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Why Kyle Harrison can be the next great SF Giants pitcher

The SF Giants have produced several elite starting pitchers over the past two decades, and Kyle Harrison has all the makings to join that group.

Once dubbed a pitchability lefty with mid-rotation upside out of high school, SF Giants prospect Kyle Harrison has proven that he has the makings to be far more than just an average starter. Over the past two minor-league seasons, Harrison has been the most prolific strikeout artist in pro baseball (343 strikeouts in 211.2 innings pitched) despite routinely facing hitters more than three years older than him.

All of those punchouts unsurprisingly led him to post outstanding numbers across the board. His 2.71 ERA last season was the 13th best in the minors among pitchers who completed at least 100 innings pitched. His xFIP (2.91) was the lowest of the group.

It was not all smooth sailing for Harrison, though, once he jumped from High-A to Double-A. Of course, when you dominate the lower minors to the extent Harrison did, it's hard not to expect him to take at least a small step back. He still posted an elite 36.4% strikeout rate, and kept his walks in check enough to post a 3.11 ERA.

While statistics serve as a useful guide, they ultimately are secondary to a prospects tools. No one cares how much a player struggled or thrived in the minors once they reach big-league ball. As scouts will constantly remind you, it's about what a player will become not what they are right now. For Harrison, his tools give onlookers reason to believe he can soon carry over his minor-league success to the next level.

Harrison's fastball sits in the mid-90s and plays above its velocity because of his unique low release height of around 4.6 feet and 13 inches of horizontal movement. It's essentially unhittable when he locates it in the upper third of the strike zone. Moreover, the southpaw routinely showed the ability to reach back for more velocity as his outings went on. He reached 98 MPH in September, despite approaching a career high for innings pitched in a season. It's harder to find a better testament to his excellent conditioning and arm strength than that.

Yet, Harrison is more than a fastball-only thrower. His low-80s slider has wicked potential above-average drop and sweep. He also has a high-80s changeup that can be his best secondary pitch even as he experimented with a variety of grips. At its best, the changeup will flash similar running movement to his fastball but with around a foot and a half of vertical drop on top of it. All three of his offerings have the potential to be plus pitches.

For a guy who was so, so good in 2022, there are still things that Harrison needs to improve. Most importantly, his strike-throwing. Even though his control improved, particularly getting called strikes, he still posted a below-average walk rate of 10.5%. If Harrison ends up plateauing, and settling into a mid-rotation or back-end starter role, it will likely be because he's unable to locate his pitches at a good enough level.

There is no surprise to see Kyle Harrison shooting up prospect rankings after two dominant seasons since forgoing his commitment to UCLA to join the SF Giants organization. Following in the footsteps of homegrown All-Stars like Matt Cain, Tim Lincecum, Madison Bumgarner, and Logan Webb, Harrison has the potential to be the next great starter to join that group. After proving he could hold his own against Double-A competition last season, Kyle Harrison will likely start 2023 at Triple-A, debuting at the highest level of the minors before his 22nd birthday. At that point, a big-league promotion could be just around the corner.