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Bearcats in the Big Leagues: Season Preview

Josh Harrison and Ian Happ are ready to duel in the NL Central while Connor Walsh, Ryan Atkinson and Ryan Noda keep developing.

Pittsburgh Pirates v San Francisco Giants Photo by Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images

Opening Day is this Thursday. Why is it on a Thursday instead of a Monday like God intended? I can’t answer that. Am I irrationally upset that it is not on a Monday? Yes. Yes I am. But that’s neither here nor there. With the season about to kick off its time we check back in with former Cincinnati Bearcats who have gone on to play baseball professionally.

Josh Harrison

In what was his second All-Star campaign, Harrison hit a career-high 16 home runs and slashed .272/.339/.432 last season. However, unlike his previous All-Star year (2014) he was still just a slightly above average player by OPS+ (101) and wRC+ (104). His batting average on balls in play (BABIP) was actually lower than usual, sitting at .303, which is part of the reason his average dropped to .272. But the real reason was a weak second half, as he slashed .255/.293/.424 with a tOPS+ of 85 during that time. Of course, he also missed pretty much all of September with a broken left hand.

Even with that slumping back half, Harrison still had a good year overall and he has been mixed up in trade rumors following an offseason in which the Pittsburgh Pirates traded away franchise cornerstone Andrew McCutchen and staff ace Gerrit Cole. For now, Harrison is still in Pittsburgh, where he should continue to play second, third and some outfield while providing enough power, on-base skills and speed to bat anywhere in the lineup.

Ian Happ

If only the Chicago Cubs could catch a break. The two-time defending NL Central champions are already stacked with excellent and young position players and Happ is just another one. During his rookie season, Happ made the jump from Triple-A to the big leagues and he held his own, especially with his power. He hit 24 home runs and slashed .253/.328/.514, good for w wRC+ of 113. While he was worth a little less than two wins by FanGraphs’ estimation, he was a solid contributor for a playoff team and, like Harrison, can play multiple positions and hit all over. He still needs to be more patient at the plate, with a 9.4 percent walk rate compared to a 31.2% strikeout rate, but his raw power makes him a player the Cubs are lucky to have.

Connor Walsh

Walsh is a left-handed reliever in the Chicago White Sox system. He was a non-roster invitee to Spring Training for the rebuilding White Sox and could potentially help eat up innings out of the bullpen since Chicago is going to be bad in 2018. Maybe not Marlins bad, but still bad. Walsh is entering his fifth professional season, as he has steadily climbed the minor league ranks. He pitched in Double and Triple A last season and in 39 combined games (56 13 innings), posted a 3.36 ERA while striking out 63 batters with a 1.30 WHIP. He likely still needs a bit more seasoning with the Charlotte Knights, but there’s nowhere else he can climb but into a MLB bullpen.

Ryan Atkinson

Atkinson made BITBL headlines in the summer of 2016 when he signed a minor league deal with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He has made that late signing look smart so far, as he has a 3.30 ERA and 167 strikeouts in 141 23 innings split between rookie ball, Single A and Double A. Last year he spent the bulk of his time with the Single A Kane County Cougars, for whom he started 10 games and went 2-5 with a 3.34 ERA and 68 strikeouts compared to only 18 walks in 56 23 innings. His control was less refined in Double A (33 strikeouts, 24 walks, 36 13 innings) but he actually posted a lower ERA (3.22). A non-roster invitee to Spring Training this year, Atkinson is still probably a year or two away from the bigs but that all depends on how desperate the White Sox are for starters in the coming months.

Ryan Noda

Last year’s home run leader for the Bearcats, Noda was drafted in the 15h round of the 2017 MLB Draft by the Toronto Blue Jays. After that he played rookie ball for the Bluefield Blue Jays where he hit like crazy. He recorded an OPS of 1.082 while launching 28 extra-base hits in 276 plate appearances. He also stole seven bases and batted .364. He is considered the No. 18 prospect in Toronto’s system according to MLB.com and is on a nice track to a MLB opportunity in the next few years.