Sometimes it isn’t easy to get noticed when pitching out of the bullpen in Single-A. With the way he has started the season, it has been hard to not notice Ryan Harbin, the former 17th round pick by the Pirates back in 2019.
After spending a few years in the Complex League, Harbin got a brief taste of Single-A last season before starting 2023 with the Bradenton Marauders.
Coming out of the bullpen, Harbin has been fantastic, and is doing something that few in all of the minors is doing.
Two of the biggest keys to success when pitching is keeping the ball on the ground, and generating swings and misses. When looking at pitchers with at least 10 innings pitched this year in the minors (as of June 5), there are only 15 pitchers to have a ground ball of at least 60%, as well as a Swinging Strike rate (SwStr%) of at least 16%.
Harbin is one of them (as well as Noe Toribio). That’s across all levels, and systems. When you bump that number up to pitchers with at least 20 innings pitched, Harbin is just one of three, and the only among either sample size to have a 70% ground ball rate or higher.
Harbin has been fantastic this season, posting a 1.23 ERA with a 31 K% and 6.9 BB% while holding opponents to a .190 average across 22 innings pitched. The strong is backed by a 2.83 xFIP, which is the best mark in the system as of June 5.
Originally brought in as a projectable high school pitcher that was pitching in the high 80s (topping 94) when he made his professional debut, he’s now averaging 95 with his sinker – topping out at 98.6 mph.
|Sinker Velocity||95.79 mph|
|Spin Rate||2075 rpm|
|Vertical Break||19.4 in|
|Horizontal Break||14.87 in|
While it’s not a high spin rate sinker, the movement on the pitch is fantastic. For reference, the tail side horizontal break of 14.87 inches is a tad less than what the movement is on Thomas Harrington’s slider, and we’ve seen how effective that pitch is.
There’s a lot of movement on it, and while he doesn’t get a lot of swing and miss with it, the sinker plays a huge factor in his 70+% ground ball rate.
According to Baseball Savant’s pitch tracking, Harbin pairs the fastball/sinker with a slider and cutter, both of which have very similar movement, so in the video I lumped them together.
|Velocity||84.9 mph||86.8 mph||85.8 mph|
|Spin Rate||2799 rpm||2778 rpm||2790 rpm|
|Vertical Break||39.65 inches||34.5 inches||37.36 inches|
|Horizontal Break||14.48 inches||12.06 inches||13.4 inches|
We can see the slider has a tad more movement overall, and has been able to create far more swing and miss, but they still are more or less the same pitch at the moment.
He could look to create more separation between the two if he wants two truly different pitches, if not, as a reliever a sinker/slider combination works perfectly.
In the final video, we see how well Harbin pairs the two pitches at times. In the first clip, it’s just a two pitch combination of the sinker/slider. He throws the sinker low and away for a ball, but then came back with the slider in the same spot that breaks and hits the corner.
In the next video, Harbin starts away, again going fastball/slider, one fouled the other a ball. He then works inside, throwing the pitches in the same order, with the fastball fouled off before starting the slider in the same spot before breaking in towards the back foot for a swing and miss strike three.
The third clip he throws a sinker away, before throwing a pair of sliders that start at the same point, before breaking in – with the first fouled and then followed up with a swing and miss.
Finally, a three pitch sequence worked to perfection that has the hit way out in front and finish on one knee for the strikeout.
Harbin may not be a name that is immediately talked about when it comes to Bradenton pitchers, but few are having the success he is having. Working in the bullpen, should the Pirates feel like he is ready, he could move fast with his combination of sinker/slider. That’s especially the case if the velocity keeps playing up on the latter.+ posts
Anthony began writing over 10 years ago, starting a personal blog to cover the 2011 MLB draft, where the Pirates selected first overall. After bouncing around many websites covering hockey, he refocused his attention to baseball, his first love when it comes to sports. He eventually found himself here at Pirates Prospects in late 2021, where he covers the team’s four full season minor league affiliates.