By Alexis Brudnicki
Canadian Baseball Network
Who is better suited to talk about a player than his teammate?
When the Toronto Blue Jays selected Jon Harris with the 29th overall pick in the 2015 Major League Baseball Draft on Monday, the team’s first choice of the night, among the members of his incredibly excited Missouri State University squad was one player who has some familiarity with the right-hander’s potential future team.
Joey Hawkins, the Bears’ everyday shortstop in his senior season and a native of Whitby, Ont., grew up watching his hometown Blue Jays but has spent the last three years watching Harris take the mound for his team. On Monday, those worlds collided.
“When he came [to MSU] he was already a pretty polished pitcher,” Hawkins said. “He came in and started as a freshman, which was pretty special. Then coming into this year he had four pitches that are just way above average, with a plus fastball.
“He dominated this year in Division-I on a really good team. I thought he deserved to go higher [in the draft] but he’s playing for the team I grew up watching my whole life, so that was also pretty cool.”
Hawkins hasn’t had a chance to fill Harris in on all things Canadian as of yet, but he will as soon as gets a chance.
“Not even close,” Hawkins said. “But he is a hockey fan, so that’s a start. He’s a [St. Louis] Blues fan.”
The Bears were the nation’s No. 8 seed heading into playoffs this season with the Florissant, Mo., native as their Friday night starter. Harris went 8-2 with a 2.45 ERA in 15 starts and 103 innings, with 36 walks and 116 strikeouts, holding opponents to a .202 average. Hawkins believes much of his teammate’s success is a credit to having four pitches he can throw at any time.
“He can command all four pitches in basically any count,” the Canadian infielder said. “He has the ability to put a 94-mile-an-hour fastball on the black, or he can throw a get-me-over curveball in a 2-0 count, he has a put-away slider and a great changeup to throw to lefties. Really his whole repertoire is really, really special.”
Hawkins has seen Harris evolve throughout his three years at MSU, the 6-foot-4, 190-pound righty already coming a long way but still having some room to continue to develop as he moves forward.
“He came in and was pretty polished but he really needed to put on some weight when he got here,” Hawkins said. “He did that, but he still has room to grow into his frame. His command over the last three years has really jumped, and he was able to make pitches in big spots this year, compared to the last two. He can throw any pitch in any count and that’s definitely something I’ve witnessed over the last three years.
“He’s really evolved off the mound too. He had good leadership and guys took him under their wings on the pitching staff and he turned into a leader on our pitching staff for this team. That was pretty special to watch.”
Hawkins and the Bears were surprised to see the 21-year-old hurler fall to Toronto on the draft board, but were excited for the program and supporting their teammate the whole way.
“There were a few of us who got together and went to a little sports bar to watch,” the middle infielder said. “Just to see his name called and to see our school up there on MLB Network is pretty special for all of us. To know that we helped him along the way is fun to see, and it was fun to celebrate as a team even though he wasn’t there. We were all rooting for him.”