It seems to appear that there are now just four players competing for 2 open bench spots. With camp soon winding to an end, it is crunch time for Josh Harrison, Yamaico Navarro, Jake Fox, and Matt Hague.
Harrison is the only one of these four that Pirates fans have a good idea on who he is. He played in 65 games last season and racked up 195 at-bats. He hit .272/.281/.374 with one home run in his rookie campaign. It was a very small sample size, but he also showed some good stuff with the glove at 3B with a 15.1 UZR/150. His numbers at 2B in an even smaller sample size was -12.3 UZR/150.
Fans seem to like Harrison because of his gritty attitude and hustle. He is just one of those guys Pittsburghers love. This spring he has hit extremely well at .378/.425/.622 in 37 at-bats. Harrison can play 3B, 2B, and SS and has even had a couple looks in LF this spring.
Navarro was brought in as an option to be a utility type player for the Bucs. He spent parts of last season in the Majors with both the Red Sox and Royals. In 60 at-bats, he hit .250/.303/.350 with a HR. Over 220 AAA at-bats, he hit .264/.344/.436 with 7 HR.
This spring, Navarro, like Harrison, has done nothing but impress. In 44 at-bats, he is hitting .341/.408/.477 with a HR. Navarro also can play multiple positions in 2B, SS, 3B, and LF, and has played all four of those positions in the Majors in his short time up.
Fox was brought in as someone who could provide some power off the bench if called upon. He posted an .842 OPS in 265 AAA at-bats last season with 12 HR. He played sparingly in the Majors, but hit .246/.313/.443 with two HR in 61 at-bats for the Orioles.
Fox has shown some of that power this spring hitting .259/.310/.519 with two HR in 27 at-bats thus far. Unlike Navarro and Harrison, though, Fox can not play the middle infield. He can, however, play 1B, 3B, C, LF, and RF. So there is a lot of versatility there.
Hague is the hot name right now among Pirates fans and is having a scorching spring to make things difficult for the front office. He is now past the age where you really consider him a prospect (26), and has made his way through the Pirates organization level-by-level. Last year in AAA, Hague hit .309/.372/.457 with 12 HR in 534 at-bats.
This spring, Hague is hitting like a mad man with a line of .395/.395/.711 with four HR in 38 at-bats. The thing with Hague is the lack of versatility that is possessed by the other three players listed here. Hague plays first base. You can put him at third base, but don’t expect much if you do.
What I would do?
Going into this spring, I was all over the Yamaico Navarro bandwagon. Having a utility infielder who possessed some pop looked like a good idea in my book. So far this spring, he has done nothing to show me that he can not serve as a quality utility man. So he makes my cut.
That leaves Harrison, Fox, and Hague for the final spot.
When making this decision, you have to look at the needs of the team. As I mentioned before, I’m already taking Navarro, so the role that Josh Harrison would play if I take him north, just doesn’t make sense, because the two players are essentially the same type of player. So Harrison is out.
Hague has hit at every level and has been a solid producer each and every year throughout the minors. Fox is someone who was at one point a top level prospect and is now nothing but a good AAA player or a ML bench guy, take your pick. This is a tough one to pick, but I am giving the edge to Fox. We talk about Hague’s AAA numbers, but Fox’ are better. Fox has also hit 20 HR in 534 ML at-bats. The versatility of Fox also plays a big part in the decision as Hague’s defensive abilities are quite limited.
So my guys are Navarro and Fox for the final two bench spots. It may be against the grain because this the first year either guy has been in the organization, but that’s how I would do things based on the needs of the club. The best part about the situation is knowing that no matter who the Pirates do take up, they will have some capable depth at AAA waiting to take over if someone either gets injured or falters in the two guys who won’t make it.