If there has been one player that has stood out in the last three games against Milwaukee, it’s been Josh Harrison. The infield prospect has gone 4-for-11 in this series, with a double, a triple, and his first career home run, which came last night. Harrison has a great opportunity to prove himself in the majors right now, with Pedro Alvarez optioned to AAA, and several other injuries thinning out the Pirates’ offense.
Throughout his time in the Pirates’ organization, Harrison has always been over-looked. When the Pirates acquired him from the Chicago Cubs, he was seen as the third piece in the trade that also brought Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio. His strong play in Altoona in 2010 was paired with the disclaimer about his size, which might prevent him from being a starter in the majors. I’ve even said on many occasions that I project Harrison to have the upside of a super utility player, mostly due to his defense.
Harrison has done a lot to prove doubters wrong. Two years after the Cubs trade, he looks like the best player from the deal, and possibly the only one with a chance of a major league career. He continued his strong hitting in the upper levels, doing well in AAA this year. Now he gets his chance to prove himself at the major league level with Alvarez in AAA.
So far, Harrison hasn’t put up the best results. In 113 plate appearances he has a .265 average, but that average is mostly empty, with a .272 on-base percentage, and a .354 slugging. He only has one walk on the year, an issue from his minor league days, and hasn’t been hitting for power, outside of the last few days. I talked to Harrison on Monday night about the biggest thing he’s learned since making the jump to the majors. The thing he stressed was making the quick adjustments.
“Every pitch, every play is so important,” Harrison said, referring to the difference between AAA and the majors. “Not that it’s not down there. They’re a lot smarter up here, and they take advantage of every little mistake that happens.”
While he wouldn’t acknowledge the opportunity that he’s got with Alvarez in AAA, Harrison definitely has the playing time and chance to make the adjustments needed to be a starter in the majors. He’s a guy who doesn’t draw a lot of walks, but also doesn’t strike out a lot. He makes some ill-advised swings, but also makes good contact at anything close. He’s got some speed, which allows him to beat out some infield hits and boost his average. Then there’s also the defensive issues to consider, as he’s never really had a true defensive position.
He profiles as a poor man’s Freddy Sanchez, and I make that comparison mostly due to the low walks, the low strikeouts, the minor league average, and some of the ill-advised swings. I could see Harrison becoming a .300 hitter in the majors one day. His career minor league average is .306, and he’s hit over .300 at every level, except high-A in 2009. The key to his value will be his defense and his walks. His best defensive position is third base, but he lacks the power you want from a third baseman. His bat profiles better for second base, although he’d need to increase his walks in order to get maximum value as a top of the order guy. He would also have to improve his defense to drive a lot of his value.
The obvious problem with second base in Pittsburgh is that Neil Walker is holding down the position. Pedro Alvarez has more upside at third base if he can ever get things figured out. But Harrison could make things interesting if he finishes the season strong. I could see his upside being close to his .306/.355/.424 career line in the minors. If he could reach those numbers, Harrison would profile as a good number two hitter. That would almost force the Pirates to find a spot for him to get every day playing time. He’s got every opportunity to create this situation over the final month of the season.