- Bats Right, Throws Right
- Height 6' 4", Weight 210 lb.
Matt Harrington is the first player to have been drafted five times since the abolition of the January draft.
Harrington struck out a team-high 19 for Team USA when they won the 1998 World Youth Championship, their first World Youth Championship. He was 1-0 with a 4.00 ERA; only Sean Burnett had a worse ERA for the Americans. Harrington also was 2 for 5 at the plate. He was first chosen by the Colorado Rockies in the first round of the 2000 amateur draft, with the 7th pick overall. Considered the best high school pitching prospect in the country at that time, he was also named the Baseball America High School Player of the Year for 2000. He was timed at 98 mph and went 11-0 with a 0.54 ERA as a senior, striking out 126 in 65 innings while walking 21.
However, he refused to sign after a protracted and bitter dispute with the Rockies, highlighted by his agent Tommy Tanzer alleging that the Rockies had reneged on a pre-draft promise to pay him a $4.95 million signing bonus (the Rockies were reportedly offering a bonus of $ 3.7 million). Plenty of players out of high school fail to sign after being drafted, even in the first round, but in this case, Harrington had not prepared any fallback options, such as a college scholarship. He thus spent the following months without pitching competitively at any level as the negotiations dragged out without success.
In 2001, Harrington signed with the Northern League's St. Paul Saints, in order to show teams his pitching form, but the results were disappointing: he still could throw the occasional 97 mph fastball, but he was also battered to the tune of a 9.87 ERA, and an 0-2 record with 18 walks in 19 innings. In the draft he was selected by the San Diego Padres in the 2nd round, and again failed to come to an agreement; the Padres were expecting to sign Harrington at a considerable discount, given his year of inactivity and offered him $1.2 million. His agent insisted on an amount similar to that which the Rockies had offered the previous year, and the two sides parted ways quickly. Harrington fired agent Tanzer in September of 2001 and signed on with Scott Boras. Boras also failed to come to an agreement with the Padres and let his client re-enter the draft, all the while criticizing Tanzer for having had Harrington play in the Northern League, whose caliber was too high for him at this stage of his career. Harrington's family later sued Tanzer for damages for providing them with poor counselling, in order to make a name for himself. In reply, Tanzer pointed to his long history of successfully representing major leaguers and claimed that the Harringtons never took his advice in any case.
In 2002, as teams had become wary of the gap between Harrington's bonus demands and his recent lack of competitive pitching, he fell to the 13th round, where the Tampa Bay Devil Rays picked him. In his play that year, the fastball seemed to be gone: he went 2-3, 6.84 in five starts for the Fort Worth Cats of the Central Baseball League and 0-3, 6.68 in seven starts for Long Beach of the Western League, two independent teams. In 2003, he returned to Fort Worth, posting 2-6 record with a 3.64 ERA and over a strikeout per inning in 33 games, mostly in relief. He underwent surgery on his rotator cuff after the season. He entered the 2003 amateur draft where he was picked in the 24th round by the Cincinnati Reds, but they were only willing to sign him for the minor league minimum salary, without any bonus. In the 2004 amateur draft he was selected by the New York Yankees in the 36th round, but they failed to even offer him a contract due to concerns about the health of his shoulder. He only pitched 7 games for Fort Worth that year, going 1-2, 2.77 in 26 innings. With each passing year, Harrington's stock fell further, especially as his results in independent baseball were disappointing, and concerns about the state of his arm mounted. However, having once turned down a multi-million dollar signing bonus, Harrington was unwilling to swallow his pride and accept the much-reduced offers that teams were willing to make after all these lost years.
In 2005, Harrington went 5-0, 3.55, in 23 games as a reliever for Fort Worth. When he was not selected in that year's draft, he became a free agent, allowed to sign with any major league team, but none showed interest. In 2006, after the Cats had moved to the American Association, he was a teammate there of Boras client Luke Hochevar, who had also refused to sign after being a sandwich round pick in the 2005 amateur draft. Hochevar kept on impressing scouts however, and was chosen first overall in the 2006 amateur draft by the Kansas City Royals. In contrast, Harrington's fastball topped out at 87 mph, and he was 20 to 30 pounds overweight, undermining his 6-1, 2.90 record in 39 relief appearances. Working with pitching coach Dan Smith, Harrington lost significant weight and worked on resurrecting his curveball. The results were good enough that the Chicago Cubs signed him to a minor league contract in October 2006. However, he was released at the end of spring training in March 2007 and when last seen was trying to catch on once again with the St. Paul Saints.