly seem to have a leg up should a position switch ever come to fruition, and he is already considered by most to have the best throwing arm of any outfield prospect currently in the Cubs' organization, including crown jewel Felix Pie.

Still, Fleita is quick to note that power hitters is not something the Cubs have a whole lot of at their disposal in the minor league system.

"There's not a whole lot of it in the industry when you look around the minor leagues," Fleita observed.

What does Harvey himself think of pitching?

Proud .252 career hitter that he is, Harvey only laughed at the notion of a return to the mound while in his second tour of duty with Daytona this year.

"I've shown everyone what I can do for the past three years," bragged Harvey, who would hit .246 with 11 home runs and 10 doubles while striking out 53 times and drawing only seven walks in 224 at-bats with Daytona.

"They know what I can do and what I'm capable of."

That may be enough to suit Harvey, but what about the Cubs themselves?

If nothing else, they don't seem as skeptical about an experimentation.

For the time being, though, Harvey is scheduled to partake in the fruit that is winter ball later this month when he joins the Hawaii Winter Baseball league along with Cubs infield prospect Nate Samson.

Harvey is not scheduled to pitch in Hawaii, Fleita said.

"He'll get a chance to get some more at-bats and maybe get a chance to get away from the organization," said Fleita. "(He'll) go over some things with some new coaches from other organizations."

"We'll go from there," he added.

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