Amidst all the hoopla about Mike Montgomery and Aaron Crow and Danny Duffy and John Lamb and other strong Royals pitching prospects, there’s one you may have overlooked who has a good shot of making it onto the big league club before the any of them – left handed Blaine Hardy, currently in Omaha.
Okay, you might be thinking “Blaine? His name is Blaine? That’s a major appliance; that’s not a name!” Or, for those of you reading who aren’t pushing thirty, you might confuse him with soft-tossing lefty Rowdy Hardy. But they’re totally different pitchers and Blaine may be coming to a major league ballpark near you.
Who: Blaine Hardy
DOB: 3/4/1987 Shoreline, Washington
Acquired: 2008 Draft (22nd Round)
~ Baseball America NR
~ Diamond Futures Grade C
~ Royals Review #59
~ John Sickels #15
~ Greg Schaum #24
As you can tell by the prospect rankings, thoughts on Hardy before the season were mixed. As a 22nd rounder, and with the other prospects generating buzz within the organization, it’s easy to get overlooked. But Hardy’s making people take notice in 2010. After a reasonable pro debut as a Chukar, Hardy’s just kept performing at a high level everywhere he’s been.
Primarily a reliever, Hardy’s “started” in his last three appearances in Omaha. I say it like that because one start, he pitched one inning, and in his next two, he put up 3.1 innings and 4.1 innings respectively. In those 8.2 innings, he gave up a total of three earned runs, so he didn’t get shelled, it was just one of those minor league situations where they don’t have a starter to go and then use a combination of relievers to piggy back to get through the game.
In his last “start”, where he went 4.1 innings, he walked one but struck out five, so there’s a shot he might be used at some point in his career as a lefty reliever/swingman, like Bruce Chen had been earlier in the season for Kansas City.
But his success has mostly come out of the pen. His success in Burlington caught the eye of Royals scouts and allowed him to skip a level, going straight from Low A to Double A, bypassing Wilmington altogether. And on May 25, he was advanced up the ladder again, from Northwest Arkansas to Omaha. He’s had a strong walk rate at every level, but actually improved it slightly from Double A to Triple A, while increasing his strikeout rate, too. He showed he was clearly unhittable in Double A and batters have hit him better in Omaha, but not enough to hurt – he still has a 1.086 WHIP over 38.2 innings there.
Hardy doesn’t have any flashy pitches, but he does have strong command of an average fastball at around 88-90 mph that he can work to both sides of the plate, according to scout.com. He combines that with a nice changeup that slows down to 77-79 and his curveball is developing. He hopes he can turn it into an out pitch.
What’s most appealing is his control. In Burlington, he went through the first 23.2 innings of the season without issuing a walk while compiling 28 strikeouts in that span. His walks have gone up after skipping a level, but that’s to be expected and they’re still acceptable numbers.
In 2010, he’s benefitted from a .210 BABIP and 6.4% HR/FB ratio, but combined through both levels, he’s had an even 39.6%/39.6% GB/FB ratio and for his career, he’s slightly better on the ground ball side. In Omaha, the HR/FB ratio has been normal at 10.9% and yet his ERA has been strong, mostly due to his low walk totals.
Hardy wouldn’t fit the mold of a left-handed specialist, as he’s performed better in his pro career against right handed batters than left handed ones. That would also allow him to fill that long-relief/spot starter role if he’s not in a more traditional bullpen role at some point.
Hardy is a solid candidate to make his major league debut when rosters expand in September, though he could also get a chance to jump up before then as well in the next few weeks if an injury occurs or if a current Royals reliever summons the spirit of Victor Marte and goes on an earned run allowing binge.