ALTOONA — Josh Harrison and Brock Holt are two names that have been thrown around quite often in the Altoona press box and clubhouse by players, coaches, and media members. Not only did both players provide a jolt offensively in the minors and majors alike, they also gave the Pirates’ organization positional flexibility.
Looking at their times between Double-A and Triple-A, both players found the field every night, but in different positions through the years. Harrison split time between second and third while playing for the Curve in 2010, then he went to the AFL and played second, third, and left field. The following year, Harrison played both second and third for Triple-A Indianapolis. Brock Holt was on a similar track in 2011 for Altoona when he began the year at second base then moved to shortstop after Jordy Mercer’s promotion to Triple-A. After his time in Double-A, Holt split his time between second base and shortstop in both the AFL and Triple-A.
Looking at their major league playing time now, Harrison obviously plays anywhere you throw him, and he seems to excel no matter where he is positionally. Brock Holt, in case you haven’t seen, has played each of the seven fielding positions for the Red Sox this year, including seven games at first base.
To the Pirates, moving players around the field in different positions is an approach that they are trying to use more in their minor leagues. They want to prepare players to play any position once they reach the major leagues.
Pirates Farm Director Larry Broadway recently spoke to me about the importance of players being able to play multiple positions.
“We’re going to keep guys moving around in different positions and keep them all versatile,” Broadway said. “When we look at our major league club, if guys get hurt at different spots, we want to be able to get the best player up there and ready. The only way to do that is if a guy can play multiple positions.”
Broadway noted multiple players in the system that they want to continue to move around, including Adam Frazier and Max Moroff in Double-A, as well as Alen Hanson and Gift Ngoepe in Triple-A.
“We are doing that with multiple players. – Hanson and Gift for example,” Broadway said. “Just the way the game has been going, you’re starting to see that managers really value versatility more.”
In Altoona, Moroff and Frazier, as well as Jose Osuna, have provided the Curve with the ability to shift players around. Not only has it benefitted the players, it has given the organization the ability to move players through the system without someone being blocked.
Moroff began the year as the everyday second baseman, and he has moved around between second, shortstop, and third base through the second half of the year. Moroff’s ability to move around the infield has allowed players like Erich Weiss to move up to Double-A. Moroff said that he has never played third base before this year.
“They mentioned it to me about three weeks before first playing at third base,” Moroff said. “I never played third base in my life – little league and on up – so it’s still new to me. If I’m back, I’m pretty comfortable because of playing shortstop before.”
Manager Tom Prince added that it adds value to players like Moroff, and he is pleased with how Moroff has responded.
“He’s going to be moved around a little bit more,” Prince said. “It adds value to him. They (the Pirates organization) tell me to do certain things, and I can do some and not others. We’ll just continue to move them around.”
Moroff is ready to play whatever position he is told to play. Tom Prince laughed when asked about Moroff, saying “I might just catch him, too.”
“They wanted to give me an opportunity to play more positions, and to be more versatile,” Moroff said. “I’m honestly surprised I’m not in the outfield yet. I never played outfield, but I would be alright with it.”
Along with Moroff, and probably more notably, Adam Frazier has been bounced around all over the field since joining Altoona in May because of a hand injury in Spring Training. Frazier began the year in the outfield, where he’s never played before, and slowly transitioned to playing more everyday shortstop, his natural position. Frazier has noted in the past that he welcomed the playing time, no matter where he was playing.
“I don’t care where they play me,” Frazier said, “as long as I’m out in the field.”
Lastly, Jose Osuna has been solid at first base for the Curve. He bounced around left and right field before Josh Bell’s promotion to Triple-A, and then he made the move to first base, his natural position. He has been a good fielder, and with strong footwork. With room to add muscle and grow, Osuna profiles more as a first baseman moving forward, but his quickness allows him flexibility.
Tom Prince shared his thoughts on Osuna at first.
“He’s a very good first baseman,” Prince said. “He played a lot of first for us last year. He’s very comfortable moving around the bag. His athleticism allows him to play a little bit in the outfield – as he did earlier in the year.”
Ultimately, having players that can play multiple positions is never a bad thing for an organization.
The only thing you worry about is that players may not be able to develop defensively as well as you’d hope. In the case of these current Curve players, that may be somewhat of a worry. Frazier hasn’t shown the greatest arm from shortstop, and it may be tough for him to stick there moving forward without getting stronger. In Moroff’s case, he has not looked good at shortstop in the past, but he profiles better as a second baseman.
The emphasis now is to get players the experience playing in multiple places.
“Josh Harrison came onto the club with a bat and energy,” Broadway said, “not necessarily a starting spot at one, but he was able to get every day at bats in left, right, second, short, third. All of the sudden, when you play for long enough, you get solidified at certain spots. Being able to have that versatility, you’re bringing the energy and bringing the offense, they are going to find a place for you in the big leagues. If you can equip a guy with the weapons, if somebody goes down at any position, a guy can step in and play.”
Sometimes you never know where a player is most likely to stick in the majors, and the organization’s job to make sure a player is ready to play. And when it comes to players that are hitting the cover off of the ball, they will get you on the field. Larry Broadway closed it out perfectly.
“If you can hit, you’ll have a spot.”