BRADENTON, Fla. -- Josh Harrison understood what Neil Walker meant to both the Pirates’ franchise and to the team’s fans.
So each of the numerous times the versatile Harrison been asked about his favorite position to play since making his major-league debut with the Pirates in 2010, he would always give the same answer --- “all of them.”
While Harrison takes pride in his ability to play all over the field, he can now comfortably provide the real answer.
“I like second base the best,” he said at the Pirates’ spring training camp. “I was drafted as a second baseman, and I’ve always considered myself a second baseman at heart.
“But I also knew it was Neil’s position, and he played it well. He is one of the best second basemen in the league. I never felt comfortable saying that I thought second base was my position when Neil was here because I have so much respect for him as a friend and a player. I definitely didn’t want anyone to get the impression I wanted his job because I didn’t. We all know how much he meant to this team.”
Walker, the Pirates’ first-round draft pick from Pine-Richland High School in 2004, was traded to the New York Mets in December for left-hander Jon Niese. Harrison will be the regular second baseman this season after playing primarily at third base last year.
“Neil’s going to missed, no doubt,” Harrison said. “But guys get traded, guys switch teams, that’s the name of the game, and we all know that. Now, I’m going to play second base. I’m comfortable there, and I feel I’m ready.”
Harrison’s 67 career starts are his second-most at any position behind the 170 he has made at third base. He also has 46 in right field, 28 in left field and 22 at shortstop.
“I am confident with Josh playing second base,” Pirates manager Clint Hurdle said. “We haven’t needed him to play there all that much there over the years, but whenever he has played there he has done a good job.”
One of the challenges for Harrison playing every day at second base will be getting comfortable with his double-play partner, shortstop Jordy Mercer. However, the two have been paired extensively in games this spring and have been teammates for many years.
“It’s a little bit different, but it’s not like we’re totally unfamiliar with each other,” Mercer said. “We’re to the point now where we’re pretty used to each other, and I think we’re fine going into the season. Neil was a very good second baseman but Josh is going to show people that he can be a good second baseman, too, now that he’s going to get a chance to play there regularly.”