When pitcher Mike Harkey was a senior at Ganesha High of Pomona in 1984, Coach Pat Wright knew he had a talent on his hands.
The problem was finding someone who could catch Harkey’s pitches.
“He was a super athlete and a super kid but his pitches moved too much for our catchers to handle,” Wright, former baseball coach at Ganesha, recalled. “His overall record wasn’t very good that year because we didn’t have anyone who could catch him.”
Wright said he had little doubt that Harkey would emerge as a top major-league prospect. So did the many scouts who frequented Harkey’s games.
So Wright was not surprised to hear that Harkey, who has pitched for Cal State Fullerton the last three years, was a high first-round choice of the Chicago Cubs in the major league free agent draft last week. The 20-year-old was the fourth overall selection and first among college players.
Neither was Cal State Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido surprised: “We knew that he would be a high draft choice because of how scouts were following him over a two-year period.”
Added Harkey: “I wasn’t very surprised about where I went because scouts had pretty much told me I would be one of the first picks.”
As late as draft day, Garrido said there was a chance that Harkey would be the first player selected. “He was considered the No. 1 player by the Seattle Mariners, and their priorities just went in a different direction.”
It is not difficult to understand why everyone is bullish about Harkey.
At 6-5 and 210 pounds, Harkey has the size and athletic ability. His fastball has been clocked at 97 miles per hour and he has a good slider.
“He’s a power pitcher, no doubt about it,” Garrido said. “He has a good fastball and a good slider, but I think the biggest asset is his overall athletic ability, which is what’s going to put him in the big leagues faster than most people.”
Harkey’s athletic ability was in evidence at Ganesha, where he starred for the baseball and basketball teams. “The football coach wanted him to play too but he was involved in the other sports,” Wright said.
As a senior in basketball, Harkey made The Times All-San Gabriel Valley team by averaging 21 points a game and leading the CIF Southern Section in rebounding. But he was ignored by most major-college basketball scouts.
“I loved baseball and basketball but baseball seemed to be the right route because of my size,” Harkey said. “I wasn’t well thought of out of high school (in basketball) because of my size, but it was OK for a pitcher.”
Scouts thought he was more than OK because he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 18th round of the 1984 summer free agent draft.
But Harkey decided not to sign and opted for a scholarship to Cal State Fullerton, which had established one of the top programs in the nation.
He said it was the best decision of his life.
“I think my college experience has made me a lot more mature than I would have been otherwise,” he said. “I think I’m a lot more ready (for pro baseball) than a high school kid.”
Harkey won’t receive an argument from Garrido, who saw his pitcher’s record steadily improve the last three years for the Titans. Harkey was 2-3 as a freshman, 8-6 as a sophomore and 10-2 with a 2.72 earned-run average this season. A preseason All-American selection by Baseball America and Collegiate Baseball magazines, Harkey also made the All-Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. first team.
“That’s steady progress in (light) of the fact that the expectations for him were high and the pressures were great,” Garrido said.
Harkey proved to Garrido that the high expectations were warranted. The selection of Harkey was the earliest that a Cal State Fullerton player has been drafted, higher than Tim Wallach of the Montreal Expos who was picked 10th in 1979.
Garrido said Harkey ranks with Wallach as one of the school’s best players ever.
“He’s the best athlete we’ve ever had at any position,” Garrido said.”
Garrido said Harkey is not mature as a pitcher but has the ability to develop, “has the opportunity to become a star in the majors.”
Harkey is a Southern California native but is happy that he was drafted by the Cubs.
“I had no preference of teams,” he said. “I’m looking forward to playing for the Cubs. They’re a nationally known team because they’re on cable all the time. So it’s not like people (in Southern California) won’t get to see me play.”
Harkey, who will be assigned to Chicago’s Class A Peoria, Ill., farm team of the Midwest League, hopes it will not take him long to reach the majors.
“Ever since I played T-Ball as a little kid, I have always dreamed of playing in the majors,” he said.
The only holdup is signing a contract, which may be a little more than a formality. But Harkey has been negotiating with the Cubs and expects to sign soon.
And as soon as the Cubs make their best pitch to Harkey, he will be ready to deliver a fast one in return.