Growing up in Pearland, Texas, a suburb south of Houston, Brock Hartson was naturally a fan of the Astros and their famous Killer B’s lineup. In fact, he played baseball against the sons of Craig Biggio.
“I really liked Biggio. He went about the game the right way,” said Hartson. “Playing against his sons, I had a pretty good understanding of who he was as a person and who he was as a player.”
The 6’3”, 195 lb. pitcher was drafted in the 21st round of 2015 out of the University of Texas-San Antonio. He won 22 games in three seasons as a starter in college, never getting a chance to pitch out of the bullpen.
His first assignment after signing was Mahoning Valley of the short season, rookie-level, New York-Penn League, where Hartson had success in 14 appearances – only three in the role of starter.
“It was a little bit of an adjustment in short season,” said Hartson about making the switch from starting to the bullpen. “I think I adapted really well. I just had to get a routine.”
His 1.66 ERA, 4-1 record, and 29 strikeouts in 38 innings on the mound led to a promotion to Low-A Lake County for the start of the 2016 season.
At Lake County he alternated between starting and relieving, making ten appearances in each role. His hard work and reasonable effectiveness earned him another promotion, to High-A Lynchburg, on August 2 where he pitched exclusively as a starter.
In six trips to the mound he chalked up a 2-1 record with 26 strikeouts to only seven free passes. His final start of the regular season came against regional rival Salem, when the Hillcats were battling to win the Carolina League Northern Division’s second half.
Hartson pitched well, totaling six innings with seven strikeouts and no walks while allowing only two runs to a hot-hitting Salem team who had downed the Hillcats in the previous two games of the series.
In the promotion to Lynchburg, Hartson was given an opportunity to demonstrate his potential as a starting pitcher.
“I definitely enjoy starting more,” he said. “I’m trying to take this role, this opportunity. It’s definitely an adjustment and I think I’ve made it well.”
With the Astros, the Killer B’s and Houston’s ace starter Roy Oswalt as models, Hartson has always had a deep passion and respect for baseball over other sports.
“I guess growing up I was watching it [baseball] as a kid and fell in love with the game,” he said. “It just had a special place in my heart from the get go. I played other sports as well, but none of them really stuck like baseball did.”
On the mound, Hartson has four pitches to choose from when dealing to opposing hitters – a fastball, curveball, change-up and slider. It is the last of those which is his most recent pitching acquisition.
“I was originally a three-pitch guy, having a kind of hybrid breaking ball, like a slurve,” said Hartson. “In Lake County I was working with [pitching coach Steve] McCatty and he thought I was better at throwing a true slider because of my arm slot.”
In addition to adding the slider to his arsenal, he has become more comfortable in challenging hitters and pitching his game, rather than allowing the hitters to dictate each at bat.
“I’m not being nitpicky in throwing balls to the corner,” said Hartson. “They are good hitters but I don’t put them on a pedestal, give them too much credit. Of course also keeping the ball down in the zone helps.”
Though the Hillcats were unsuccessful in taking the Mills Cup Championship and adding another Carolina League victory to franchise history, Hartson has had a successful season and looks forward to getting healthy and ready for 2017.
“Going to get healthy, as healthy as I can,” says Hartson about the offseason. “I’ve had hip issues for the past year. We are going to see what’s going on there. Hopefully everything is okay. If not, we’ll get that fixed and move on from there.”
Staying healthy is always a challenge for baseball players due to the long and often grueling season, something players have to experience professionally since college or summer leagues don’t usually require quite the same level of devotion and stamina.
“I think that’s one thing I developed in spring training with the help of all the people that were there,” said Hartson about his day-to-day routine to be prepared for pitching. “It’s been a long year. The longest I’ve played consistently. In college you might have the same amount of innings. The wear and tear everyday, where you’ve got to be at the ballpark, everyday, over many months.”
With a healthy return for the 2017 season, Hartson is likely to make a return appearance on the Hillcats roster.
“I want to get stronger,” he says. “I think that is one place where I can take myself to the next level.”
As Hartson masters his baseball skill and talent, he has elevated his game to give him an opportunity to pursue success. That is all you can ask in the difficult and challenging sport of baseball.
Photo: Tim Phillis/TCP Photography