Healthy Harben Ready to Prove Himself

Adam Harben knows there are a lot of people in the Cubs' organization that aren't overly familiar with his name or his game. He hopes that will all start to change soon.

The Cubs acquired Harben, 24, from Minnesota in early September of 2006 as part of a trade that sent unhappy veteran INF/OF Phil Nevin to the Twins.

Shortly after he landed with the Cubs, Harben tore his UCL while pitching in the Arizona Fall League and underwent Tommy John Surgery. He returned toward the end of last season to pitch in three games with the Cubs' Rookie League club in Arizona.

With pitchers and catchers scheduled to report Feb. 13, Harben is anxious to get back on the mound and show the Cubs what they've been missing out on.

"The only time the Cubs have seen me pitch was in the Fall League (in 2006), and that little bit last year," Harben said. "I'm ready to get after it and show them what I can do."

And the Cubs are ready to see it.

"He injured himself shortly after we got him," said Cubs Vice President of Player Personnel Oneri Fleita. "But our reports prior to his injury were always good, and the way he worked during rehab gives him a great chance" to compete.

Harben was added to the Cubs' 40-man roster in the fall after receiving positive reports pertaining to his health. He says his elbow is in top-notch shape.

"My arm feels great, the best it's felt in a couple of years," boasted Harben.

"Just coming back from surgery and all the work that you do with the trainers, not only are you getting your elbow ready, but you're also strengthening your shoulder."

Fleita described Harben's rehab as "flawless."

His last full season on the mound, in 2006, was anything but, however.

Complete with bouts of wildness and inconsistency, possibly as the result of a deteriorating elbow, the right-hander pitched in 29 games with Class AA New Britain of the Eastern League, going 4-9 with a 3.96 ERA. Harben allowed 67 walks in 122-plus innings, and struck out a career-low 74 batters.

And although Harben admits he wasn't fully recovered from surgery when he returned to the mound in Arizona late last summer, he says the three appearances (which totaled five innings) he made were especially important from a mental aspect.

"I pitched a little bit at the end of last year, but I hadn't really gotten into it. I wasn't exactly at 100 percent when I was pitching last summer. My velocity was still down.

"I think it was mainly a confidence booster just to know that I could still do it. Not throwing in games for that long, it was just nice to get out there. Even though it was just rookie ball, it was nice to compete a little bit because it had been so long."

Harben is a noted sinkerballer who thrives off his two-seam fastball and slider. He has a four-seamer for when he wants to "reach back and throw it by someone."

He also has been known to mix in a changeup and traditional curveball.

"I'm someone that gets a lot of groundballs," Harben said when asked to detail his own scouting report. "I feel I can go out and give you six or seven innings every time out as a starter. I consider myself a sinker-slider person."

Is his arm really powerful enough to throw it by opposing hitters?

"Sure," he said with a fair amount of confidence. "When I'm healthy."

Health seems to be on Harben's side for now, and his biggest boost heading into spring camp is in knowing that there is nothing physically wrong with him.

"It's an awesome feeling," Harben said on Wednesday from Arizona, where he arrived early in preparation for the Feb. 13 reporting date for pitchers and catchers. "I can't wait to get back out there. Like I said, it seems like it's been forever since I've gone out there and competed much. But I'm ready to go. I feel good, my arm feels good and I'm just ready to get out there and try to make the team."

But that might be easier said than done.

Barring injuries, the Cubs' starting rotation is set at the front with Carlos Zambrano, Ted Lilly, and Rich Hill all returning in 2008.

The back-end of the rotation is a bit less stable, as Jason Marquis' spot in the rotation hasn't been guaranteed by manager Lou Piniella. But unless Marquis is traded or has an overly unimpressive spring, he's likely to be back in the rotation.

A slew of candidates such as RHPs Kevin Hart and Sean Gallagher figure to compete for a back-end job in the starting rotation as well – also barring trades.

Recently added veteran Jon Lieber and ex-starter Ryan Dempster, the Cubs' closer the past three seasons, are also likely compete.

While Harben would like to become a serious competitor for a starting gig, his goal this spring is a modest one: if nothing else, he wants to at least put himself in a position to be one of the first to be called up if he doesn't make the team right away.

"I want to make it hard for them to send me down," he said.

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