National League All-Star Josh Harrison #5 of the Pittsburgh Pirates during the 85th MLB All-Star Game at Target Field on July 15, 2014 in Minneapolis, Minnesota.
BRADENTON, Fla. — Clint Hurdle was supposed to be a Can't-Miss Kid when he was a first-round draft pick four decades ago. Success did not come quickly, though, and the Pirates manager admits he listened too closely to his critics.
“People steal your confidence,” said Hurdle, who never became a star player. “I was a victim of it. You almost give it away, based on short periods of failure.”
Josh Harrison was Who's That Kid? when the Pirates brought him up from the minors four years ago. After three seasons as a backup, Harrison had a breakthrough in 2014 and wound up ninth in the voting for National League MVP.
That naturally leads to higher expectations this season, but Hurdle does not worry that Harrison will be intimidated.
“Josh is mentally tough,” Hurdle said. “He's disciplined and he's committed. So I don't foresee any of those challenges, as far as him (thinking) he's arrived and he's made it. This kid's hungry. He's worked hard and he believes he's only scratched the surface.”
Harrison played in a career-high 143 games last year, splitting his time at five different positions. Ten of his first 11 outings were either as a pinch-hitter or pinch-runner; the other was a one-inning appearance in left field.
By midseason, Harrison was getting lots of playing time in right field, second base and third base. When Pedro Alvarez's throwing woes became too pronounced, Harrison took over as the everyday starter at third — the same job he will have on Opening Day this season.
“My role has changed a little bit, but I don't attack the day any different than I did when I wasn't playing every day,” Harrison said. “That's how I'm programmed. I keep things in perspective. Whether I'm the number one man or the 25th man (on the roster), I carry my business the same way.”
Harrison blossomed as a super utility player, putting him at an elite level with guys like Ben Zobrist, Hanley Ramirez and Martin Prado. Hurdle is reminded of Tony Phillips, who originated the role with the Oakland A's and Detroit Tigers in the 1980s and '90s.
“I'd be lying if I said it was easy,” Harrison said. “It's not easy. It's hard enough to play just one position.”
As a super-U, Harrison had to be ready to go from the first day of spring training because he couldn't afford to take any days off. As the full-time third baseman, his preparation is different this spring.
“It's a little easier mentally because I can just focus on one position and get the extra work I need there,” Harrison said. “I'm not rushed anymore. It's definitely a nice switch.”
Harrison can't give away his extra gloves, though. Hurdle plans to bounce Harrison to other positions throughout the season to help other starters get some down time or fill in when there are injuries.
“Things happen,” Harrison said with a shrug. “You've got to be ready for anything.”
To help keep him grounded, Harrison's wife and family have been solid supporters. He's always gotten advice from his older brother, Vince, who's a hitting coach in the Arizona Diamondbacks farm system. Also on Harrison's speed-dial is his uncle, former Pirates coach John “T-Bone” Shelby.
“Uncle T-Bone is the kind of an outlet most people don't have,” Harrison said. “When I wasn't playing every day, he told me, ‘Be ready, stay ready.' When I finally got a chance, he said, ‘I always knew you had it in you. Continue to do what you've done.' He's a huge help to me.”
If all else fails, Harrison always can count on his manager.
“We all need reminders from time to time, and that's what my role will be,” Hurdle said. “I'll just remind him of what got him here, the reasons for his success. And don't let anyone take your confidence way.”
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