There have been so many horror stories over the years about pitchers from prominent college programs taken early in the draft, only to have the professional team soon discover an arm well-worn from overuse.
That hardly was the case with Modesto Nuts reliever Will Harris. He threw three innings as a sophomore at LSU, then 19 innings as a senior. But in that limited mound action Harris showed enough potential to warrant being a ninth-round selection of the Colorado Rockies in the 2006 amateur draft.
So Harris is 23 with a young arm, and already has made an impact at three levels of minor league baseball. In 2006 he went 2-3 with a 1.16 ERA at short-season Tri-City, with 42 strikeouts in 31 innings. Last year he went 1-2 with a 1.32 ERA with Asheville, whiffing 68 in 47º innings. And all he did this season was not allow a run in his first eight outings with Modesto before Visalia got to the right-hander for one run April 25.
Off the field, Harris is Louisiana through-and-through. Raised in Slidell, a city at the northeast corner of Lake Ponchartrain, he now lives in Baton Rouge. Harris and his older brother Clay were teammates at LSU, and were selected within an hour of each other in the 2006 draft.
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And, being a Louisianan, Harris has his own Katrina story. The hurricane hit New Orleans, slammed Slidell and blew through Baton Rouge the day after Harris' 21st birthday.
Brian VanderBeek: So, on your 21st birthday, were you having a party or getting ready for Katrina?
Will Harris: I had a big party in Baton Rouge and the next day the hurricane hit. We didn't know at that time if it was coming into New Orleans or the Baton Rouge area, so we really didn't prepare for it. My hometown (Slidell) got hit pretty hard, but we were in Baton Rouge and the only major damage there was from the wind. There wasn't much flooding, but power was out in my apartment for about a week and a half. I was fortunate that my aunt and uncle's house was nearby and they had power the next day.
BVB: What was the whole experience like for you at LSU? Playing for a big-time program like that is cool enough, but you also got to play with your brother.
WH: It was something special. We grew up together, played high school and summer ball together, and was fortunate first to be able to play college baseball at a place like LSU, and then to play with your brother makes it easy on your family. Had either of us gone somewhere else it would have been tough. It was something very few people get to experience.
BVB: Didn't you both go to LSU as first basemen?
WH: We both were two-way players. He was a freshman All-American in his first year as a pitcher. I was hitting my freshman year and starting at first base, then he started hitting and took my job. I remember that we went to Long Beach State for a series, he got hot, I got cold, and I was out of a job.
BVB: So the Dirtbags got you?
WH: Yes they did. The had a great staff with (Jared) Weaver and they got me.
BVB: So when did you start pitching at LSU?
WH: I threw a little as a sophomore and then I started hitting well. For the next 2½ years I didn't pitch. But in my senior year we were low on pitching and the coaches told me I might need to throw. I threw 19 innings my senior year and that was enough to get drafted. The Rockies called me up and took me in the ninth round.
BVB: Your brother was drafted by the Phillies that year.
WH: Yeah, he actually went eight picks after me in the ninth round. That was pretty close. There wasn't any bet as to which of us was going first, but when I got drafted before him I did call him and rag him a little bit. He's in extended spring training after having knee surgery. He was going to go to Reading (Pa.) in Double-A last season before he got hurt.
BVB: I have to ask about the streak. You went 13 innings to start the season without giving up a run and were just a tag at the plate away from staying perfect for 14 and beyond.
WH: To only give up one run in that Visalia game and not five was good for me, because it could have been worse.
BVB: This interview is running in the newspaper in early May, which is when some of the great festivals in Louisiana are held, like Jazz Fest in New Orleans and the Crawfish Festival in Breaux Bridge. Playing baseball probably doesn't let you go to these anymore.
WH: I've been to Jazz Fest and I've been to the Strawberry Festival in Hammond and others. Those are a lot of fun. I really like the people in Louisiana. They're all very friendly. It's a simple life. You can go anywhere and feel like you belong. I also miss going to the rodeos back there.
BVB: And you have to miss the food.
WH: Yeah, the food. It stinks that baseball season starts at the same time the crawfish season gets going. It's pretty kicking there right now.
Bee staff writer Brian VanderBeek can be reached at email@example.com or 578-2300.