Friday, February 27, 2015

Pirates' Josh Harrison's versatility leads to breakout 2014, everyday spot in 2015

By Jason Dill
February 26, 2015

Pittsburgh Pirates infielder Josh Harrison barehands the ball Thursday during spring training at Pirate City in Bradenton. GRANT JEFFERIES/Bradenton Herald GJEFFERIES@BRADENTON.COM |Buy Photo

Read more here:
BRADENTON -- It's a different spring for Josh Harrison.
Harrison entered past camps as a utility guy not knowing where or when he'd play.
But based off his 2014 season, in which he hit .315 and stole 18 bases in 143 games, and Pedro Alvarez's transition across the diamond to first base, Harrison has one position to focus on this spring: third base.
"I've come into the past couple springs knowing that I'm competing for a last spot, so I had to come ready," Harrison said. "OK, I'm playing the back-end of games, starting the next day. Playing second then going to left field. Coming into this spring, I know I'm able to focus on third base. And for me that's going to big, just being ready to be sharp by the first game of the season."
Harrison was a National League All-Star in 2014 and finished ninth in the league's Most Valuable Player voting.
It was a year Harrison said he expected of himself because he was given the opportunity to play every day.
"I remember just playing, and every day after the game I'm like, 'I think I'm playing the next day,'" Harrison said. "They would come up to me, 'Hey, left field tomorrow.' After that game, 'Hey, third base tomorrow. Hey, second base tomorrow. Right field tomorrow.' It got to a point to where it was like I got a feeling I'm going to be in there every day, just somewhere different. ... One point that really stuck out to me was the first time I rolled my ankle against the Cubs at home. My ankle swelled up and it hurt. In years past, 'No, I'm not coming out. I don't know when the next time I'm going to play so no I'm not coming out.' It was a bit of good feeling when (manager Clint) Hurdle came up to me and said, 'Hey, go upstairs and get treatment. Get ready. When you're ready, you're getting back in there.'"
Harrison, a native Ohioan, played at the University of Cincinnati. That's where he began playing pretty much everywhere on the diamond.
"My freshman year, I played quite a few positions," Harrison said. "It was my first time playing the outfield, my first time playing third base and they were just like, 'Hey, go be an athlete.' I played football, basketball and baseball all throughout high school. I was just out there being an athlete. It's a little easier for infielders to go out to the outfield, because we're used to turning and going."
Prior to last season's breakout campaign, Harrison possessed the makeup of a player capable of hitting for a high average. He was a career .308 minor-league hitter, which includes bettering the .300 mark in his two stints with Triple-A Indianapolis in 2011 and 2013.
But it wasn't until 2014 that Harrison received regular playing time thanks to various injuries to second baseman Neil Walker and left fielder Starling Marte. Once in, Harrison flourished.
"I came in last spring knowing I was going to be looked at as a guy that was going to bounce around and play here and there," Harrison said. "You never want anybody to get injured, but that's part of the game of baseball. And I've always been told to be ready for your opportunity when it comes and I got that opportunity last year."
The Pirates and manager Clint Hurdle certainly noticed, too.
"What we saw was a guy that laid out in right field, left his feet and made plays," Hurdle said. "Made catches, went to the wall, threw people out from left field, from right field. Played second, played third. Moved around fantastically with athleticism. ... He's worked hard to become a better player. He's always been a confident player. He was a player that was able to move upon an opportunity in dramatic and dynamic fashion. It's a rare thing."
The versatile nature of Harrison's game is such a luxury that the club has confidence slotting him in anywhere.
That even meant recording one out in a brief relief pitching appearance in a blowout game against the Colorado Rockies in 2013.
However, don't expect Harrison to go for a full-time role there or behind the plate anytime soon.
"I tried that one time, faced one batter, topping 72 (mph); I got lucky," he said. "I'll leave that to guys that really know how to pitch and leave it to guys that know how to catch."

Read more here:

No comments: