First Pitch: Where Should the Pirates Play Josh Harrison When Polanco Arrives?

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.

Links and Notes

**Prospect Watch: Homer From Alen Hanson, Reese McGuire Keeps Hitting

**Prospect Highlights: Homers From Gregory Polanco and Mel Rojas Jr.

**Minor League Schedule: Three Pitchers Try to Stay Hot on Sunday

  • You have forgotten Jay Hay as long relief.

  • RF, let Polonco play left and sit Marte. Yes, kidding. I just can’t believe how bad his approach at the plate has been this year. I get the league had a year to adjust to him, but he’s been exposed.

    • True statement. Get used to it. He’s our version of Soriano or Starling Castro, he always will be

  • I’m so frustrated with Alvarez’s play that I’m hoping he goes on one of his usual two week tears and can be dumped for something. Heck, at that point let Harrison have 3rd base.

  • Everybody is excited about Harrison and so am I but nobody can say what he would become if he was a starter. Teams would pay more attention to him and adjust.
    I think everybody agrees he has been great for a week, lets just wait and see how things play out before they start moving people around. There is a few more weeks before Polanco arrives. Lets see what happens, in 3 weeks everybody may forget about Harrison.

    • I might add this is pretty much the same thing Tim said I just said it a little differently.

  • It’s highly unlikely Josh will remain a .900+ OPS bat for very long. But let’s say he settles in at the low .800 OPS level for this year. How bad would his defense at SS have to be for him to achieve an overall 1.5 WAR (Mercer was 1.4 in 2013).

    I’m actually more concerned about losing his table-setting at leadoff than I am with his defensive liabilities at SS. When Josh isn’t in the lineup, what are the options for leadoff? Are we going to put Polanco there? Stick Marte back up there and set him up for more failure? IMO, it has to be Polanco, there is no other option. And if that’s the case, would the Bucs be setting him up for failure?

    My inclination, harsh as it sounds, is that if Mercer doesn’t pick up his offense steeply in the next 2-3 weeks, once Polanco arrives, send Mercer down to AAA and work on getting his bat back. Play Josh there with Barmes in spot starts to support Morton and others as needed.

    The way this team continues to pitch, games are going to have to be won on offense for the foreseeable future. So let’s not take out a weapon that works.

    • Yes Polanco is a leadoff hitter. I’d love Harrison at #2 with how he is currently playing.

  • lonleylibertarian
    May 25, 2014 11:01 am

    It has been fun to watch a player who seems to care do well – Jay Hay brings a lot of energy and has played better in RF than I thought he could/would. He should be on 3B against LHP – has earned that role with his play. And I would think he might get another 20-30 starts by giving a day off to the OF and Walker now and then. The really interesting question is what to do with Snider and Tabata – they.have very little or no value in trades.

  • I would like to see Harrison play 3rd base against lefties….

  • weltytowngang
    May 25, 2014 8:59 am

    I think the fo is trying to trade Snider right now and Harrison will keep his status as is.

    • No great loss if Snider goes, but he’s a pretty good LH PH and the best one this team has currently so I would just outright cut him

  • I say Harrison plays SS against righties. Against lefties he plays 3B and Mercer starts at SS. Barmes, Tabata, and Snider need to go when they bring up Polanco. Add a bullpen arm and Lambo to the roster.

    • So you would live with awful defense at SS 2/3 of the time? Not me.

    • with our shifting……is anyone really playing shortstop half the time anyways? Time to think outside the box.Harrison won’t play awful defense anywhere, and UZR is still garbage

  • 3rd Base…….

  • Hot Harrison = Tony Phillips. 75% of starts at any or all positions, resting starters, and leading off. Cold Harrison = Bench.

    • I wish Harrison drew walks like Tony Phillips. He would be a really nice player if he got on base more.

  • Dom DiDominic
    May 25, 2014 8:11 am

    JHay has been awesome, but when GP shows up, he goes to the bench. He will still get a ton of playing time and over 400 AB, but he is a bench guy.
    Marte gets banged up, Pedro & NFW can get breathers v LHP. Even GP & ‘Cutch won’t play every day. Bottom line, JHay is the first option in the lineup for ALL those guys.
    Short, outside of a late inning offensive replacement, he should not be at SS. He is, by far, the third best option there.

  • pirateradio
    May 25, 2014 7:53 am

    Prior to the Ike Davis trade, I’d say Walker at 1st, Harrison at 2nd. Also with Neil’s sudden increase in power, he’s hitting more like a 1B than anyone we’ve had since Adam LaRoche

    • pr: I tried the Neil Walker at 1B for most of the Winter, but the Lambo folks beat me mercilessly. Then after ST I tried that again, but no luck. You see, that would have opened 2B for some starts, but my person for 2B would have been Alen Hanson. I thought that maybe Neil Walker was so valuable at 2B that we should offer him an extension. But, the “don’t extend over 30” crowd did not like that. Neil Walker had 16 HR’s last year and is on a pace for 20 or 25 this year. Leading the team in HR’s? How is he doing for RBI’s? His Walks plus HBP (8) bring him close to a 1:1 ratio. Can he play 2B in the Top 10? What are we waiting for?

  • Scott Kliesen
    May 25, 2014 7:01 am

    Not enough room in the lineup for all the productive hitters? Let’s just say, I’ll believe it when I see it.

    If I were CH, I’d be telling Harrison to come in early to take grounders at short every day.

    • SK: The Pirates are going “moneyball” with the new #2 thru 5 guys in the order. Walker, ‘Cutch, Davis, and Martin have a combined total of 87 Walks and HBP, and only 94 K’s. And Marte seems to like it down in the order – in May he has a .912 OPS with 5 doubles, 2 triples, 3 HR’s and 12 RBI’s. Amazing numbers to me for a guy who has 2 W’s and 18 K’s – go figure!

    • If JHay ever becomes our regular day SS, we are in a ‘heap o’ trouble”

      • It could be Ian Desmond and his 46 errors, or are we waiting for Hanson for that great honor

  • Injuries always seem to solve this type of problem. But his ability to play passable shortstop and our pitchers being out of options might force Mercer to AAA temporarily.

  • Tim, Jim Leyland used to say anecdotally, ” I never cut a player, he cuts himself”. Well, this may be one of those times where a player “himself” has OUTGROWN his “utility” tag. If the Cubs still had Josh Harrison, he would be starting over Darwin Barney at second base because of how his bat plays. It is possible (although it is a small sample size) that he’s figured out how to make adjustments at the Major League level. I mean, he’s been getting better every year…especially with his plate discipline. It is not a stretch to say that he could START in this league…somewhere.

    • mam: Good points, and the trade with Chicago that was “bad” for many years is now starting to look better. I am not sure that JHAY has ever had a run like this, but you are right – there are teams who could use him as a starter at 2B – I wonder how many second basemen the Yankees have tried since Cano left? Does Toronto have a viable second baseman? The Pirates would not want to trade him, but I think they would do so if the price was right and if it meant a good opportunity for Harrison to become a starting 2B.

      • emjay…I never thought that trade was ‘bad’…Grabow was ‘not good’ for the Cubs at all. Nor was Gorzo.

        • Grabow was good when we sent him, as was Gorzo, but I think he might have pissed someone off. We knew Harrison was a utility player, but was it Hart we were after in that trade? Call it the curse of the goat or whatever, but Grabow did nothing for the Cubs and was grossly overpaid, and Gorzo ended up in ‘waukie. Answered my own question from above – Brian Roberts is the Yankee 2B, but, at 37 leaves a lot to be desired with the bat and with the glove, and they have nobody even listed in MLB qualifying stats as their RF. JHAY would have to shave, but he could be a tremendous asset for that team in either RF or 2B. And, those balls that are on the warning track at PNC would be in the stands in NY.

  • Ron Loreski
    May 25, 2014 3:03 am

    If the Pirates plan on platooning Polanco, then they might as well trade him now for a real shortstop and a front of the rotation starter.

  • Is it too much to think that Harrison and Polanco will platoon in right field? One is left handed and the other is right handed

    • Ron Loreski
      May 25, 2014 3:05 am

      2 minutes ago

      If the Pirates plan on platooning Polanco, then they might as well trade him now for a real shortstop and a front of the rotation starter.

    • Polanco has hit LHPs as well as RHPs in the minors. Why platoon him? Platoon him with KDro and have him fill in all around the diamond (except CF and C).

      • Yup. If anyone has earned a demotion to a platoon situation it’s one Pedro Alvarez. At this point he is a season killer – pure and simple. I would platoon Harrison at third and keep him playing most other days by spelling Mercer, Walker and the outfielders. As long as he’s hot, you’ve got to keep him playing. This team has no more margin for error.

  • You say Mercer needs to be horrid to see Harrison at SS, I think it’s safe to say he already has been.

    • Marty….he has hit well in May. His UZR is above average. That is far from horrid.

      • As far as the term horrid, I’ve yet to see J-Hey look horrid anywhere including the spot starts at SS. He is at least as valuable as Mercer. SS is not the impossible position to play many make it out to be and Harrison is adept there if not spectacular – I’ve yet to see Jordy look any better IMO. I think Jordy could use some more time in Indy while we look to Harrison at the top of the lineup. Sound clip please………
        SS- Harrison
        2b – Walker
        CF – Cutch
        1b – Davis
        C – Martin
        RF- Polanco
        LF – Marte
        3b – Pedro
        P – (Bench – Tabata, Sanchez, Barmes, ”TonyMontana”)
        Exactly where Pedro’s .200 average should be… and he likes walking occassionally which is good for getting the P to the plate.
        Harrison being a super utility keeps the lineup at 12 and allows 13 pitchers which is also good for the weaker starting pitching group this year).

        • I sadly would have to agree. I think Jordy is a good hitter, but he is also very streaky, and a negative WAR player when he is in a slump. He is back in that slump, so what now……if Harrison is still hitting in a few weeks, you let him start vs. lefties at 3rd, spell Neil occasionally at 2nd, spell anyone else who needs it and then start him occasionally at short. Get him 4-5 starts a week somewhere, somehow. Give Cutch a few days off, put Marte in 2nd, he looks like he needs to clear his head lately

      • Lee- You gotta be kidding me dude. Do you even watch the games?

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