In the past, we’ve done the Prospect Rewind series, looking back at the reports on certain players, and how they’ve fallen short of those reports, met their reports, or exceeded the projections. With the recent success from Josh Harrison in the majors, I felt like it was a good time to look back on his prospect reports, to see what he was projected to become. This is also a reminder that the 2014 Prospect Guide is on sale in the Pirates Prospects store, where you can also find limited copies of the 2013 Prospect Guide for $1.
There are only two season-ending prospect reports we have on Harrison. The first one came at the end of the 2009 season, which was the season Harrison joined the organization. This was before the Prospect Guide started coming out each year, but the report can be found here. Since this site started mainly covering the Lynchburg Hillcats in 2009, I got to see a ton of Harrison that year. Here was the report, with Harrison ranking 39th in the system.
Information: Harrison was selected by the Cubs in the sixth round of the 2008 draft out of Cincinnati. He hit for a .378/.437/.559 line in his junior year with Cincinnati, then combined for a .305/.379/.419 line in two levels of A-ball with the Cubs in 2008. Harrison is 5′ 8″, but has a big frame, weighing in at 175 lbs. Harrison doesn’t have a natural position, but has been splitting between third and second base this season. He’s got a lot of speed, which helps his range, and makes him a weapon on the base paths, but he doesn’t have much power, making him a top of the order guy only. One concern is that Harrison doesn’t draw many walks. He had one walk in 155 plate appearances with Lynchburg, and just 23 on the season in 568 plate appearances. On the other hand, he doesn’t strike out often, with just 51 strikeouts in 514 at-bats in 2009. Harrison is the nephew of former MLB player John Shelby, who was a member of two World Series teams, the 1983 Orioles and the 1988 Dodgers. Harrison turned 22 in July.Optimistic Projection: David EcksteinConservative Projection: Utility player able to play second, third, and the corner OF spots
The Eckstein projection was due to Harrison being a small guy who doesn’t walk or strike out a lot, but makes good contact and could play a lot of different positions. Eckstein had a nice career, with a .280/.345/.355 line in over 5700 plate appearances. He never really hit for power, with his ISO only topping .100 in one of his seasons (.102 in 2005). He had below average walk rates, but always remained productive at the plate, and had decent defense at the middle infield spots. Harrison has hit for more power in his career, although the walk rate is Eckstein-like. The year Harrison is having in 2014 is something that Eckstein could only dream about, and is far exceeding the conservative projection of a utility player.
The following year we did the 2011 Prospect Guide, which was the first time we ever did the book. Harrison moved up to 23rd in the system after a good year in Altoona, but was still held back due to the utility player upside. Here is the report.
Harrison was acquired by the Pirates at the trade deadline in 2009, and has helped lead the Pirates’ minor league affiliates to championships in high-A and AA since the trade. Harrison made a great jump to AA this year, with a .300 average, and a big improvement on his walk rate, all while keeping his strikeout rate low. He carried that hitting success over to the Arizona Fall League, where he hit for a .330/.390/.516 line in 91 at-bats, with a 12:10 K/BB ratio.
Harrison is short, but has a thick frame for his height. His best skill is his speed, allowing him to be a top of the order hitter. He doesn’t have much power, although he does hit for gap power, with a lot of extra base hits over the last two seasons. He swings at a lot of pitches he shouldn’t, leading to a low walk rate, although he has great contact skills, leading to his very low strikeout rate despite the ill-advised swings. He doesn’t have a true defensive position, playing second, third, and the corner outfield spots in his career. The lack of a defensive position makes Harrison more of a future utility player than a starting option, although if he continues hitting like he did in 2010, the Pirates would have to find a place for him to receive regular playing time.
Harrison’s full line that year was a .298/.343/.394 line. The idea that the Pirates would have to find a place in the lineup for him was mostly based off the first two numbers, and not so much the power. Once again, he didn’t show anything close to what he’s doing now.
There wasn’t a prospect report for Harrison after this, because Harrison lost his prospect eligibility with 204 at-bats in the majors in 2011. This followed some great numbers in Triple-A, where he hit for a .310/.365/.460 line in 254 plate appearances. Harrison had similar numbers in 2009 in Low-A with the Cubs, and his Arizona Fall League numbers in 2010. This was the first time he showed anything like this in the upper levels, showing off numbers that rival what he is currently doing in the majors.
Those numbers didn’t carry over to the majors. In his first three seasons, he had a .250/.282/.367 line in 532 at-bats. However, he did have an interesting trend where his power increased each year. The change from 2011 to 2012 was small, going from a .103 ISO to .112. Harrison spent most of 2013 in Triple-A, with a .190 ISO. In his brief time in the majors, he had a .159 ISO. This year has been a surprise because of the power production, but it seems like that power might have started last year in Triple-A. Or, to be more accurate, it started in 2011 in Triple-A, and carried over to the majors for a brief time last year.
I don’t want to say that Harrison’s numbers this year are legit. He has 378 at-bats. He still needs about 150 at-bats to match his career total coming into this season. That means his sample this year is much smaller than the sample he had in his first three years — years where he didn’t look anything like this.
Despite that split, Harrison might have enough of a sample this year that we can start to say some of his numbers are reliable. Looking at Russell Carleton’s research on the stability of sample sizes, we see that Harrison’s 404 plate appearances mean that the following 2014 stats should be viewed as reliable, and not a small sample size.
Strikeout Rate (60 PA) – Harrison is at 14.6% this year, which isn’t much different from his 13.3% career average.
Walk Rate (120 PA) – His walks have gone up to 5%, up from a 3.6% average. That’s not a big jump, and not something I’d say can’t continue.
ISO (160 PA) – This is the big jump. His career numbers (largely influenced by this year) are at .143, while his ISO this year is .180. I went back to the point where Harrison passed 160 plate appearances, and his ISO was .179. So he has remained stable since that point (June 14th).
HR Rate (170 PA) – This is going to be linked to ISO. Harrison’s home runs have more than doubled this year, in fewer at-bats than his previous three years.
SLG (320 PA) – His slugging percentage this year is .484, which is one of the best marks of his career. Of course this raises an interesting question of which reliable sample we should use: pre-2014 or the present?
OBP (460 PA) – We’re not there yet with Harrison, but it’s close. His OBP is .341, up from .306 in his career, and .282 before the season.
The sample size for batting average is 910 at-bats, so we’d need a full season of this next year to say he’s a .300 hitter.
Overall, Harrison is exceeding any prospect report ever placed on him. It’s too early to say whether this is legit, but we’re getting to the point where we can start to believe that this could be legit. At the very least, we can say that he’s living up to being a super utility player.