The Pittsburgh Pirates are in the peculiar position of having a hot bat in utility man Josh Harrison but nowhere to put him in the lineup.
Anyone who regularly watches the Pirates is familiar with the grit, athleticism and heart that Harrison brings to the field for every game. He’s finally found himself regular playing time this year after riding the bench since 2011, mostly as a defensive replacement.
Harrison is hitting .306 this year, good for second on the team only behind star Andrew McCutchen. He’s already had 206 at-bats this season, only 43 fewer than his career high set in 2012.
His play can’t be measured in just stat lines, however, as evidenced by his baserunning and superb play in the field.
Even general manager Neal Huntington said in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette this weekend that Harrison has surprised everyone this year and has earned the right to play every day.
The only problem is the team has nowhere to put him.
First, it was right field before the organization called up top prospect Gregory Polanco. Then it was left field to help ailing Starling Marte get healthy and second base before Neil Walker came back from an appendectomy.
Now the entire lineup is back and healthy, leaving Harrison as the odd man out despite his productivity.
As mentioned previously in a Bleacher Report article, some fans have been clamoring for weeks for Harrison to take over at third base for Pedro Alvarez.
However, a June 30 column by Ron Cook in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette debunked that idea as Alvarez himself said the issue has never even been breached. That’s not to mention that Alvarez is finally showing signs of heating up after a productive weekend series against the New York Mets.
However, Huntington did admit that the team isn’t getting what it needs from first base. Cook said:
Huntington acknowledged the Pirates aren't getting the power production they would like out of platoon first basemen Ike Davis and Gaby Sanchez. Going into the games Sunday, the Pirates first basemen ranked 13th in the National League in batting average, tied for 12th in home runs, tied for 13th in RBIs and 13th in OPS.
Regardless of where the team decides to stick him, it’s very apparent that Harrison has earned the right to be in manager Clint Hurdle’s lineup every night.
The team is 7-3 in their last 10 games and has one of the best records in baseball since the beginning of May—right around the time Harrison entered the lineup.
According to Pittsburgh Post-Gazette writer Bob Smizik, Harrison has transformed himself from a fringe roster player to one of the best in the lineup.
"There’s no getting around the fact Harrison, previously slotted as a bottom-of-the-roster guy, has been one of the Pirates‘ best players since being given the chance at regular play in early May," Smizik said.
Despite the productivity, Huntington confirmed that the team has no plans currently on giving Harrison a starting job at third base or anywhere else for that matter.
Huntington and Hurdle put more value in Harrison "bouncing around giving everybody rest" than they do in putting Harrison at third and moving Alvarez to first, Cook said.
It’s great to have a player like Harrison around to give the regular starters a breather or to have a solid backup plan if a serious injury arises.
But in that same vein, it’s tough to write a lineup card that doesn’t contain the name of one of the hottest hitters on the team, even if Harrison hasn’t shown sustained success over an entire season.
It doesn’t matter where Hurdle puts him. Josh Harrison has earned the right to start every game.