This offseason, Pirates Breakdown will look at how each position will probably shape up for the 2018 Pittsburgh Pirates and beyond. This week the series focuses on second base, a position that was a solid source of production for the Pirates in 2017.
The reports of Pittsburgh Pirates 2B Josh Harrison’s decline are greatly exaggerated, to paraphrase Mark Twain.
After two perceived down years, Harrison bounced back in a big way in 2017. He set career highs in HR (16) and walks (28) and posted his best slugging and on base percentage since 2014, when he finished ninth in the NL MVP voting. Last season Harrison posted his best hard hit percentage since 2014 and his best home to flyball percentage since 2013. Both of these factored into his resurgence, along with the fact that he hit more flyballs than groundballs. At a salary of $7.5 million, his 3.3 WAR indicates that he was a tremendously valuable player to the Pirates last year.
Harrison will command a salary of $10 million next year, with team options of $10.5 million in 2019 and $11 million in 2020. So given the cost of a win next year and going forward, the team has a very affordable second base option if they decide they want to keep Harrison. The Pittsburgh Pirates still do not know if Jung Ho Kang will be allowed to join the team next year, so Harrison could move back to third base if need be. He saw action at the hot corner in 49 games last year and had a fielding percentage of .966, so Harrison is probably better off playing second base.
Moving chess pieces
However, much like other Pittsburgh Pirates veterans, Harrison could be a player that the team decides to move at the trade deadline if they fall out of contention again in 2018.
His team options are not outrageous in terms of the how much he will earn, and his versatility in the field could make him an attractive target for competing teams. But if the team is contending next year or needs a third baseman for the next few years because Kang cannot return to the MLB, then the Pittsburgh Pirates would be smart to hold on to him and exercise at least the first team option in 2019.
While the Pirates would certainly be a more powerful team if Kang returns, his absence can somewhat be replaced by Adam Frazier, who could see even more playing time at second base in 2018. Frazier, who played second base in 42 games last year and slashed .276/.344/.399/.743 could easily be an everyday second baseman if the team needs to move Harrison to third. He cannot be counted upon for a lot of power as he hit six home runs last year, and he could tighten up his defense, but at the end of the day he could be the everyday second baseman if need be.
Another player that figures to factor into at least some of the playing time at second base is Max Moroff. Moroff did not light the world on fire last season, slashing just .200/.302/.325/.627 in 120 at-bats. He hit three home runs while with the Pirates and 13 with Indianapolis, so there is reason to be optimistic that the power could show up at the MLB level at some point. While he logged more innings at shortstop in AAA than he did at second base, his .990 fielding percentage at the keystone position means that he is yet another viable option for the Pirates.
Down on the farm, the Pittsburgh Pirates have a few young second baseman that are worth keeping an eye on, especially Kevin Kramer. Kramer, the team’s second round draft pick in 2015 and ninth best prospect, played across three different levels of the Pittsburgh system last year, with the majority of his time spent with Altoona.
Harrison could be a player that the team decides to move at the trade deadline
In those 202 at-bats, he slashed .297/.380/.500/.880 with six home runs and showed that he could be a solid contributor for the Pirates at some point in the near future. One aspect of Kramer’s game that stands out is his eye, as he has 95 walks to just 152 strikeouts in his career which at this point spans three seasons. If Kramer is able to add some power to his offensive game, he could be a very dangerous hitter for the Pirates.
Further down in the minor league system is Mitchell Tolman, who like Kramer was drafted in 2015 but in the seventh round. Tolman spent almost all of 2017 with the Bradenton club but did see some time with Altoona. Across the two levels of the system Tolman hit .267/.360/.399/.759 with 10 home runs. Also like Kramer, he displays great patience at the plate. He has a great 162/193 BB/K in 1,082 career at-bats.
Like shortstop, the Pirates are in great shape at second base heading into 2018 and in the years to come. They have a very strong player in Harrison set to start the season at the position, but could move him to third and substitute Frazier in, who showed last year that he can be an everyday player. In the minors, the team has Kramer who could be ready to make an impact next year or at the very least in 2019, with another strong option in Tolman in the lower levels of the system.