DES MOINES, Iowa — Blaine Harpenau can go into the 2020 season knowing there’s room to improve. However, he can look back at his sophomore year with the Remsen St. Mary’s High School baseball team and realize he had a breakout season.
Harpenau led the state with 91 1/3 innings pitched and the Hawks sophomore had the second-most strikeouts in the state with 163. Of the 19 pitchers statewide who recorded 100-plus strikeouts, Harpenau was fourth in that group with a 0.69 ERA.
The walks were few, too. When the calendar turned from June to July, Harpenau issued only four free passes and the Hawks ace ended the season with only 15 walks.
Harpenau tried to go the distance in that Class 1A semifinal loss to Alburnett after shutting down Martensdale St. Marys in the quarterfinals.
Even though the Hawks couldn’t beat the Pirates, Harpenau threw 6 2/3 innings and held Alburnett to three runs.
With those stats, Harpenau is the 2019 recipient of the Journal Baseball Player of the Year.
“It was tough at first losing a game like that (to Alburnett on a safety squeeze play), but after we looked back at the season, it was really an amazing season,” Harpenau said. “If you would have told me that we would’ve been at semis at the beginning of the year, I’d taken it in a heartbeat. I’m glad we had the season that we did.”
Before each start, Harpenau liked to lift weights. That allowed him to recover faster on the mound, maintained his velocity, plus it got his body in pitching mode.
“I think I was bigger this year,” Harpenau said. “Last year, I wasn’t as strong. I want to put more weight on this offseason. I have room to improve no matter what.”
The Hawks rising junior will hit the weight room as the academic-year calendar makes its turn, but don’t expect him to pick up a baseball.
Just like last fall, Harpenau will shut down all baseball activities until the winter. Sure, he’ll think about how to get better and reminisce on Remsen St. Mary’s making it to state for the fourth consecutive time.
However, Harpenau knows when it’s time to shut the arm down.
This was part of the plan all along, regardless if Harpenau threw 50 innings or 90-plus innings.
The sabbatical also allows Harpenau to focus on the Hawks’ upcoming football season and the basketball season that hopefully will result in another appearance at the state tournament at Wells Fargo Arena.
When the winter comes, Harpenau will use weighted balls and resistance bands to help him gain strength with his arm, which Harpenau realized helped him this last offseason.
RSM baseball coach Dean Harpenau will also have his son work on two pitches that may even help him improve his strikeout-to-walk ratio: The slider and the changeup.
Blaine Harpenau admitted that he didn’t use his changeup as often as he wanted to during the game against the Pirates. Because his fastball got so many opposing hitters to swing and miss, Harpenau put the changeup on the back burner.
Harpenau saw success with his changeup during his eighth-grade season, and he pitched in that state tournament, too.
“We could have used (the changeup) more (this year),” Dean Harpenau said. “He hadn’t used it as much. It depended on the day.”
Blaine realizes the importance an improved changeup can bring to his arsenal.
“Developing it and locating it will improve my pitching,” Blaine Harpenau said. “It will keep (opposing hitters) off stride.”
The slider, meanwhile, was a pitch Dean Harpenau had as a pitcher at the collegiate level. College programs are calling and coaches are wondering if Blaine Harpenau has one.
He doesn’t but that’s going to hopefully change when Blaine Harpenau reports to the Prep Baseball Report preseason all-state workshop in Waukee in March.
Dean Harpenau doesn’t think it’ll take his son to get the techniques of the slider down.
“I think colleges will want him to throw a slider,” Dean Harpenau said. “I think most of it is grip and the release of it. It looks like a fastball, and it drops out of the strike zone at the end. That will bring more strikeouts. Teams were keying in on the fastball, and aggressive on the fastball.”
Blaine Harpenau is on board for adding a pitch to his palette, too.
“The more repetitions I get with it, the more comfortable I’ll get with it,” Blaine Harpenau said. “I won’t be as predictable with what’s coming. Hopefully, I can more ground balls and shorter at-bats.”
Blaine Harpenau can’t believe that he has to start thinking about college, and it didn’t hit him how close the next level was until coaches started contacting the prospect.
College coaches can’t officially contact Harpenau again until Sept. 1, but there are a couple of programs that have reached out.
According to Dean Harpenau, Iowa, Valparaiso, Xavier and South Dakota State have come calling, along with small-school programs that include Briar Cliff University, which is where his brother Brady currently plays.
“I’m going to leave it up to him where he wants to go,” Dean Harpenau said. “He will figure out where he’s most comfortable.”