When the Twins opened spring training in February, Ryne Harper’s name didn’t show up anyone’s list of position battles or roster projections. Yet, nearly a month in the season, Harper has emerged as a reliable member of the team’s bullpen.
A 37th round draft pick by Atlanta in 2011 out of Austin Peay State, Harper spent five seasons in the Braves organization before a December 2015 trade sent him to Seattle. The right-hander pitched for two years in the Mariners system before signing a free agent contract with the Twins in 2018. After a year split between Double A and Triple A, the Twins invited the journeyman to spring training in 2019.
Using an array of breaking balls, Harper navigated the exhibition season without allowing a run in 11 innings. The Tennessee native impressed the team enough to earn a spot on the Twins opening day roster.
Aside from a 3-run hiccup in Monday’s win at Houston, Harper has been nearly perfect, posting a 2.70 ERA with 7 strikeouts in 10 innings so far. I caught up with the 30-year-old rookie last week.
DZ: You’ve been up here…roughly three weeks…What are your impressions so far?
HARPER: It’s been awesome. It’s a fun environment. Fun clubhouse. Great group of guys. It’s awesome to get out there and compete at the highest level. It’s like I said, awesome locker room, laid back, nice guys, laid back staff that just has our backs. Nice group.
DZ: Obviously you’ve got off to a good start. How important is it to you, being your first big league action, to get that confidence?
HARPER: It’s good to get out there, the more you play, the more confidence you get. But you can’t focus on anything, like big picture, you can’t really focus on that. You’ve got to go with what you’ve done always done. Day by day. Whatever happens, happens. But my goal, each time I get out there is to focus on the here and there and do the best I can each time. I can’t worry about the next time I’m out there. I can’t worry about the last time I’m out there. Just go out there and focus on back to back.
DZ: When did you find out you made the team? How did that all go?
HARPER: At the end of spring training. Pretty much the second to last day, so I kind of knew they had to make a decision soon. The second to last day, they called me in there and told me, and it was unbelievable. I was excited. I knew we had something special with spring training, I wanted to bring it to the season. I think this team will be able to do a lot this year. We got a lot of great hitters in the lineup. Lot of great pitchers. Just like I said over and over, this is an awesome group of guys. We mesh well.
DZ: Did you have an inkling you were going to make the team? Or you just totally on the fence about it or how were you thinking?
HARPER: When I came to camp, I was trying to open up eyes, (so) the staff gets to know me a little bit, recognize who I am. But I didn’t go to camp expecting to make the team, but I wanted to try and open up eyes to make the team? Yes. Of course. At the same time, towards the end, it was like, “Oh man, I actually do have a shot at this”. So I just, like I told you now, I just focus on the here and there not thinking about, “Next day am I going to make the team?” Or “Yesterday held that one”. Just try to do the same thing I’ve always done.
DZ: I read in 2017 you were called up by Seattle, and you were with the team for a couple weeks but never got into a game. What was that all like?
HARPER: Yeah, I was there for a few days. It was great. It was an awesome feeling. It was the first time, so it was special to get up there with that team just to have that feel like, “Oh I made it”. But, I never got to pitch, so I didn’t really get to get up there and get comfortable and situated. Still, that was an unbelievable opportunity, and I’m thankful that I had it. But, it’s definitely a little more special this time, being able to feel like more a part of the team.
DZ: Did that help you at all going in to this?
HARPER: It helped me, I guess, part of the comfort, relax level like, kind of being there. The biggest thing, probably this year, was getting to know everybody at camp. How nice and how good the group it is in camp, that helped me to feel more comfortable. But this is obviously more special because of the relationships that developed and getting to get in there and be a part of the team.
DZ: Being 30 years old, in reality you’re a pretty young guy, you know, in sports it’s middle-aged, I guess.
HARPER: Oh yeah. 30 is pretty old to be a rookie. A lot of guys are still playing in league are 30 and 30 plus, but yeah, I know it’s a little old. Something I felt like I was capable of doing, I just never quit. If I would have felt like I was getting worse or whatnot, I would have slowed down, but I feel stronger each year. Honestly, mentally stronger every year too, which helps you in the actual game because you learn yourself and you learn how to compete.
DZ: I was checking out your Twitter page, and I noticed in your bio you mentioned you were a fantasy football owner. It must be something you’re pretty into?
HARPER: I am into it. I’m a big Titan’s fan. I’m from Clarksville, Tennessee, right outside of Nashville, so I’m a big Titan’s guy. We love our football. Me and my buddies back home, we just got to get on there and talk smack to each other. It’s a lot of fun. I do take it serious because I’m competitive. Fantasy football is a fun thing, I just love doing it.
DZ: It looks like you’re overall just a really big sports fan. You talk golf, basketball, little bit of everything.
HARPER: Oh yeah. Love playing baseball. Obviously hobbies are keeping up with football, golf, Tiger’s my favorite athlete. Then winning the Master’s. That was pretty special watching that on Sunday. So football and that and obviously basketball too.