Josh Harrison and Playing All Over the Diamond

Denis Poroy

The Pirates' utilityman has been valuable so far this year, to the point that the team will keep finding ways to keep him on the field.

When a Thursday rolls around, and a third of the league's teams don't play, and you have an outfielder on an off day, do you have a replacement on your fantasy roster? Or for your second baseman? Or your third baseman?

Or do you pick up whoever you can find to fill the role? Or do you play without an outfielder, or whatever, on that day?

Standard rosters don't allow for any great flexibility. With three bench spots, if you're down a player - it's an off day, or there's an injury, or, I don't know, four different guys go on paternity leave or something - you often have to just suck it up.

So ... Dial 945-6D71 for a good time!

At that phone number, you will contact a 26-year-old baseball player in his fourth season who is hitting at a career-best clip. In fact, you'll get three of them. At this phone number, you'll get a third baseman, a second baseman, and an outfielder.

If you're the manager of a mediocre offense that was expected to contend this season, you'll use this number to secure a fill-in for your just-off-an-appendectomy second baseman, your can't-hit-lefties third baseman, your struggling-to-hit-his-weight-until-a-week-ago left fielder, your uber-prospect-but-we'll-see right fielder.

That phone number - 945-6D71 - secures you one Mr. Josh Harrison.

Okay, I'm not going to keep that commercial thing up forever. I had originally thought I was going to try to make this entire piece an infomercial, but I feel like it's already worn thin. My point, though, is that Harrison is a player who has put up a 136 OPS+ so far this season, and who will get playing time, one way or another.

That phone number I made up is the list of positions Harrison played for the Pirates last year (yes, including pitcher). Here, look:

Photo_9__medium

I made this point last year, but guys with eligibility at multiple positions are more valuable these days than they have been in years, with injury numbers increasing. Miguel Cabrera and Edwin Encarnacion can play first or third; Matt Carpenter plays second and third. The ones who can play three positions are far more rare. I could only find a small group of them among guys who are at least 20 percent owned and actually available to play (sorry, Jurickson Profar):

Emilio Bonifacio (second base, third base, outfield)
Kelly Johnson (first base, second base, third base, outfield)
Martin Prado (second, third, outfield)
Carlos Santana (catcher, first, third)
Danny Santana (second, shortstop, outfield)
Yangervis Solarte (second base, third base, shortstop)
Ben Zobrist (second, shortstop, outfield)

Harrison misses the cut here by virtue of his 16-percent Yahoo! ownership percentage, but he has three positions already - second, third, and outfield - and there is at least an outside chance he could also add shortstop. Probably not, but whatever. He's hitting .317/.354/.488 so far on the season, which is well above his career .250/.282/.367 line entering the season. And his .345 BABIP doesn't portend sustainability. So Harrison isn't as good as he's been so far.

But he's better than he was entering this season. Before this year, Harrison was sporadically used - he barely averaged 1.5 plate appearances per game played in 2013, and hasn't even approached full-time play before this season, which made it exceptionally hard for him to find the proverbial groove. This year, filling in in right field before Gregory Polanco's arrival and at second base since Neil Walker's surgery, he's played in 56 of the Pirates' 72 games thus far. His PAs-per-game average is well above 3.0 now.

Manager Clint Hurdle has said he wants Harrison to continue to have playing time. That could mean being the right-handed half of a platoon with Pedro Alvarez, who is hitting only .213/.302/.340 against lefties this year, .201/.275/.333 for his career. It could mean some more second-base time while Walker gets back to full strength. Starling Marte was being discussed as a possible minor-league demotion two weeks ago; we'll see if his newfound hot streak sustains. And, much as I would hate it, teams tend to give the kids the short shrift in this sort of situation; it's possible Gregory Polanco loses time to Harrison. I hope not, but who knows. With the ability to play so many positions, and the team's desire to get him on the field, Harrison stands a good chance of remaining fantasy relevant.

Remember, you don't have a lot of bench slots. Instead of shrugging off a position because the starter has a day off, I think it makes sense to invest in lower-end guys like Josh Harrison and Mike Aviles, to know you'll always have a guy to fill in those empty spots who offers some level of production.

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