Does Josh Harrison have a regular position in 2016?


Josh Harrison had a rather low-key 2015 season. Coming off of a surprisingly great 2014, Harrison went into this past season looking to show that 2014 wasn’t a fluke. While he didn’t replicate 2014, he did have a decent season. He was partly derailed by a hand injury in the middle of the year, and he lost playing time when Jung Ho Kang emerged as a viable starter. When all was said and done, Harrison ended up playing four different positions last season and never truly took back his starting role at third base that he had at the beginning of 2015. Now, Harrison may not have a starting role heading into 2016. Will he be one of the opening day starters next April? It’s a fair question to ask.

One reason to think he will be is because the Pirates signed him to a contract early this past season in which he’s owed $5 million next season, $7.5 million in 2017, and $10 million in 2018, along with two club options in 2019 and 2020. For a small market team like the Pirates, that’s not money that can be shrugged off. He’s getting paid to make a major contribution in some way, shape, or form, and the team will make sure that they give him more than enough playing time to do so.

But where on the field could the team play him? He started this past offseason as the starter at third base after Pedro Alvarez was moved to first. And Jung Ho Kang came in as a utility player that would be used across the infield and started taking over for Jordy Mercer at short when Mercer came out slow out of the gate, and also spelled Harrison occasionally at third. An injury to Harrison midway through the season gave Kang the opportunity to start at third, and he shined there. And after Kang went down with his own injury, in-season addition Aramis Ramirez mostly started at third. Now, Kang looks to be the favorite to start at third next season.

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Mercer is liked by the staff for his defense, and will more than likely be the starter at short next year. Harrison has played occasionally in right field in the past when Gregory Polanco has slumped, but Polanco looks to be the starter there next April. That leaves just second base open, which currently belongs to Neil Walker, as possibly the only starting option left for Harrison next year.

If Walker gets traded (which is a distinct possibility), Harrison will be the favorite to start at second as his replacement. But that’s still an if as of now. Kang’s injury late last season also means that Harrison will likely start at third to begin 2016, at least until Kang gets back. But what happens when Kang returns? And if Harrison starts the year at third, who will start at second? The only true internal option there is Alen Hanson, who hasn’t had a major league at-bat to date. The infield rotation heading into next season could be convoluted to say the least.

If I’m a betting man, Harrison is the starting third baseman to begin next season. But that’s only because Kang will take time to recover from his injury. Once Kang returns, however, I think Harrison will return to the utility role he flourished in in 2014. In my opinion, that’s the best use of his ability. While a high-paid utility player isn’t a luxury the Pirates can likely have for the next few seasons, a strong utility player is one position many teams across baseball don’t have. If they chose to use Harrison in this capacity, that would mean the Pirates would have to go out and get a second baseman this offseason, promote Hanson, or keep Walker. I think they should keep Walker, but I’m not sure they will. Honestly, they might not have a choice.

Josh Harrison relished the opportunity to be the full-time starter at third last season. A hand injury and Kang’s emergence derailed that opportunity. Now, he may be forced back into a utility role. We’ll have a full offseason to figure out how the infield will play out and where Harrison will end up in 2016. His potential role next season will be one of the more intriguing storylines to follow as the offseason develops. It’s a safe bet to say, though, that he’ll be a positive contributor in some way next year.

For more on Harrison, please click through below to see our gradeout for his 2015 season:

Next: 2015 Pittsburgh Pirates Gradeout: Josh Harrison

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