MESA, Ariz. –- In eastern Connecticut, residents are busy shoveling snow well into spring training, so the area doesn’t have the reputation of a baseball hotbed.
But what a starting rotation the Fitch High baseball team boasted in the spring of 2007. One day the Falcons could trot out Matt Harvey, a future first-round pick and All-Star with the New York Mets. The next game, opposing hitters would face Jesse Hahn, the less heralded of the two who nonetheless posted a state-record 0.17 ERA as a senior.
Several years later, both are in the big leagues, and Hahn might be poised for his own breakthrough with the A’s. He already made a strong first impression last season, jumping from Double-A to the majors and posting a 7-4 record and 3.07 ERA in 14 games (12 starts) with the San Diego Padres.
Hahn was acquired by Oakland in December in a deal that sent catcher Derek Norris to the Padres. With the A’s needing to replace three-fifths of their starting rotation this spring, the 25-year-old Hahn is one of the more compelling players to monitor in A’s camp. Should he and Harvey ever oppose each other in a major league game, it’d make for quite the story back home.
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“I coached for 28 years, and to have two kids go that far is pretty unique,” said Ed Harvey, Matt’s father and the Fitch High coach when both pitchers starred there. Their baseball paths have intertwined ever since they began playing Little League against each other.
After dominating at Groton, both signed with Atlantic Coast Conference schools, Hahn attending Virginia Tech and Harvey choosing North Carolina.
“I think they kind of fed off each other,” said Hahn’s father, Fred. “ They didn’t want to get out-done by the other. Jesse was a little over-shadowed by Matt, but it gave Jesse a chance to be seen.”
Fred Hahn knew early on that his son was gifted athletically. He just wasn’t sure what sport Jesse would ultimately choose.
“I actually thought when he was real little that basketball was his best sport,” the elder Hahn said. “Then it evolved into football. He was one of those kids that was good at everything. The first time he ever got on ice skates, he could ice skate.”
Hahn hit a rapid growth spurt as a high school sophomore, and by his senior season he’d reached his full height of 6-foot-5. At 190 pounds, Hahn has an athletic frame that suggests he could still do damage on the basketball court. Quizzed about how good of a dunker he was in high school, Hahn’s face lights up.
“I can still do a lot of pretty good ones,” he said. “I never threw down any 360’s or anything in high school. I could off the court, but I think if I would have done that (in a game) and missed, I wouldn’t have been playing too much.”
Hahn was pegged as a first- or second-round pick coming out of Virginia Tech, but he suffered an elbow injury as a junior in 2010 that required Tommy John surgery. The Rays wound up taking him in the sixth round anyway.
In 2013, Hahn posted a 2.15 ERA at Single-A Charlotte before the Rays sent him to the Padres as part of a seven-player trade before the 2014 season. Then in December, the A’s landed him along with highly regarded reliever R.J. Alvarez in exchange for Norris, minor league pitcher Seth Streich and international bonus money.
Dan Feinstein, the A’s director of professional scouting, was a member of Tampa Bay’s front office when the Rays drafted Hahn. He said Hahn’s overall athleticism is an asset.
“Hand-eye coordination and athleticism go hand-in-hand with being able to repeat a delivery and throw strikes,” Feinstein said. “When you have these good athletes who time and again can repeat their delivery, those are the guys who can control the strike zone.”
Hahn’s fastball sits in the low 90’s and he complements it with a 12-to-6 curve ball that is his put-away pitch. Hahn says he’s determined to improve his changeup as a legitimate third pitch.
A’s manager Bob Melvin came away impressed after Hahn’s first bullpen session of the spring Friday.
“He’s a tall guy, and the ball gets downhill pretty good,” Melvin said. “I told him his first curve ball buckled me, and I was standing behind him.”
Hahn and Harvey don’t get a chance to speak much these days, but Harvey is making a comeback from Tommy John surgery that wiped out his 2014 season. It’s an experience his old high school teammate knows all too well.
“It’s such a successful surgery now,” Hahn said. “Stay positive and be patient with it. Matt’s a great athlete, he knows what he’s doing.”
Hahn drew inspiration as he watched Harvey emerge as an All-Star in 2013, posting a 2.27 ERA with 191 strikeouts in 26 starts with the Mets.
“It kind of just gave me confidence,” Hahn said. “I grew up with him. To see he was able to break through and have that type of year, I knew I could do it too.”