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Bearcats in the Big Leauges: Season Preview

With the MLB season starting in just a few days, its time to check back in with the BITBL crew.

MLB: Spring Training-Boston Red Sox at Pittsburgh Pirates Butch Dill-USA TODAY Sports

Josh Harrison

ZiPS projections: .286/.320/.410, 7 HR, 62 runs, 53 RBI, 15 steals, 97 wRC+

Entering his age 29 season, Harrison is a known commodity and a solid one at that. Having played multiple positions and hit in multiple spots for the Pittsburgh Pirates, Harrison is set to return as a starter once again in 2017. He hit above .280 for the third-straight season in 2016, although there was a bit of a dip across the board, with a slash line of .283/.311/.699 compared to 2015’s .287/.327/.717. Along the way he set a career-high in RBI (59) and stolen bases (19), but he was still a below average bat, posting a wRC+ of 87. That came despite a drop in his strikeout percentage, but makes sense considering his wOBA of .301 and a walk percentage below four. In addition, Harrison has been making less hard contact, with his hard-hit percentage dropping in each of the last three years, falling to 27.7 percent last season.

As a fielder, Harrison played 1,077 23 innings at second base in 2016, while filling in for a couple innings in the outfield. With Starling Marte, Gregory Polanco and Andrew McCutchen, the Pirates have one of the best outfield trios in the game, so Harrison isn’t really needed to fill that spot, but he has played third and shortstop before, and those positions are far from locked down. However, we’ll focus on Harrison’s best position. He had one of the better fielding seasons of his career in 2016, recording a career-best eight defensive runs saved at second. His ultimate zone rating of 1.2 was also the highest he has recorded at the position in a single year. However, its worth remembering that a late season injury and increased playing time for Adam Frazier did cut into Harrison’s production.

Even with Frazier still on the roster, Harrison is certainly the starting second baseman and he might remain at the top of the order, where he was a mainstay during the second half of the year. He’ll need to do better than he has in spring training (.235/.381/.235) to do that, especially when it comes to finding gaps, but that’s certainly not outside the realm of possibility.

MLB: Spring Training-Chicago Cubs at Colorado Rockies Matt Kartozian-USA TODAY Sports

Ian Happ

ZiPS projections: .232/.298/.392, 14 HRs, 54 runs, 56 RBI, 10 steals, 82 wRC+

Even if Happ isn’t going to start the year at the MLB level (not that that was expected), it’s clear that the former Bearcat is on the fast lane to the Show. As you can see from above, ZiPs has Happ projected for more than a few at-bats. In fact, the projection system estimates 487 plate appearances and 114 games played with a great deal of power. Specifically, .159 projected isolated power, which isn’t too shabby.

Those projections were made before the spring, where Happ was excellent while trying to cut himself into the defending World Series Champion Cubs’ MLB roster. In 53 spring training at-bats, Happ slashed .415/.475/.811 with five home runs before being assigned to minor league camp earlier this week.

In 2016, across two levels (AA and A+), Happ was a power-hitting dynamo, launching 15 home runs in 567 plate appearances while slashing .279/.364/.445. He actually hit more home runs in AA (eight) than A+ (seven) in a similar number of plate appearances, but he had a bit more trouble making consistent contact and working counts after the promotion, hitting .262 compared to .296 and striking out 60 times compared to 20 walks.

With his efforts in spring training, Happ showed that he has made adjustments over the winter and could be more than just a dinger-producer, even if his BB/K ratio (6:16) was not awesome in the spring. Assuming he continues to get some seasoning in the minors, and remains a power and base stealing threat, Happ has all the tools and the opportunity to break through in 2018 if not 2017.

Connor Walsh

Is Walsh a part of the Chicago White Sox rebuild, which was ushered in in full force with the trades of Chris Sale and Adam Eaton? Not on the level of Yoan Moncada or Michael Kopech, but he’s certainly in the running to be a piece that will at the very worst keep a seat in the bullpen warm while the White Sox add assets. Walsh, a right-hander, pitched across three levels in 2016, although the bulk of that work was with the Winstom Salem Dash, where he threw to a 3.86 ERA in 39 23 innings during 25 games. He got pushed up to the AA Birmingham Barons later and had a 4.70 ERA in 7 23 innings of work. He will likely pitch for Birmingham to start the year and we’ll see where it goes from there.

Ryan Atkinson

Atkinson was a surprise addition to the BITBL crew last season, as he was signed to a minor league contract by the Arizona Diamondbacks on July 2. He played for two rookie league teams after that signing and produced a 3.24 combined ERA during 33 13 innings. He struck out 39 batters in that time, which included seven starts and nine outings total. Atkinson is still listed on the Missoula Osprey’s roster, so it remains to be seen if he will move up anytime soon.

Tony Campana

ZiPS projections: .226/.276/.258, 33 runs, 16 RBI, 17 steals, 44 WRC+

I’m not sure exactly where ZiPS is pulling these projections from. Campana will turn 31 later this year and he is still an unsigned free agent as far as I know. That’s not surprising considering his .217/.277/.232 slash line in AAA last year. While ZiPS may think he’ll get signed and do something, it may be that Campana hit the end of the road in 2016.