The Pittsburgh Pirates are waiting for Gregory Polanco to arrive. More specifically, they’re waiting for the Super Two deadline to pass, so that they can call up Polanco and avoid a hefty increase in his salary during his 0-6 years. One of the big issues with this has been the struggles from right fielders Travis Snider and Jose Tabata. The combined struggles of those two players, plus the fact that Polanco wouldn’t be up until mid-June, led to increased playing time for Josh Harrison.
So far, Harrison is making the most of that added time. Prior to delivering the eventual game winning hit tonight, Harrison had a .340/.392/.553 line in 47 at-bats since May 3rd, which was his first start in right field. He has received increased playing time in right field since that point, and has started the last five games in a row at the position.
Obviously when Polanco arrives, there won’t be room for Harrison in right field. His current success at the plate comes in a very small sample size, so I wouldn’t give it too much credit just yet. But if Harrison keeps hitting, he would represent one of the hottest and most productive bats on the team. So where could the Pirates play him?
One area where he could get some playing time would be in a platoon situation. This is another small sample size, but Harrison has done well against left-handers in the last two years. Neil Walker would be a prime candidate to bench in favor of Harrison, except Walker has been doing well against lefties this year. Pedro Alvarez has always struggled against lefties, and that has been the case this year. So the Pirates could play Harrison at third with a left-hander on the mound.
But what about when a right-hander is on the mound, aka, at least two-thirds of the time? The only position Harrison could possibly take over would be shortstop. That would keep his bat in the lineup, but the defense given away wouldn’t make his bat worthwhile. Harrison has a -11.9 UZR/150 in just 167 innings as a shortstop. I’d use the small sample size card here, except Harrison has never really been a shortstop in the minors, entirely due to the fact that he’s not a good defender there. Jordy Mercer would need some horrid offense in order to be worse overall to Harrison at shortstop.
When he was coming up through the system, Harrison looked like a future super utility player. It’s possible that he’s moving into that role now. He can play second, third, and short, along with the corner outfield spots. He’s not the best defender, although he can handle right field and third base better than his other positions. It’s possible that the Pirates might have to bench him when Polanco arrives, even if Harrison continues to hit well. It wouldn’t be the worst thing for the Pirates to have someone like Harrison coming off the bench. If they want to get back to being contenders, they’ll need a good hitter to turn to in the later innings. Also, because he can play several positions, the Pirates could get Harrison several starts per week off the bench.
For now, I wouldn’t rule Harrison’s hot streak as anything more than a pleasant surprise. He’s hitting like a starter at the moment, but he profiles as a bench bat. If he does keep hitting like a starter over the long run, then the Pirates might have to find him a regular position. Until then, he’ll get plenty of playing time until Polanco arrives, and should still get a few starts per week at different positions, after Polanco takes over in right field.
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