Brandon Harper has had a rough start to the 2007 season. He spent the last two months of 2006 playing in the major leagues, but after a disappointing spring training he was assigned to Triple-A and began the season with the Columbus Clippers. Despite the slow start, Harper is beginning to get back into the swing of things and is stepping up his defense.
Harper has been the only consistent catcher throughout the season for the Clippers. Earlier in the season, Juan Brito spent some time on the DL, which meant Harper was the go to guy. Harper enjoyed the extra games he got to play in but feels that his skills are no better than Brito.
“When Brito got hurt, I caught a lot and we did pretty well during that stretch,” Harper told CapitolDugout.com. “But with Brito and I back there I don’t think you lose much either way. We both have experience and we both know what we are doing back there so I don’t think it has really impacted the team one way or the other.”
Harper has had to get use to a lot of changes this season, including the talent on the mound. At the beginning of the season, veteran players dominated the starting line up but after some pitching troubles in Washington, the veterans were called up to lend a hand. Now younger guys like John Lannan, Collin Balester, and Joel Hanrahan have stepped up and filled their shoes. Harper knows first hand the changes that have occurred.
“The biggest difference with the veterans and rookies is just the fact that they are younger and inexperienced,” Harper said. “My job as a catcher is to make them feel as comfortable as possible. With the older guys like Mike Bacsik and Billy Traber, they have experience so they know what they wanted to do. The younger guys have never pitched at this level before and it’s a little different than Double-A, but it’s basically the same game. They have to throw strikes, mix their pitches in, and use their off speed. I just try to help them not think too much.”
While the starting pitchers are all young, Harper admits that each pitcher has his own distinct pitching style. He considers Balester to be more of a power guy. He has a good fastball, which clocks in between 92-94 mph, a good curveball, and a decent change up. Lannan is a guy that isn’t going to overpower you, but Harper feels that for a lefty he has pretty good velocity, throwing around 89-90 mph. Harper can always count on Lannan to really attacks the zone and throws quite a few strikes. As far as experience and age, Harper feels that Hanrahan fits somewhere in between the veterans and rookies. While Hanrahan has played the game for several years, he hasn’t seen much Triple-A action and hasn’t made it to the major league yet. One thing Harper thinks is holding Hanrahan back is his ability to realize that he has good stuff and trust he can get guys out with his pitches. As a veteran player, Harper has worked with a lot of pitchers and knows what it will take for them to reach the next level.
“My advice to the younger guys would be to be more aggressive,” Harper stated. “Instead of pitching away from contact, pitch to contact and throw the ball over the plate. Give them your best pitch and let them see if they can hit it. If you do that, you will be successful.”
Along with helping others succeed, Harper has had some success of his own. He is 25 of 55 when it comes to catching runners stealing a base, which makes him one of the top leaders for the International League. Harper has also had 41 errorless games.
“This season I haven’t really helped the team at bat, so I have to do what I can on defense,” Harper told us. “I have always been known for my defense, which I take pride in so I’m happy I can contribute that way at least. I feel like I call a pretty good game, block the ball well, and do little things to help the team win.”
Harper has had some trouble at the plate this season only batting .178. Last season, while at the major league level, he had a batting average of .297. Harper says that the big difference between the two seasons is his mental approach.
“Its mostly mental, I came into the season a little frustrated from how spring training went and I wasn’t really focused the way I should have been,” Harper admitted. “Then I had some trouble at the plate and got away from the approach and the things I worked on that got me to where I was last year. But slowly I am finding my way back to those things and I’m going to stick with it. I just need to be consistent.”
Harper finds that when he starts thinking too much about the situation, he starts doing badly. He has been trying to simplify his game and basically just see the ball and hit it. In the last couple of weeks, Harper has started to get back on track and has seen some improvements and progress. He is on a six game hitting streak and has reached base the last eight times. While he might not be making huge plays, he has been hitting the ball and hitting it hard.
Harper might not be where he would have liked to be this far into the season, but he is no stranger to hard work and plans to continue working everyday to improve both on a team level and individually.
“Hopefully, we can string some wins together and play up to our capabilities. I don’t think we have done that, especially with the talent and experience we have here. We have a great pitching staff here and we should be doing much better than we are. I think our biggest thing is that we need to play better defense so I can help contribute to that. I just want to finish on a strong note individually and as a team.”