NEW ORLEANS -- What's a guy have to do to get a job in the big leagues?
This question has bounced around in Brendan Harris' mind almost as much as he's bounced around infields over the past five years. It's the kind of pondering that can get a player in trouble, especially one as thoughtful -- and as successful in the Minor Leagues -- as Harris.
"It is frustrating, really frustrating, to tell you the truth, but it's wasted energy and it's not going to get you anywhere," said Harris as he began his third trip through the Pacific Coast League.
"You'd be a miserable, bitter person if you're just sitting there, opening up newspapers, reading boxscores and looking at 25-man rosters saying, 'I'm better than this guy, I'm better than that guy.' "Go out and show it and then have a little better argument. That's kind of the way I look at it."
Harris admits he's been guilty of such roster-watching in the past. Two years ago, Harris appeared to be on the verge of being a full-time big leaguer. The William & Mary product was slated to play third for the Cubs until Aramis Ramirez came to town. Always able to play several positions well defensively, he hit .311 that season (2004) playing second and third. He was traded at the deadline that year to the Expos, a move that appeared to be a good one since the Ramirez-sized obstacle at third wasn't there.
Harris spent almost all year in Triple-A in 2005, this time with the Nationals' New Orleans affiliate. He had a "down" year, hitting .270 but with 13 homers, 81 RBIs and nine steals. He got into four games in the bigs, upping his Major League total to 27. First, Vinny Castilla stood in his way and now it's Ryan Zimmerman who will block Harris at the hot corner for the next decade, at least. At second, everyone pretty much knows about the whole Jose Vidro-Alfonso Soriano saga.
Ever-adaptable, Harris -- who had made a transition to being a full-time second baseman last year -- is on the move again. While he won't call any one position a full-time home, he probably will be playing shortstop for the Zephyrs more often than not (though he's split time evenly at short and third over the first four games). It's not completely new for Harris, having manned the spot often at William & Mary when the Cubs drafted him in the fifth round back in 2001.
"I think I'll still move around a little bit, but for the most part I'll be playing short," said Harris, who holds school career records in batting average (.362) and doubles (59) while standing in the top five in a host of other categories. "It's going to be fun. It's the first time I'm playing out there consistently since college. I think I've been annoying enough asking about it for them to give me a shot. It should be a good time."
It also could mean a path to the big leagues. Now 24, Harris understands that his best chance -- at least to break in for an extended period -- might be as a super-utility man. Adding a third position to his resume certainly wouldn't hurt.
The Nationals landscape makes it a shrewd move as well. Royce Clayton and the injured Cristian Guzman don't seem quite as imposing roadblocks as Vidro/Soriano or Zimmerman. Whatever the case, Harris is intent on focusing solely on his peformance between the white lines instead of playing the dangerous game of 'what if.'
"Last year, [after I was traded], it seemed like the whole Cubs infield got hurt," Harris said. "Guys who were almost behind me, it was just a train going up to the big leagues. I think I wasted some time or some wishful thinking energy thinking, 'If I were still over there, I'd have that much time.'
"But there's nothing you can do about it. You can't force a trade. You can't make them not draft someone. You can only worry about what you can control."
He may be able to exercise a little more control in the not-too-distant future. The one advantage of getting stuck in Triple-A after flirting with the big leagues is that there are only so many times a parent club can play yo-yo with your career. The time is coming soon when Harris will have to be up in the big leagues for good or sent to another team, perhaps one that can find room for a career .294 hitter in the Minors with a good glove at multiple positions.
"This is the last option I have to come down," Harris said. "After this, this is the last time -- theoretically -- I have to deal with this. So I have to make the best of it and go from here."