Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Josh Harrison

Josh Harrison joined the Bucs at the 2009 trade deadline along with pitchers Jose Ascanio and Kevin Hart of the Cubs as part of the return for lefties John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. Ascanio and Hart couldn't stay healthy for Pittsburgh, but the fireplug infielder (5' 8", 175 lbs.) is making his case to stick with the big team.

The Cincinnati native is a nephew of former (2006-07) Pirate coach John "T-Bone" Shelby. He played for his hometown University of Cincinnati, where he shared the 2008 Big East Player of the Year award with Lousiville's Chris Dominguez, now a Giants farmhand.

The infielder hit .378 his senior season, and earned second-team All-America honors from Collegiate Baseball. Harrison was drafted by the Cubs in the 6th round of that year's draft, the Bearcat's first top ten pick since 2001 when Kevin Youkilis was selected by the Red Sox. Signing in time to see action at both the short-season Boise and Low A Peoria clubs, he showed a decent bat while playing second base, his college position.

He started the 2009 season still in Low A, where he ripped the ball at a .337 pace before being sent to High A Daytona. There he was groomed as a utility guy, playing second, the hot corner, and some outfield. After he became Pittsburgh property, he was assigned to High A Lynchburg, where he finished with a .270 BA but only one walk in 155 plate appearances. The Pirates used him at second and third.

Harrison spent the 2010 season at division-winning Altoona, hitting .300 with 33 doubles and 75 RBI.  He started the season at second, but was quickly bumped to third as Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud claimed the lion's share of middle infield time for the Curve.

After starting out at Indy in 2011 and hitting .310, Harrison was called up May 30th to replace the injured Steve Pearce, and notched his first big league knock the next day against the New York Mets. He yo-yo'ed back and forth, but managed to get into 65 games, batting .272 while playing mostly at third with Alvarez injured and then sent down. It was an empty BA, though. In 204 plate appearances, Harrison drew but 3 walks, leading to a low .281 OBP.

Harrison has never been regarded as very toolsy. He has decent but not blazing speed, and can hit a baseball; that's his basic toolkit. His arm and fielding are average at best, he's a doubles hitter (Harrison has never banged double-digit homers in any pro season, with a minor league ISO of .118), and he has the plate discipline of Manny Sanguillen, which is to say none. But...

The 24 year-old is versatile (he worked out at short in the spring), and that's a valuable bench commodity. He looked adequate in the field last season, contrary to his farm stats, which could be due to either better focus or the tiny sample size. Harrison can run some, and stole 80 bases at a 72% clip in the minors. He's made consistent contact at every level he's played at, with a career .306 average in the minors. And he won't be outworked.

The next bridge he'll have to cross will come Saturday, when Charlie Morton returns. The Pirates will then have to decide between him and Matt Hague, as one bench player will have to go down to Indy to clear an active roster spot. Yamaico Navarro seems to have claimed the middle infield spot on the bench, so the FO will have to decide which youngster better fits their bench needs.

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