Rhett Harper shows he’s dynamic by switching from outfielder to pitcher

Rhett Harper walks onto the field after warming up for a Georgia State baseball game. Photo by Tarilyn Johnson | The Signal
Rhett Harper walks onto the field after warming up for a Georgia State baseball game.
Photo by Tarilyn Johnson | The Signal

Making a position switch from outfielder to a pitcher on a Division I level is a tough task to accomplish. What’s even more challenging, though is becoming a closer; a prolific closer at that.

However, by noticing how quickly senior Rhett Harper has adjusted to his new position on the Georgia State baseball team, one may have a difficult time believing the position switch was as difficult as it sounds.

Harper, who committed to the Panthers baseball team as an outfielder, mentioned that Head Coach Greg Frady ultimately ignited the idea of him becoming a pitcher for the ball club.

The idea didn’t arise naturally, but more so as a desperation move by Coach Hardy, which, in the end, proved to be beneficial to the team’s success.

“I pitched in high school, and I actually signed as an outfielder with Coach Frady,” Harper said. “But last year we had a couple injuries —key injuries to the pitcher staff, and about a quarter way in the season, coach came up to me and said ‘you know, we need something in the bullpen in the back end of the game, ‘ and I said  yeah, I’ll do whatever it takes for the team—take the role, and it just kinda carried over into this year; And I like it.”

While Harper closes out games effortlessly, he admitted that there were some aspects of the transition from outfield to pitcher that were challenges.

“Different arm position, maybe,” Harper said. “Just getting my arm back in shape for pitching, throwing longer stamina wise. I think that’s the biggest thing for me.”

With Harper being the team’s closer, pitching in a game for more than a few innings would be atypical.

But perhaps the most nerve-wracking aspect of being a closer is actually closing out a game. According to Assistant Athletic Director Allison George, Harper has three saves and an ERA of 0.93.

So just how does Harper remain cool, calm and collected in these clutch situations?

He admitted that he gets a thrill out of having the pressure mounted on him in those closing moments, which is the mentality that every closer should possess.

“It doesn’t really get to me, I guess,” Harper said. “I played three sports in high school, so I like it. I like being out there and everybody watching the last little throws out there.”

Harper credited his coaches for his development in his new position. While he has put in a tremendous amount of hard work into his craft, he knows that a considerable amount of his success has come from the coaching staff.

“With the help of coach Bootcheck, our new pitching coach, he knows so much about the game — just coming from the majors and what not, he’s just helped me develop,” Harper said. “Anything I need, I’ll come to him one day and say what can I do to help my fastball, and he’ll help me.”

“Along with Coach Bootcheck, just our whole pitching staff. They’re always behind everyone. Whoever goes out there, whether it’s me or Logan, or anyone else, it’s just always 100 percent effort and 100 percent backing each other up. So, I think that’s where it comes from.”

There’s no doubt that Harper is a naturally talented baseball player, but one may wonder if he would have been better off as an outfielder.

Harper, however, knows that he is better equipped to help the Georgia State team move forward as their closer.

“I guess on certain days I’m gonna have to pick a pitcher,” Harper said. “I like to think I like pitching better… I think I fit well into it, and I like doing it.”

“I like being around the guys and staff, and being around Coach Bootcheck.”

Along with being a stud on the baseball field, Harper is also a scholar in the classroom. Harper currently has a 4.2 GPA and seems to have the recipe to making A’s.

“I just make some time; I try to prioritize practice with school and whatnot,” Harper explained.

He also credited mom and dad for his success in school.

“It just really starts with my parents. They made me strive to get good grades all throughout school and through my life, so making them proud through grades makes me prioritize it.”

Harper has endeavors to become a better pitcher. He knows that to continue to be that clutch closer the team needs, he has to continue to work on his craft.

“I think just making sure I get better accuracy wise — hitting certain spots I need to hit,” Harper said. “Just being ready at any time, being flexible — if something happens in the game being ready to go. And just getting a little more velocity on my pitches or whatnot. That’s what I need to do.”

Rhett’s 2016 pitching stats

  • Pitching for the first time, he went 2-2 with a 6.04 ERA in 13 appearances
  • Had 23 strikeouts and just four walks in 22.1 innings
  • Made the first mound appearance of his college career vs. Jackson State (3-14-16), pitching the ninth inning of the 11-5 win
  • Earned his first win vs. Savannah State (3-22-16), when he pitched a 1-2-3 10th inning with two strikeouts to set up the Panthers’ walk-off win
  • Pitched 2.1 scoreless innings, allowing just one hit, vs. No. 23 South Alabama (4-29-16)
  • Two scoreless innings with three strikeouts to finish a 13-5 win over Alabama A&M (5-3-16).