Today I will look at a former promising young slugger in the Royals’ organization, Ken Harvey. Harvey was one of those “Nebraska guys” that had a decorated college career and was highly-touted throughout the minor leagues, but never seemed to live up to the billing once they reached the majors. (Alex Gordon falls in this category, but has since redeemed himself, as Royals’ fans are all very thankful for—now pay the damn man!)
Harvey was a fifth-round pick of the Royals in the 1999 MLB draft out of said University. Coming out of college, the first baseman was built like a ton of bricks (6’2, 240 pounds)—although his batting grip was quite feminine if I may assert—and he was known for his raw power.
Harvey did not disappoint in the minor leagues.
He spent a little time in low and high A-ball from 1999-2000, where he collected 12 home runs and posted a triple slash of .397/.477/.598 in 1o2 games. The following season, as a 23 year old, Harvey was promoted from Class-A Wilmington to Double-A Wichita, after just 35 games. His 2001 season split between the two levels yielded ridiculous numbers. Which isn’t out of the ordinary for a 23 year old at that level, but still—.350/.398/.532 with 15 home runs is a handsome line at any level.
Harvey began 2002 in triple-A Omaha, where his numbers regressed, but were still worthy of a late-season call up that he did not receive. In 128 games and 488 at bats he hit 20 home runs, 30 doubles and posted a line of .277/.342/.465. The encouraging sign for the Royals had to be Harvey’s improved plate discipline, as he drew 42 walks, while striking out 87 times. Not overly impressive, but also not terrible for a power hitter.
In 2003, Harvey began his first season on the big-league roster—save a brief four-game call up in 2001—and he performed admirably. Hitting .266/.313/.408 while cranking 13 home runs and 30 doubles. Those are decent numbers for a player in his first professional season, but Harvey was 25 years old. And the concerning part turned out to be his ultimate downfall—the inability to take a walk. Power hitters have to be able to walk on a consistent basis. Harvey took just 29 walks in 524 plate appearances that season and struck out 94 times. Compare that to a 25-year-old Billy Butler this past season. In 597 plate appearances Butler struck out 95 times, but walked 66 times and also hit .291/.361/.461.
The two are a similar build and lack elite power, but one possesses the invaluable tool of plate discipline and the other does/did not. Thus, the drastic difference in careers at the same age.
However, Harvey sadly can lay claim to an honor that has not yet been bestowed upon Butler—an All-Star game appearance. In 2004, the nightmare that the Royals so shamelessly deemed a season, Harvey was the Royals’ lone All-Star representative. To be fair, Harvey had himself a pretty decent season—by Royal standards.
By the All-Star break on July 11 that season, Harvey was hitting .305/.353/.452 with nine home runs. He finished the season hitting .287/.338/.421 with just 13 home runs. And although he finished with fewer strike outs at 89, he also finished with one fewer walk at 28, to keep the abysmal 3:1 ratio in tact.
Harvey’s 2005 season was, well, have you seen the movie Sandlot? (If you said no to that question then I ask that you stop reading my posts. Seriously.)
Harvey reminds me of the end of the movie, when the narrator is describing where all the kids ended up later on in life and he comes to Bertram Grover Weeks and the line goes, “Bertram, well, Bertram got really into the ’60s and no one ever saw him again.”
THAT is Ken Harvey during and post 2005. Harvey played just 12 games with the Royals that season and in 45 at bats he hit .222/.271/.356 with one home run and three walks to his 13 strike outs.
Harvey battled injuries that season and spent his rehab and recovery with Triple-A Omaha, where he actually made some strides hitting, but not in the plate discipline department. And with a glove that rarely made its way to balls down the first base line and when it did suddenly turned to stone—his defense was no savings grace. Thus, he was written off by the organization and let go at the end of the season.
Harvey actually crapped out with the Kansas City T-Bones in 2007—yeah, Major League All-Star in 2004 to being released by an Independent League team three years later, that’s rough—and the reasoning from the T-Bones was salary cap related, as Harvey was actually one of the better players in the Northern League.
Harvey is now with the Minnesota Twins organization and has struggled with injuries and weight issues since being with the club. The last report from the Twins that I saw came from manager Ron Gardenhire, who said of Harvey, “He has to play himself into shape if he hopes to be called up from Triple-A.”
They’re still waiting on that.
Harvey, now 33, never transformed into the power-hitter and middle of the line up threat that most thought he could be. Weight issues, plate discipline and defensive struggles all collaborated to land him a role as another Royals bust.
It’s too bad really, because most people, including myself really liked Harvey. His plate discipline struggles went unnoticed by a 16-year-old me and I admired his unusual batting grip and occasional power surges he provided. I had hopes that he would someday fill a DH role on a playoff team. Of course, that was my hope with lots of Royals prospects those days.
But for one glorious stretch in the summer of 2004, Harvey hit .350 with eight homers and 32 RBI in 62 games to land him an opportunity to play with games’ elite on its highest stage.
And no one can take that away from him.