Scouting Report: J.A. Happ

J.A. Happ started the season at Clearwater before being promoted to AA Reading in June. After nearly two months at Reading, Happ is establishing himself as a definite prospect in the pitching-rich organization. We scouted him Sunday in his start against New Britain.

If you watched video of young Phillies' pitchers and tried to match them to their stats, odds are that you wouldn't match J.A. Happ with his stats. Watching him, there is nothing special to him, except for an exceptionally smooth delivery. You almost get the impression that he's not really trying out there and you're waiting for him to finish his warm-up tosses when you realize he's pitching to live hitters.

Happ is ultra-relaxed on the mound and seems to have the game secured tightly in his glove at all times. At 6' 5", Happ seems like he really should be able to throw much harder than he does. Against New Britain on Sunday (August 19), he topped out at 87 miles per hour, right around where he usually throws. Plus, many of his pitches were up in the zone, which is a no-no for pitchers. So, how has he struck out 146 hitters in 141 2/3 innings?

The key is that Happ doesn't worry about what's supposed to happen. Instead, he just goes out and pitches. He's got just enough deception in his delivery to keep hitters off-stride and just enough movement on his fastball that even though it's not that fast and it's high in the zone, it's tough to get good wood - if any wood - on the ball.

On Sunday, Happ was up in the strike zone, but was mixing his pitches well enough to keep hitters guessing. He started the game by pushing three high fastballs past New Britain's Denard Span. In fact, he struck out two hitters in the inning and got the other out on a weak ground ball. By later in the game, it looked as though Happ was a little uncomfortable with his landing spot on the mound, but didn't let it bother him.

Some weak defense spoiled what was otherwise a near flawless outing for Happ. Of the three runs that he allowed over seven innings, just one of them was earned. Again, the unflappable Happ didn't let the errors behind him ruin his afternoon or throw him off his game plan.

Even though the temperature was in the mid 80s and the humidity made it feel much warmer, Happ showed good durability and didn't wilt. He was throwing just about as hard in the seventh inning as he was in the first. So, maybe his velocity could be improved, but why, if it would mean that he might not pitch as deep into games.

Happ's fastball is set up well by his change-up, which dipped down to the high 70s on Sunday. He mixed in just enough sliders to really keep hitters guessing and did it all effortlessly, allowing just five hits and two walks while striking out seven.

When you watch Happ pitch, don't worry about his velocity. Watch for the movement on his pitches, because that's where his strength and his future lie.

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