FORT MYERS, Fla. – Somewhere along the way on the trip from the city of Lafayette in southwest Louisiana to the city of Fort Myers in southwest Florida, a door swung open and stayed open for 17-year-old Lafayette left-hander Hogan Harris.
It was a door that had previously cracked open just enough for Harris to earn an invitation to this week’s 14th annual Perfect Game National Showcase. He arrived at JetBlue Park on Thursday with little fanfare, to be expected from a prospect identified only as a “top-1,000” in the class of 2015 national rankings and as no better than No. 76 among the country’s 2015 southpaws.
For his part, Harris was anything but wide-eyed once he was surrounded by hundreds of his 2015 classmates, almost every one of whom was ranked higher than he was. He was humbled, of course, but never once felt he didn’t belong.
“This has been great,” Harris told PG Friday afternoon, roughly 24 hours after he had pitched in the first game at this year’s PG National. “To be able to play against kids that are the best in the country; to be able show all the work that you’ve put in – what that’s done for you and what’s that done for everyone, really – and how it’s gotten them to where they’ve strived to be their whole life playing baseball.”
Robert Harris, Hogan’s dad and a self-proclaimed Louisiana Cajun with the accent to back up that claim, also feels his son belongs here on one of amateur baseball’s largest and most prestigious stages. Perhaps it was dream come true or, perhaps, it was reality grabbing a seat at the table.
“I guess everybody who ever played baseball since you can walk until you get to college, everybody’s got that dream,” Robert Harris said on Friday. “You’re in the park and you’re hitting balls out of your hand, and you’re not just hitting pop-ups, you’re hitting the game-winning home run in the seventh game of the World Series. When you’re pitching, it’s the same thing: you’re striking out Babe Ruth and the old Gas House Gang and all those other guys from way back when.
“But you kind of hope for this, and I could always see that (Hogan) was an athlete, but there are not very people that make it to this point,” he continued. “It’s a dream, and there is still a lot of stuff to do.”
Hogan Harris, suited up for PG Black, was the third pitcher handed the ball in the first game of the PG National Showcase and he immediately put on his game face as he settled in for his two innings of work. The first fastball he delivered hit 93 miles-per-hour. The next five hit 92, 92, 92, 93 and 92 mph.
After a falloff to a meager 91, he delivered a heater that topped-out at 94 mph. During the outing, Harris also used a changeup that sat 81-83 mph and a tightly spinning curveball to keep the hitters off balance.
It was a performance by a relatively unknown prospect that was reminiscent of those turned-in by Rob Kaminsky and Kodi Medeiros at the 2012 and 2013 PG National Showcases, respectively. A year after their PG National outings, both were first round picks in their respective MLB amateur drafts.
“I never really thought it would be possible,” Hogan Harris said. “Obviously, I’ve always worked to try to get here but I never really thought it would actually be attained. Now that it has, it’s kind of like an early Christmas, I guess.
“Earlier (in my career) it just seemed like I was like every baseball player that’s always wanted to get to the big leagues, and I never thought it was possible,” he said. “Now I’m seeing a possible chance of actually going fast and possibly doing stuff as a professional; it’s pretty awesome.”
This is the first showcase appearance for Harris after performing in a combined six PG WWBA and PG World Series tournaments with Chad Raley and Marucci Elite last summer. His father said Hogan has never lost a game while pitching for St. Thomas More High School, and when Raley picked him up last summer and he started gaining exposure at those PG tournaments, scouts and college recruiters, in turn, started getting on board.
“Being able to travel to different states for different events and being able to fly to different places and everything, it (presents) a whole different aspect of the game,” Harris said. “It’s also helped me to get noticed, obviously, and it helps to show everyone else what you can do instead of just staying in Lafayette.”
Throughout last summer, Harris was solid but not spectacular. His fastball sat consistently between 82 and 85 miles-per-hour and topped out at 86 mph at both the PG WWBA 17u National Championship and the 17u Perfect Game World Series in July.
“It took a lot of work in the offseason,” Harris said of what led to his increased velocity. “I was learning to do different things, going to different places that can show you different mechanics that can help you, and different workouts that are for different muscles in the body.”
Robert Harris credits shoulder strengthening workouts along with improved lower body strength for his son’s increase in velocity. Harris has also been working out at Ron Wolforth’s Texas Baseball Ranch in Montgomery, Texas. Wolforth works only with elite pitchers and pitching prospects and puts the young prospects on proven workout programs that stress proper arm care and arm health.
“We’ve worked with a lot of people and my wife and I – he’s our only child – we decided that our investment and whatever it takes for him, we’ll do,” Robert said. “He’s been to the camps and he does all this stuff and there’s been a steady improvement.”
Robert was a left-handed pitcher himself and even walked-on to the University of Louisiana-Lafayette program out of high school. His wife and Hogan’s mom, Tiffany Whittall Harris, is a 1995 graduate of UL-Lafayette and an All-American catcher who helped lead the Lady Cajun softball team to NCAA College World Series appearances in 1993 and 1995. She was inducted into the UL-Lafayette Athletic Hall of Fame in 2007.
Hogan Harris plans on following his parents to UL-Lafayette and become a Ragin’ Cajun himself – if the outcome of the 2015 MLB draft doesn’t meet his expectations. It seems like the perfect fit in just about every aspect, from family and societal norms, right down to geography.
“I live a block away (from the UL-Lafayette ballpark) and I can walk to all the games,” Harris said. “I’ve always been a UL fan since I can ever remember and just the fact of being able to play where my parents can literally walk from the house and come and watch, that was pretty cool.”
Robert Harris said he and Hogan almost turned down the invitation to the PG National because, in his words, “I figured if you’re good enough people are going to find you.” What he didn’t understand was the scale of the PG National Showcase and the hundreds of professional scouts and college coaches and recruiters.
“He had invitations to go play in these other events, which is nice for him, but he realizes it’s not just about him,” Robert said. “… This is a lot of fun for him. You meet new guys and you renew friendships and it teaches you teamwork. It’s not just that pro scouts can see you and colleges can see you. You learn how to play on teams and how you depend on these guys and they depend on you. … He’s always learning, so I guess that’s a good thing.”
Like every one of the more than 320 prospects that will perform here by the time officials put a wrap on the 14th edition of the PG National Showcase, Hogan Harris is here because he craves the competition. And if a terrific, show-stopping performance opens a door or two along the way, the appreciation of that level of competition also gets ratcheted up a notch.
“It’s good to play with a real high (level of) competition because it makes you try to prove yourself and say, ‘All these guys are good but my goal is to try to standout more than they do,” Harris said. “It gives you a little bit more to strive for, I guess.”