Harrison 'all in' as Pirates' starter at second

Offseason trade of Walker hands versatile veteran steady role

March 2nd, 2016

LAKELAND, Fla. -- Nobody told Josh Harrison that he became the Pirates' everyday second baseman on Dec. 9. They didn't have to. He could do the math.

That was the day the Pirates dealt Neil Walker, their starting second baseman since 2010, to the Mets. The move left Jung Ho Kang (when he's healthy) at third base, Jordy Mercer at shortstop and a hole at second in Walker's absence.

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"Once I saw that move, I kind of took it upon myself," Harrison said. "I hadn't talked to them, but I was like, 'I'm going to prepare for second.'"

Sure enough, a few hours after the Walker trade became official, Pirates general manager Neal Huntington told reporters at the Winter Meetings that Harrison would be the club's new second baseman.

"I feel most comfortable at second anyway," Harrison said. "Once I saw that, I was all in. I'm ready for second base."

Harrison's All-Star performance in 2014 earned him an everyday job last year, and the Pirates had a spot open at third base. As Kang emerged, Harrison started bouncing around the field again. When he returned from the disabled list in late August, he was once again a super-utility man.

"That's one of the beautiful things with Josh, his versatility," Huntington said.

Harrison's now known for that trait, but he broke into the professional ranks as a second baseman. Advanced metrics suggest he could be just as valuable there as he was at third.

Harrison has played 215 games (and 1,513 innings) at third, more than his 99 games (and 605 2/3 innings) at second. According to Baseball Info Solutions' Defensive Runs Saved, Harrison would be worth 15 DRS per 1,200 innings at second base, matching his total at third base.

"I just feel that's where my range and everything plays," Harrison said. "I feel like I can get to certain balls that most people can't get to and bring some energy up the middle. Me and Jordy have played up the middle together, so we're familiar."

But will Harrison be there on Opening Day? Kang's surgically repaired left knee might not be ready for Opening Day. The Pirates have been preparing for two scenarios: one with Kang in their lineup, one without.

If Kang isn't ready, some have wondered, wouldn't it make sense for Harrison to slide back to third base? The club hasn't publicly ruled out the possibility, but Harrison hasn't been working at third this spring.

"That's something that we haven't discussed," Harrison said. "We're still early in spring and I think a lot depends on Kang, but I'm prepared to play second base."

When the Pirates opened their Grapefruit League schedule on Tuesday at Joker Marchant Stadium with a 4-2 win over the Tigers, Harrison was in the lineup, batting leadoff and playing second base. He played five innings in the field and went 0-for-2 with a walk at the plate.

"He can go play third base, and it probably wouldn't impact him at all," Huntington said. "We're working Josh at second. The primary focus right now is to do everything we can to make sure he's comfortable there with the hope that Kang's going to be ready sooner than later."