Top Prospect Alert Interview:
Tony Harper -- Los Angeles Dodgers
By Ben Lipson
A former Wisconsin State Championship winning pitcher, Los Angeles Dodgers catching prospect Tony Harper is now turning some heads with his skills behind the plate. Having overcome shoulder surgery that cost him his entire 2005 season, Harper rebounded with a solid 2006 campaign at Low-A Columbus where he batted .287 with 6 homeruns and 32 RBI's in 78 games. Harper is on tap to begin 2007 at High-A Inland Empire.
Top Prospect Alert is pleased to bring you an interview with Los Angeles Dodgers catching prospect Tony Harper.
TPA: When did you first realize you were a pretty good baseball player? What was your little league / youth league experience like? Was there a time when you had to decide that you were a baseball player first and scale back participation In other sports as a kid?
TH: I started playing organized baseball when I was 8 years old. I realized then that baseball is what I wanted to do with my life. I played little league for five years then my father got me started in AAU. I played that starting when I was 12 and all the way through high school. I've traveled all over the place and played very tough competition and I enjoyed every minute of it. I would say a few other sports took a back seat once I figured out I wanted to be a pro ball player. But I did manage to play other sports for three years in high school, but any free time I did get it was mainly spent on working on baseball.
TPA: How influential was your family during your prep days?
TH: I couldn't thank my family enough, my parents supported everything I did and what I wanted to do. They were at every sporting event I have ever been in. My father got me started on traveling teams and everything throughout my high school career and my game became 10 times better then what it was. I still thank him every day for the opportunity he gave me.
TPA: What was it like being part of the state championship winning team in high school your senior season? What was the feeling when the final out was recorded?
TH: Winning the state title was a great experience for all of us. I had a great team. We all got along and we all had one goal and that was to win it all. When you have a whole team pulling in the same direction its pretty hard to be stopped. We were always there for each other through the good and the bad. I won't ever forget the bond I had with the guys. The feeling I had once the final out was made was nothing like I've ever felt before. I was so happy, we were all jumping around, crying in happiness and realizing that our dream came true. We had a big dog pile on the mound I mean it was like something out of a movie.
TPA: Talk a little bit about your draft and follow experience. Why did you decide to head to a JUCO rather than sign immediately after being drafted out of high school.
TH: I was drafted in 2003 to the Dodgers in the 11th round, and everything was very exciting but even before the draft it was stressful and hectic. There were people calling me everyday asking me questions, scouts coming to practices, coming to my house, and so on. So when draft day did come and I received the call I was very happy that all the madness was finally over and I could relax. The reason why I didn't sign out of high school, wasn't because the money wasn't right, it was just that I wanted to go to college and experience that whole thing. I wanted to see how I would react living on my own so far from home, to live in a dorm, to meet people from different states, rely on myself to get up and go to class and what not. But looking back on the whole thing I wish I would have signed out of high school. Because of me going to college it almost cost me my chance to play pro ball. Me and the coach from the school I went to got into an argument and he was saying all this bad stuff about me to the Dodgers, and it was all a big mess but I'm glad everything worked out in the end.
TPA: How tough was it to lose a season to Tommy John surgery? How did the time off affect you physically and mentally? How hard was it to work yourself back into playing form?
TH: When I found out I was going to need Tommy John I was shocked, devastated, angry, but most of all kind of worried because there is a chance that you won't come back from the surgery as strong. Now the time off (16 months) affected me more then you could imagine. First off I got lazy during rehab. I put on some weight because I wasn't playing and it just kept adding on. Mentally there were many times where I considered calling it quits and coming home. This was only because I was still having pain up to one month before spring training and I didn't think there would be a chance in hell that I would be ready. But I took upon myself to work harder, lose more weight and finally the pain went away and I was able to play to the best of my ability. What I did in that final month was spend two hours in the gym, working on conditioning. It was a lot of hard work and it took a lot of determination and I am very thankful that it all came into place just in time to have a good spring training.
TPA: How has pitching in high school helped you relate to other pitchers as a catcher in the pros?
TH: Pitching in high school has helped me out in calling a game because I have a better understanding of how to set up hitters and understanding the different situations throughout a game on what pitches to call. Also, talking to the pitchers before a game to see how they wanted to attack every hitter in the lineup, so I guess it gave me a little bit of an edge. But being a catcher whatever sign I put down it was only a suggestion, if they didn't want to throw the pitch I called then I would just have to figure out which one they did want to throw.
TPA: You were originally scheduled to play winter ball in Hawaii this year, why did that end up falling through?
TH: Yes I was supposed to play winter ball. I was really disappointed that I was unable to make it out there to show everyone what talent I have. I was in Arizona working out, getting ready to go out there when I felt something in my elbow again. It was a sharp pain and I could barely throw the ball back to the pitcher. I was like what the hell is going on here. So the trainers decided to have my arm looked at, and an MRI and it showed that I had a big bone chip floating in my Tommy John Ligament. They told me that they were not going to send me out to Hawaii hurt. So they flew me out to Doctor (Frank) Jobe's office in California and I had arthroscopic surgery and that was the reason why I was unable to make it out to Hawaii for winter ball.
TPA: What's been your best memory so far as a pro?
TH: The best memory I have on the field would have to be last season in Columbus. We were playing the Rome Braves, the game was tied going into the 10th, our lead off guy got on and I came up to bat. It was a 2-2 count and the pitcher hung a breaking ball and I belted it over the right field wall for the game ending walk off homerun. But off the field was just hanging out with the guys on our team, chilling at our apartment, having a good time and thats something I will never forget.
TPA: What is the best advice someone has given you during your baseball career and how have you used that to improve yourself as a player and person.
TH: Well I remember someone once told me, you only live once and you have a God given ability to play baseball and don't let it go to waste. I have a chance to become something great and that has always been my motivation. There were always people doubting me saying that I wouldn't ever amount to anything. So whenever times get rough I just think about what that person said and that's what keeps me going and striving to be the best that I can be.
TPA: What does a typical day in the off season consist of for you? What aspect of your game are you working on the most?
TH: I wake up everyday and stretch, do a push up and sit-up routine. Then in the afternoon I got to the gym and work hard, lifting weights, work on conditioning and so on. The aspect of the game that I am focused on right now is my foot work, I jump rope, ladder drills, dot drills, I do this stuff because I want my foot work behind the plate to better then it was last year.