New York Mets right-hander Matt Harvey is part of a trio of pitching prospects counted on as the future of the organization.
Headed into the 2012 season, Harvey is ranked as MLB.com's No. 38 prospect and the Mets' No. 2 behind Zack Wheeler and just ahead of Jeurys Familia.
The North Carolina product is widely thought to be a year ahead of Wheeler in terms of his development, and there's an outside chance he will see time at Citi Field before the season ends. Before that happens, though, Harvey will have to find success at Triple-A Buffalo.
With Class A Advanced St. Lucie and Double-A Binghamton in 2011, Harvey struck out 156 batters in 135 2/3 innings while holding batters to a combined .246 average. He was named a Florida State League midseason All-Star and a Futures Game selection.
MiLB.com spoke to the 6-foot-4 Connecticut native about his pitch repertoire, learning baseball from his father and his journey through the organization.
MiLB.com: You pitched at two levels in your rookie year last season. What positives were you able to take from that?
Matt Harvey: Obviously, this being my first move up in pro baseball, it was a good experience of mentally preparing and staying with my approach no matter where I was. I think I got away from it a little bit right after the move [to Double-A] and I struggled a bit. I finally got to realize that baseball is baseball and that pitching is pitching. No matter which level I'm at or whether I get promoted, I still have to stick with what I can do and stick to my approach.
MiLB.com: Were you surprised that you had some early struggles in Binghamton after being so dominant at St. Lucie?
Harvey: I obviously wasn't going to go through the whole season without some ups and downs -- I've learned that in the past. I realized that I had gotten away from what I normally do and that I had some failures. It reiterated that I needed to get back to where I was when I was doing the things correctly, and that was what I went back to.
MiLB.com: You finished the season strong with five wins in your last six starts. How encouraged were you by how well you pitched late in the year?
Harvey: It's always good to finish strong. I didn't want to go up to Double-A and have my struggles at the beginning and then continue that through the season, so finishing well was definitely a huge positive for me.
MiLB.com: What kind of break did you get this winter before you started baseball activities again?
Harvey: I took some time off, but I like to throw quite a bit during the offseason to keep my arm strong and make sure that my body feels good. I took a couple weeks off and then got back into light tossing. Once Christmas was over, I started to ramp things up a bit.
MiLB.com: Is there something you enjoy doing to relax in the offseason that you don't really get a chance to do during the season?
Harvey: Seeing my family, definitely. My dad is a big golfer, and a lot of other people in the family are golfers, so getting out with them is good. And seeing my family, getting to spend time with my nieces and nephews is what brings me back and keeps everything calm.
MiLB.com: How would you describe your mechanics?
Harvey: I just try to keep everything as simple as possible and not get too crazy. Then I'm able to complete everything, whether it's me throwing my fastball, changeup or curveball. I keep it simple and try and stay back and keep it as smooth as possible.
MiLB.com: How would you rate each of your pitches headed into the year?
Harvey: My off-speed is right where I want it. I've been throwing some really good changeups, and my curveball is actually far beyond where I expected it to be. And obviously my sinker is working really well for me. It's just a matter of getting that location a little bit more fine than I'm at right now.
I've still got a couple weeks, so I'm looking forward to it. I think I'm going to transfer my slider more into a cutter. Last year, when I threw my curveball and slider, they kind of mixed in with each other, so this season I started messing around with the grips and trying to tighten up the slider a little bit and maybe get a little more velocity and not as much rotation.
MiLB.com: How does the grip you use for the new cutter differ from the slider you used last year?
Harvey: I hold the cutter a little bit more like a fastball and offset my hands a little bit. Basically it's like a four-seam fastball that I just hold on the side a tiny, tiny bit. Then I just throw it like a fastball and let the grip take over to cause some cut. The slider obviously is more of an off-speed pitch, so I held that different. I'm waiting for a couple more bullpen sessions or live BP to mix it in and hopefully it'll just be a minor change.
MiLB.com: I read that you grew up a Yankees fan. What are some of your very earliest baseball memories?
Harvey: I remember going to games, whether it was sitting in the outfield or somewhere behind home plate. My favorite player growing up was Paul O'Neill, and I remember some of the games when they started chanting his name when he hit two home runs. I just loved the way he played. Hearing the crowd cheer his name was something I always remembered.
MiLB.com: Who taught you how to play baseball?
Harvey: My dad did. He was a longtime high school coach, and he taught me how to throw and to hit, do everything. Most importantly, he taught me how to do everything the right way, whether that's running to first or anything.
It was obviously a big help and going to college and already having all of the fundamentals down almost made me a step ahead, not quite like all of the freshmen. It seemed a little bit easier, which was something he always tried to get in my brain. It was the biggest help that I could ever have, so I give a lot of credit to him for my career.
MiLB.com: How often do your parents get to see you play in person now?
Harvey: Mostly when I was in Binghamton. They probably came up three or four times, I'd say. They usually try to get down to Spring Training once or twice, and my dad is actually coming down here in the next week or so.
MiLB.com: Prior to the Draft, how much interaction did you have with scouts and teams?
Harvey: Really not that much because I was still playing. I played up until the day before the Draft. We were in Oklahoma playing in a regional, and it so happened that we were out there for about a week or so. I really didn't have much else to concentrate on apart from helping the team.
I went back on the day of the Draft to North Carolina and my parents flew home. I actually spent the Draft at one of my coach's houses and the rest of the coaching staff and a couple teammates came over. It was really nice. I was pretty overwhelmed with the excitement. It was a little bit of a shock because I had gone through the Draft in my senior year of high school, and it didn't go so well. [The Angels chose Harvey in the third round in 2007; he did not sign.] It was almost like a mix of relief and extreme excitement. At that point I knew it was time to start my career.
MiLB.com: How long did it take your father to phone you after your selection was announced?
Harvey: It was probably less than five seconds. I think they must have got it a little bit earlier than we did. They were very excited. My dad was having trouble talking because he was so excited. He's always told me to never think I'm not good enough at anything. That was one of the first things he said. "I told you, I told you -- never think you're not good enough." It was a very proud moment for him.
MiLB.com: With so many prospects now starting to come through the Mets system, how exciting is it to be a part of that?
Harvey: Anything that can help the team and have a positive look on winning some games and getting back into contention and trying to make the playoffs is exciting. Being part of that is a huge honor for me. It's something I want to live up to and I'm striving every day to do.
MiLB.com: With guys like Zack Wheeler and Jeurys Familia in the organization, has there ever been any friendly competition about who makes the Majors first?
Harvey: I don't really know Zack -- I haven't met him yet. But with Familia, we are great friends, and I would say there is a bit of friendly competition that neither one of us would ever speak of. When he has a good game, I want to have a good game too. When I have a good game, he wants to have a good game. At that point, I guess it does become a little bit of a competition, but it's not for one of us to succeed more than the other. It's more like if he does well, I want to do well.