The Cubs acquired Harben from Minnesota last September after dealing Phil Nevin to the Twins. A 15th-round pick from the 2002 draft, Harben was 4-9 with a 3.96 ERA in 29 appearances (22 starts) at Double-A New Britain of the Eastern League in 2006. He struck out 74 and walked 67.
Entering 2006, Harben was ranked the 12th best prospect in the Twins’ organization by Baseball America.
Can you describe the moment you first felt the elbow go?
I was here in Arizona pitching in the Fall League and just threw a curveball one start. I felt some pain and at first I didn’t think it was that big of a deal, but I saw the doctors and they discovered my UCL was completely torn. Before that, I really didn’t think it was going to be that big of a deal.
How are you feeling now?
Pretty good. I start my throwing program around the end of March or early April.
Were you surprised to be invited to big league camp knowing you wouldn’t be able to compete this spring?
A little bit, yes. Before I got hurt, I would have gone anyway, but I figured once I got hurt ... we had talked about it, but I didn’t know it was actually going to happen. I was surprised, but I’m happy to get a chance to go.
What about the initial reaction to being traded for the first time in your career?
I don’t think anybody ever expects to get traded. It was mostly shock, going to a place where I didn’t know anybody and knowing there would be a whole different group of guys. On the other hand, it was kind of exciting once that initial shock wore off. I knew the Cubs wanted to trade for me and that they were probably going to give me a pretty good opportunity.
Before the injury, what were some of the things you were working on in the Fall League?
Just keeping the ball down. I had been working with Les Strode and Kenny Howell (Dodgers pitching coach). Everything was going well until I got hurt.
We know you and the Cubs were looking for your command to return. Where did your command differ last season than in years past?
I’ve always been a high walk guy. A lot of times, though, it didn’t hurt me, especially in the Florida State League. My control was a little off last year. I don’t want to say it was because of the elbow for sure, but I think it probably had something to do with it. My velocity was down as well. (In 2005) I was around 90 to 96 (mph). This past year, I was around 88 to 92.
How much of an inclination did you have that something may have been wrong with your elbow before that last appearance out in the Fall League?
The first half of the season, I never really felt anything was wrong. Once I hurt my elbow and actually felt something, I still didn’t think it was that big of a deal because I actually had the exact same pain in 2005 when I was in Fort Myers. I never saw the doctor and only missed a start or two, and it didn’t bother me any more after that. After I quit throwing for about a week or so and got treatment on it, the pain went away.
Most of these operations require 9-12 months on the shelf before you’re really ready to return. Is that about the same ETA you currently have?
There’s always a possibility that you can get a little ahead of schedule. With the way things are going, it’s hard to say. I think it’ll be at least August or September before I can throw in a game. Maybe I’ll pitch in a game this year or in the Fall League next year, but it’s all wait-and-see.