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Draft prospect Harris has room to grow

After staying healthy and filling out, Missouri State righty a hot commodity

Ryan Howard and Bill Mueller may be Missouri State's most famous baseball alumni, but the Bears deserve to be known as a pitching factory. They've sent nine arms to the big leagues in the past 10 years, most notably Shaun Marcum and Brad Ziegler.

That group also includes first-round picks Ross Detwiler and Brett Sinkbeil and supplemental first-rounder John Rheinecker. Pierce Johnson, a supplemental first-rounder in 2012, has pitched his way to Double-A with the Cubs and should give Missouri State another Major Leaguer in the near future.

The Bears are likely to have another first-round pick this June in Jon Harris, who might have more upside than any of the Missouri State pitchers who have come before him. Harris, the No. 10 prospect on MLB Pipeline's Top 100 Draft Prospects list, has a deeper repertoire than any of them, with one area scout saying that all four of Harris' pitches can grade as plus and do so often.

"He's a true four-pitch guy, and we've never really had one like him," said Paul Evans, the Bears' pitching coach since 1989. "Jon is a very good athlete, and he had four pitches when he got here. There's been some refinement and we tweaked some things, but he knew how to spin a true curveball and throw a true slider, and he had feel for a changeup. He had advanced pitches coming out of high school."

Big league teams had interest in signing Harris out of Hazelwood Central High (Florissant, Mo.) in 2012, but he carried just 160 pounds on his 6-foot-4 frame and didn't have enough present stuff to warrant a bonus that would divert him from Missouri State. After turning down the Blue Jays as a 33rd-rounder, he has added strength and velocity throughout his college career.

Harris now carries 190 pounds and usually pitches at 92-94 mph with his fastball, which features nice run and sink. His curveball is his best secondary pitch, as he can command it for strikes or entice hitters to chase it out of the strike zone. Harris' slider gives him a second distinct breaking ball, and he has significantly upgraded his changeup.

"He's matured on the mound so much," a second area scout said. "He's a good leader and a great competitor. He has a plus fastball and he's always had a good feel for his curveball. His changeup is a grade better now -- that's the separator for him. He's trusts it and he'll stick with it even if it gets off to a slow start, throw it in any count. His fastball command has improved, too. He pitches inside better now."

Harris has reduced his ERA from 3.87 as a freshman (when he won his first eight starts) to 3.16 as a sophomore and 2.29 so far this spring, when he has notched 89 strikeouts in 74 2/3 innings. He has recovered from a sprained left ankle in mid-March to deliver six quality starts in seven outings since then, often pitching in front of a growing audience of general managers, scouting directors and scouts.

Evans believes Harris still has room to get stronger and better.

"He's still projectable," Evans said. "I think other than his ability, that's what intrigues scouts. He came in at 6-foot-4 and 160 pounds, and he was a twig. Now he's 190 and he's still a pencil. You can dream on that body putting on another 25 or 30 pounds.

"We've had a lot of guys come in with that similar body type: Brett Sinkbeil, Ross Detwiler, Brad Ziegler, Pierce Johnson. With those decent-sized but thin-bodied guys, if you can put strength and weight on them, they'll make a push."

Now Harris is making a push to go in the upper half of the first round. One of the few top college pitching prospects this spring who has produced on the mound and stayed healthy, he could be the best model yet to come off Missouri State's assembly line.

Jim Callis is a reporter for and writes a blog, Callis' Corner. Follow @jimcallisMLB on Twitter.