Outfielder Connor Harrell had a breakout season with the High-A Lakeland Flying Tigers in 2014. His performance really put him on the prospect map for the Detroit Tigers after being their seventh-round draft pick in 2013.
Harrell actually put himself on the baseball map at Vanderbilt. He was their starting center fielder all four years he attended the school. He got the chance to play in the College World Series in 2011, a defining moment in his college career.
“The College World Series was a dream,” Harrell said. “It’s everything you work toward as a college player, and the opportunity to play the first CWS game at TD Ameritrade made it even more special. It was certainly a highlight of my time at Vanderbilt.”
Harrell was drafted by the Tigers twice. He signed after his senior year at Vandy and called the moment “another dream come true.”
Harrell went to finish out 2013 with the Low-A West Michigan Whitecaps in his first pro season. He hit .237/.320/.373 and showed promise in his first pro ball action. He had a high OBP and showed promising power.
Harrell’s OBP is helped by his ability to get hit by pitches. Sometimes a guy will just have an unlucky year (or lucky depending on how you view it) and get hit by a lot of pitches. Harrell had just that kind of season in 2013, when he was hit by 11 pitches in 65 games. That was no outlier though. In 2014, Harrell got hit by 19 pitches. He never missed a long period of time though, playing in 131 of his teams 140 games.
In 2014, Harrell got hit by 19 pitches. However, he never missed a long period of time as he played in 131 of his team’s 140 games. Harrell said there’s no method behind getting hit and that getting hit so much dates back to college.
“It’s hard for me to pinpoint why exactly that is,” Harrell said. “Maybe pitchers think they can beat me in, who knows. I enjoy the effect it has on my OBP. That’s for sure.”
While he got hit by many pitches in 2014 for Lakeland, he also really broke out to the tune of .270/.344/.423 along with 14 homers and 15 steals. He has the talent, but he’s really grateful for his coaches along the way too. He credited 2014 to Dave Huppert and Larry Herndon, the manager and hitting coach respectively for the Flying Tigers. He had high praise for both of them.
“Dave Huppert and Larry Herndon were a joy to play for,” Harrell said. “I think my game really benefitted from being around those guys. More than anything, I learned how to make quicker adjustments. Playing 140 games a year requires you to be able to adjust, and I think I was able to do that as the year progressed.”
Those weren’t Harrell’s only great coaches, though. He’s been lucky enough to have some other great ones along the way as well. He credits his coach at Vandy, Tim Corbin, for being the most influential on his game. Corbin just won the College World Series at Vandy in 2014.
“[Corbin] taught me a great deal, more about being a good man than being a good player and I’m very thankful to have had the opportunity to play for him.”
Harrell also appreciates what Vandy’s assistant coach Travis Jewett did for him.
“[Travis] has also played a huge role. He took a personal interest in me during my last year at Vanderbilt and it has really paid off.”
Harrell was moved around in the batting order a lot throughout his 2014 campaign and hit third a lot towards the end of the season.
“[I’m] comfortable hitting anywhere the staff places me,” Harrell said. “I spent some time hitting second, fourth, and fifth as well, and I was able to learn my role in each slot. I’d like to be as versatile as possible.”
Harrell is a five-tool player by many measures. He has decent power, hits well, is fast, can field, and has a great arm. The tool he takes the most pride in was his defense.
“I credit the guys at Vandy for instilling that in me. I think enjoying the position has really helped me become the defender I am today, and it’s something that I hope to continue improving upon,” Harrell added.
Harrell will probably start 2015 in Double-A Erie, which he’s excited for.
“There’s obviously always improvement to be made, and I’ve worked quite a bit this offseason to accomplish some of those goals. More than anything, I’d like to just have competitive at-bats each game throughout the season, focusing on one pitch at a time. I think I learned how to do that more successfully during the second half of last season, and it’s something that became very important to me. I’m not sure what 2015 has in store. I’ll leave that up to the organization and do what I can to play at the highest level I can.”
Harrell has a good chance at seeing some time in Detroit at some point if he keeps it up. He could join former Vandy hurler David Price there too. One more interesting fact about Harrell is he has a ton of former teammates in the Tigers organization alone. He played with Kevin Ziomek, Drew VerHagen, Adam Ravenelle and Aaron Westlake at Vandy — all of whom are in the Tigers organization. Also Curt Casali was traded for Kyle Lobstein, but drafted by the Tigers.