JOSH HARRISON, SECOND BASEMAN
|Born: July 8, 1987
Height: 5′ 8″
Drafted: 6th Round, 191st Overall, 2008 (Cubs)
How Acquired: Trade (from Cubs for John Grabow/Tom Gorzelanny)
College: University of Cincinnati
Agent: Jonathan Maurer
WTM’S PIRATE PLAYER PROFILES
|Harrison came from the Cubs, along with RHPs Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio, in exchange for LHPs John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny. He’s a classic case of a player who’s short on tools — except for a very good hit tool — but performs above expectations. At the time of the 2008 draft, Baseball America’s assessment of Harrison was less than inspiring: won’t hit for power with wood bats, not good defensively, doesn’t pivot well, and only average speed. (The Pirates, by contrast, think he has good speed. You’d think this would be measurable somehow . . . .) Despite the assessment, Harrison has hit for average and decent to good gap power, made very good contact, and shown some base stealing ability. His major drawback is an extreme lack of patience at the plate. When he first reached the majors he would swing at nearly any pitch. Literally. He’s had no significant platoon split in the majors, but had a sizable one in the minors after he reached AAA. Regardless of how fast he may be, he’s a good, aggressive baserunner. In the minors he played second, third and left, mostly just the first two after the Pirates acquired him. The Pirates used him as a backup at short in 2012 in the majors and he started playing there part of the time in AAA in 2013. The defensive stats suggest that he’s good at third, at least solid at second, subpar in the outfield, and simply shouldn’t play short.
Started off in short season ball and hit very well, with nearly twice as many walks as strikeouts. He moved up to low A after 33 games and just held his own in 31 games there. He played mostly second at both stops.
While he was still with the Cubs, Harrison divided his time between second, third and left. He spent two-thirds of the season in low A and hit well. He rarely walked or struck out. He played 18 games at high A with the Cubs before the trade. With Lynchburg after the trade he may have been pressing, because in 34 games he walked just once and fanned 19 times. If he hadn’t been hit with four pitches, his OBP would have been lower than his BA. He split time between second and third. For the season he did well running the bases.
Spent the season at Altoona and did well, hitting for average with doubles power. He struck out only once every ten ABs, but also didn’t walk much. He managed to drive in 75 runs with only four HRs. He started the season playing mainly second, but eventually settled in primarily at third and ended up playing two-thirds of his games there. The move may have had more to do with the fact that the Pirates wanted Jordy Mercer and Chase d’Arnaud at the middle infield positions.
Harrison opened the season at Indianapolis, playing two-thirds of the time at third and the rest at second. He had significant error problems, with very low fielding percentages of .897 at third and .950 at second. He continued to draw few walks and seldom strike out, and he showed a little more power. About two months into the season, with Pedro Alvarez and Steve Pearce both hurt, the Pirates called Harrison up. They sent him back down a couple of times, but not for very long due to their injury epidemic, so he ended up spending over half the season in the majors. Other than a few games spelling Neil Walker at second, he played third exclusively and did not have the error problems he did in the minors. He showed good contact ability and a little gap power, but absolutely no patience. He walked just three times in 204 plate appearances. He swung at pitches over his head, pitches that bounced in front of the plate, pitches that would have been behind a left-handed hitter. He said after one of his trips to the minors that the Pirates wanted him to be more patient, but he wasn’t. He drew no walks in 59 plate appearances in September.
The Pirates got Harrison work at shortstop in fall instructional league and in spring training to increase his usefulness as a utility infielder. Harrison also indicated that he realized he needs to take more pitches. He ended up having a big spring and made the team, serving for most of the year as the Pirates’ primary backup infielder. That included being the primary backup at shortstop, even when Jordy Mercer was in the majors. He doesn’t really belong at the position, but wasn’t horrible; the defensive stats show him to be below average, but not dramatically so, in a small sample size. Offensively, Harrison was very poor. His plate discipline improved from non-existent to nearly non-existent, but he hit very little.
The Pirates’ disastrous acquisition of Brandon Inge and John McDonald resulted in Harrison spending most of the season’s first half in the minors. He started off in the majors while Inge rehabbed in AAA, but went to Indianapolis in mid-April and stayed there until nearly mid-July, except for a few brief stretches. While in AAA, he mainly divided his time between second and short. After coming back up to stay, he served primarily as a pinch hitter, as Jordy Mercer’s emergence left Harrison as the second choice for a utility infielder. In both the minors and majors, Harrison’s hitting improved, mostly in the form of better power. In fact, his 29 doubles in AAA came in less than half a season. His plate discipline improved slightly in AAA, but in the majors he was more impatient than ever. He swung at 53.5% of the pitches he saw; the major league average is about 46-47%.
Harrison produced one of the more remarkable seasons the Pirates have had in years. The team seemed content to open with him as a utility infielder, as it only brought in Michael Martinez to provide competition. With the Pirates getting little offense from right field, Clint Hurdle started playing Harrison there. He started hitting and also showed a knack for getting big hits and making diving catches. From that point on, Harrison stayed in the lineup, moving to second and left when Neil Walker and Starling Marte were out with injuries, and sometimes replacing Pedro Alvarez at third. In mid-August, the Pirates finally benched Alvarez due to his throwing problems and Harrison started at third from there on. After big months in May (.844 OPS) and June (.823), Harrison was a surprise selection to the All-Star team. He got even hotter in August, posting a 356/382/610 line. On the season he showed especially surprising power, although his patience never really improved Harrison played strong defense at third, making numerous highlight-reel plays, and also got national attention by eluding rundowns twice.
At the beginning of the season, the Pirates signed Harrison to a long-term deal, running through 2018 with options for 2019 and 2020. With Alvarez moving to first, Harrison went into 2015 as the team’s third baseman. He started the season in a slump, though, hitting just 213/250/363 in April. With Jung-Ho Kang nearly the only player who was hitting at all, Harrison lost some playing time as the Pirates looked for ways to get Kang into the lineup. Harrison also spent time in right field, replacing Gregory Polanco against some LHPs. Harrison started hitting better in May, but eventually missed most of July and August due to a torn ligament in his thumb. By the time Harrison returned in late August, the Pirates had acquired Aramis Ramirez to play third. Harrison moved back into a utility role, getting starts at second (with Neil Walker sitting against LHPs), third, left (due to a minor injury to Starling Marte) and right. His playing time increased after Kang’s season ended due to a knee injury. Overall, Harrison didn’t hit as well as the previous year. He swung at more pitches both in and out of the strike zone (although his very low walk rate actually increased slightly), and he hit more balls on the ground and fewer balls hard. Obviously, his power dropped off considerably. It wasn’t bad luck, as his BABIP remained high at .336. For the season, Harrison made 57 starts at third, 24 at second, eight in right and seven in left. His defense at third probably wasn’t as good as in 2014, but it’s hard to judge defense with a player moving around that much.
With Neil Walker gone, Harrison became the starting second baseman. He was an upgrade defensively, showing up as a small or moderate amount above average, depending on the defensive metric. Offensively, not so much. Harrison had almost the same season as the year before, with some slippage due to him becoming even more impatient at the plate. Although the results, aside from a lower walk rate, didn’t show it, in a lot of ways his hitting declined from 2015. He had significantly fewer line drives and fewer hard-hit balls, and more ground balls. It became clearer that the power he showed in 2014 was a fluke. He could often frustrate fans by chasing the first pitch in situations where there were men on base and the pitcher had been struggling to find the plate. Harrison started the season well, batting .329 in April and May. He collapsed to a 198/210/297 line in June and wasn’t a lot better in July, before recovering somewhat to a .702 OPS in August. He got hot in September, batting .405 through September 11, when he went out for the year with a groin strain. Harrison remained a plus baserunner and had a very good season as a base stealer.
Harrison’s game isn’t a big mystery. He’s a solid or better defender at second, but his offensive value, apart from his baserunning, is entirely a product of his batting average. He has only modest power and he will. not. draw. walks. Consequently, he has to hit .300 to be a good offensive player. This is evident from Fangraphs’ wRC+ stat, which measures offensive value on a scale that uses 100 as an average hitter. Harrison’s wRC+ was 137 in 2014, 100 in 2015 and 87 in 2016. (The drop between the last two years may seem excessive given the similarity in Harrison’s stats, but the NL-wide OPS went from 713 in 2015 to 733 in 2016, so Harrison lost a good deal of ground relative to the league.) One thing Harrison absolutely shouldn’t be doing is batting leadoff, which is what Clint Hurdle had him doing in about a third of his starts in 2016.
|2020: $11,500,000 (team option with $500,000 buyout)
2019: $10,500,000 (team option with $1,000,000 buyout)
2015: $2,800,000 (plus $1,000,000 signing bonus)
|Signing Bonus: $144,500
MiLB Debut: 2008
MLB Debut: 5/31/2011
MiLB FA Eligible: N/A
MLB FA Eligible: 2018
Rule 5 Eligible: N/A
Added to 40-Man: 5/30/2011
Options Remaining: 2 (USED: 2013)
MLB Service Time: 5.033
|June 6, 2008: Drafted by the Chicago Cubs in the 6th round, 191st overall pick; signed on June 26.
July 30, 2009: Acquired by the Pittsburgh Pirates from the Chicago Cubs along with Kevin Hart and Jose Ascanio in exchange for John Grabow and Tom Gorzelanny.
May 30, 2011: Contract purchased by the Pittsburgh Pirates.