Inland Empire Notebook: Meet Gary Harris

Most Mariners fans don't yet recognize the name Gary Harris, but the speedy 24-year-old outfielder is off to a fantastic start this season at High-A Inland Empire and earning respect because of it. Get a closer look at one of the fastest minor leaguers in the M's farm system in this week's 66ers Notebook.

If you look at the Seattle Mariners top prospect lists, names such as Felix Hernandez, Clint Nageotte, Shin-soo Choo and Chris Snelling quickly pop into view. All of these players undoubtedly have the potential to be wearing a Seattle Mariner uniform in the future.

But there are always the players who are overlooked, the ones that quietly sneak up to the majors without much fanfare. Down in San Bernardino, one of those diamonds in the rough is Inland Empire centerfielder Gary Harris, an athlete who uses his tremendous speed to his advantage.

Harris is not 6-foot-5 like his teammates Jon Nelson and T.J. Bohn to the left and right of him in the outfield. He is only 5-foot-10. And while he doesn't possess the rocket arm that Bohn has, he patrols and covers the outfield as well as any other centerfielder in the California League.

The Georgia native doesn't have the powerful bat that others in around him in the lineup do, but he hits in the number three spot in the lineup regardless.

Three weeks into the 66ers' season, Harris leads the team with 13 RBI and is also the team leader in steals with five. Simply put, the 24-year-old gets the job done, even if unnoticed in the process.

"Right now I feel comfortable at the plate and I'm doing the things I need to be doing," said Harris, who was an 18th-round pick by the Mariners in the 2002 June draft. "But I have high expectations and I'm never satisfied."

The speedy outfielder started his climb up the minor league ladder in 2002 with Everett. In his first 35 games as a professional baseball player, Harris hit safely in 32 of the 35 games (having streaks of eight, 11, and 13). He reached base safely in all but 12 of his 69 games played in Everett.

"I set such high goals for myself that I believe I'm supposed to do everything well," said Harris, who was selected to the Northwestern All-Star team in that first pro campaign.

Last year in Mid-A Wisconsin, Harris developed a skill that may be the best of his arsenal.

Speed.

In 127 games with the Timber Rattlers, the burner ripped off 36 stolen bases in 49 attempts for a 73% success rate. This season, he's only been caught once in six attempts, the second best percentage in the Mariner's farm system only behind Hiram Bocachica of Triple-A Tacoma.

"Speed never takes a day off," said Harris, who was always considered to be the fastest athlete everywhere he's been since high school. "If I'm not swinging the bat well, I can always bunt and get on base."

Inland Empire manager Daren Brown has wanted his team to learn to steal bases and be aggressive on the base paths, but even though the team has stolen 20 bases, they have been gunned down 13 times. This speaks largely of Harris' knowledge of when to steal a base.

"It's fun to play those mind games with a pitcher," Harris said. "It is all about knowing the pitcher and picking the right opportunity."

Harris does not look like a typical number three hitter in a lineup but he has succeeded at driving runners home anyway, unwilling to buy into what others might think of his spot in the order.

"I like to drive runners home and get RBI," said Harris, who has batted in the three spot most of his professional career.

From the beginning of the 2004 season, he's been on fire at the plate. In the first 12 games, he hit .348 with one home run and nine RBI. While the three spot has been an enjoyable position for him thus far in the minors, the lead off spot or No. 2 position in the lineup may fit him better as he continues to strive for the majors.

Before he can make that switch, however, he will have to be more patient at the plate.

Known to be a free-swinger, Harris has walked only seven times compared to his 13 strikeouts this season. In his career, he has walked 59 times and has struck out 151 times, something he knows he has to correct.

"I have to work on the strike zone and make the pitcher work so I can draw some more walks," he said.

With time, Harris should be able to get the at bats needed to gain an eye for the strike zone.

Once that happens, the 5-foot-10 outfielder will be standing tall with the rest of potential Mariner stars.


Who's Hot and Who's Not:

Outfielder Jon Nelson hit .357 with one home run, five RBI and stole three bases last week. The outburst at the plate raised his batting average from .209 to .268. Outfielder TJ Bohn hit .400 during the week (10-25) with seven runs scored and two RBI. Infielder Matt Rogelstad hit only .185 (4-27) with an uncharacteristic six strikeouts during the week and outfielder Gary Harris has his worst week of the season, going a mere 4-29 with six strikeouts.

Game Summary

After being swept by Lancaster on the road, the 66ers took three of four against the Jethawks in San Bernardino. In the series opener on April 23, Inland Empire came back from a three run deficit to win 4-3, thanks to a four-run fifth inning. On Saturday, April 24, both teams went back and forth until Inland Empire scored two in the ninth to tie and one in the tenth to win the game 9-8. Carlos Arroyo drove in the winning run on a fielder's choice with the bases loaded. Bobby Livingston (2-0) pitched a superb game on Sunday, April 25, going seven shutout innings and allowing only one hit while striking out seven. The 66ers were able to withstand a four run eighth inning to beat Lancaster 5-4. In the final game of the seriesm Lancaster beat Inland Empire 6-2, ending a nine-game home winning streak by the 66ers. Felix Hernandez (2-1) surrendered three early runs in his first loss in the California League. It was the first loss at home by the 66ers since the 1-0 loss to Lake Elisnore on Opening Night… The 66ers are currently on their first trip up North this season. They have taken the first two games against Visalia 10-0 and 9-6 respectively. In the first game, TA Fulmer (2-1) and three relief pitchers combined to hold the Oaks to three hits, the second three-hitter of the season by the 66er pitching staff. Back-up catcher Brian Lentz went 3-4 with four RBI in the place of catcher Rene Riveram who was still shaken by a collision at the plate on Monday against Lancaster. With a 9-6 win on Wednesday, Inland Empire managed to stay tied in first with Lancaster with a record of 13-7.

Notes: 66ers hitters had 15 extra base hits throughout the week to put them in second to last place in the California League with 49 extra-base hits this season. Bakersfield has 66 extra-base hits while having 13 less total hits than the 66ers … The Inland hitters averaged 5.9 runs per game to help the pitching staff which had an ERA of 3.98 during the week… Pitchers went 3-5 with a 4.20 ERA in the eight games against Lancaster. In seven of the eight games against Lancaster, one or two runs decided the final score… All five starters have two wins and have a combined record of 10-2. They have combined for an ERA of 2.09… The entire pitching staff, relievers included, has an ERA of 2.85 and opponents are hitting just .212 against them… This week the 66ers will continue their 13-game road trip with four against Ranch Cucamonga and then three against Stockton.

Injury Report: Shortstop Michael Garciaparra was placed on the seven-day Disabled List due to an injured wrist. He was off to a slow start, hitting just .170 with 11 strikeouts. He did show improvement defensively, though, with only three errors thus far after a 50-error season in 2003. Hyung Cho replaced Garciaparra on the roster and has played well in four games, going 4-8 with three doubles and two RBI. Infielder Ismael Castro sprained his left knee while running past first base in a game against Lancaster on Sunday, April 25. Originally looking more serious, Castro is currently listed on the seven-day DL. Jesus Guzman replaced Castro on the roster and in two games he has gone 5-15 with two doubles, three RBI and a steal.

Seattle Clubhouse Top Stories