It hasn't exactly been a straight path, but University of North Carolina ace Matt Harvey seems to be just about where he was three years ago at this time.
Back in 2007, Harvey was thought to be one of the better high school arms in the Draft class. He and Rick Porcello made a dynamic duo coming out of the Northeast, Porcello from New Jersey, Harvey from Connecticut. Both had committed to North Carolina. Both were advised by Scott Boras. Both slid in the Draft because of signability concerns. Porcello went No. 27 overall to the Tigers and is now a part of Detroit's rotation. Harvey lasted until the third round when the Angels took a chance. They couldn't come to terms, and Harvey became a Tar Heel, knowing the three years of college might do him some good.
"Obviously, you learn a lot going to college, pitching against some of the best hitters in the country in the ACC," Harvey said. "I'm just trying to get more consistent with my pitches. Mainly, the thing I've worked on is my mound presence when things aren't going too well, keeping a steady mindset."
That mentality certainly was tested during his sophomore year. He was coming off a solid freshman campaign and instead of building on it, he appeared to go backwards, finishing with a 5.40 ERA. Harvey started to mature physically and get stronger, particularly in his lower half. He made the mistake of trying to use that more in his pitching, taking him away from what worked for him and forcing him to dip and drive too much in his delivery.
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"It was a growing year," Harvey admitted. "I had a lot of mechanical issues. My approach to the game wasn't where I wanted it to be. I felt confident going into this year that my approach would be the same every time. That's what I learned from last year's ups and downs."
There haven't been too many downs for Harvey in his junior season. Through his first nine starts -- he'll make start No. 10 on Friday night at Clemson -- Harvey has gone 4-2 with a 2.59 ERA. In 59 innings, he's allowed just 44 hits and 26 walks while striking out 60. Once again, Harvey is being talked about as a first-round quality arm.
There are still some things to work on, scouts say. His delivery, while vastly improved from last year, still needs a little cleaning up. His command isn't pinpoint, something that's been an issue since his high school days.
Those are smaller issues now because of how many things Harvey had corrected during this offseason. In a big matchup against fellow first-round hopeful Deck McGuire and Georgia Tech, Harvey was clocked at 96-97 mph and maintained that velocity throughout his seven innings. That's something that wasn't happening during that sophomore campaign.
"I was getting tired after the second or third inning, almost like my body was drained," Harvey said. "I had never been that way; I had always gotten stronger as the game went on. It took the offseason, throwing with my dad, working with [Tar Heels pitching coach Scott] Forbes, watching video. That was the main help."
Harvey has made other adjustments as well. Coming out of high school back in '07, scouts raved about his plus curve, a true overhand breaking ball. Now he's featuring a slider more, and since it's new to his repertoire, it's not quite there yet. Harvey assures scouts who may think he scrapped the curve that it's still very much a part of what he brings to the mound.
"Obviously, I still throw the curveball," Harvey explained. "The slider was something I picked up in the offseason and thought I'd be able to control it a little bit more. It's still a pitch I'm learning to throw, when and where I should use it in the game. I haven't ditched the curve at all. That's still my bread-and-butter pitch."
There are no regrets at all for Harvey these days, even if he sees Porcello pitching in the big leagues. He'll admit to having a second thought or two during that typically bumpy transition to college, but now, perhaps because he's worked his way back into the same area on Draft boards, he's more than comfortable with the path he chose.
"For most freshmen, that first semester is real tough," said Harvey, who has tried to keep his focus on getting UNC to regional play, believing the Draft will take care of itself. "I had a tough go at it my first semester at college. I thought every once in a while back to whether I should've signed.
"As I grew and matured, I realized what a great place Carolina is. It's almost a second home. The decision I made -- even if it was double or triple what I got offered -- I still wouldn't have taken back my decision for anything."
Jonathan Mayo is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.