March 5, 2012; Sarasota, FL, USA; Pittsburgh Pirates designated hitter Matt Hague (65) hits a one-run RBI single in the first inning against the Baltimore Orioles at Ed Smith Stadium. The Pirates defeated the Orioles 10 - 3. Mandatory Credit: Joy R. Absalon-US PRESSWIRE
What gives? As we all know, Spring Training stats mean almost nothing. So what do we really have here? Harrison drew three walks against 195 at bats last season, and posted a .281 OBP. His third-base defense also left a lot to be desired (despite what the numbers say), so it's really hard to believe he'll be able to handle shortstop this season. If it were my decision, I'd probably make Yamaico Navarro the backup infielder, keep Jake Fox or Nick Evans as an extra bat off the bench, and send Harrison to Indianapolis. If you think Harrison belongs on the bench, I think that's a fine position to take -- his ability to make contact gives him a certain amount of situational value, and so does his positional versatility. But anything beyond that is a stretch, and there's no way we'd be hearing about him half as much as we currently are if he hadn't hit well in an utterly meaningless 19 at-bat sample this spring.
As for Hague, my impression is that the buzz about him would be about 95 percent quieter if, again, he hadn't hit well in a meaningless spring sample, and if Lyle Overbay hadn't stunk so much last year. Hague isn't particularly young (as someone recently pointed out, Evans is actually younger) and doesn't have the skill set you associate with a starting first baseman, because he doesn't have much power. (Of course there have been good starting first basemen who don't have prototypical first base power, like Sean Casey, John Olerud, and Overbay himself, but look up those guys' performance records -- Hague isn't on the same planet.) I wouldn't have any problem with the Pirates keeping Hague on the bench as an alternative to Garrett Jones, but Evans and Fox are probably ultimately better-suited for those roles, because they're more versatile. (Hague has played some third base, but my understanding is that he's not particularly good there, which isn't surprising, since he hasn't played it much.)
If this seems strawman-y to anyone, I apologize, but it's been odd recently to hear about Harrison and Hague almost non-stop, even in the context of scenarios like Harrison eventually becoming a starting shortstop or Hague replacing Pedro Alvarez as the Bucs' starting third baseman. If the Pirates can wring some use out of Harrison and Hague, hey, I'm all for it, and maybe one of them will max out his potential and become a starter somewhere for a couple years. These aren't worthless players, and their abilities to hit for average do have some potential to make them assets in the future. But I don't think it's likely they will be, and I don't think their Spring Training performances should change our opinions.