Toolshed: Harrison finally finding his groove

Brewers No. 22 prospect thriving after two injury-riddled seasons

Monte Harrison has homered five times this month for Class A Wisconsin, raising his career total to 17 over four seasons. (Ricky Bassman/MiLB.com)

By Sam Dykstra / MiLB.com | April 28, 2017 11:00 AM ET

The Brewers' farm system checked in at No. 2 in MiLB.com's rankings for positon players and No. 5 overall because of the depth of its bats. But where the organization is especially deep is in the outfield.

The club's top prospect is center fielder Lewis Brinson. Fellow center fielder Corey Ray was Milwaukee's first-round pick last June. No. 6 prospect Trent Clark, No. 10 Brett Phillips, No. 16 Ryan Cordell, No. 24 Demi Orimoloye all have at least one-plus tool that could get them to the Major Leagues some day. 

Then there's No. 22 prospect Monte Harrison, a highly talented second-round pick from 2014 starting his third full season at Class A Wisconsin. With all the talent further up the chain, Harrison entered 2017 in danger of being left in the dust, thanks in part to injuries that hampered his development the last two campaigns.

He doesn't want things to turn out that way. 

"I definitely wanted to make noise this year," said Harrison, who plays center field. "I wanted to make sure people know my name. But I don't think of it as being make or break or anything like that. I just put my faith in God that I'm going to be in a position to be successful. Beyond that, you still have to prepare the same way and be ready to compete. That's it. That's all I think about now. Just go out and compete today."

Given how he's kicked off 2017, Harrison is making sure he gets remembered.

The 21-year-old is hitting .315/.375/.620 over 20 games with the Timber Rattlers. He's already gone deep six times in just 80 plate appearances, matching his career high set over 323 plate appearances last season. 

As a player who had struck out in 34.8 percent of his Class A plate appearances, he's making more contact this season with a 25 percent strikeout rate, and it's loud contact, as evidenced by his .315 isolated slugging percentage that trumps his previous high of .175 at any level.

Video: Wisconsin's Harrison delivers two-run shot

But this isn't about a poor hitter at the lower levels finally figuring things out. Harrison's previous struggles go beyond that.

Despite a commitment to play baseball and football at the University of Nebraska, the Brewers took the native of suburban Kansas City with the 50th overall pick three years ago and signed the would-be wide receiver to a $1.8 million bonus. The pick looked like a steal with MLB.com ranking the Lee's Summit West High School star at No. 23 for his Draft class, giving him a 70 grade for his arm, 60 for his run tool and 55's for both his power and fielding on the 20-80 scale.

Harrison projected as a player with five-tool potential.

That didn't come through during his first Midwest League stop in 2015. The then-19-year-old hit just .148 with two homers, a .493 OPS and 77 strikeouts in 184 plate appearances and was sent back to Rookie-level Helena in June.

"When I first got here, they were telling me it was an advanced league for my age," he said. "I wasn't thinking about that though. I just wanted to step on the field and have everything take care of itself. I thought I had a feel for the game, but the game was so much faster than I expected."

Still, Harrison showed signs of finding himself and posted a .299/.410/.474 line with 14 stolen bases over 28 games in the Pioneer League, before the first injury hit. He broke his ankle while rounding the bases on July 21, an injury that cut his first full season short. He returned in time to make Wisconsin's Opening Day 2016 roster. Though he endured two tough months to begin the campaign, he was hitting .321/.377/.679 with five homers in 15 games in June alone, when he suffered a broken hamate bone in his left hand while swinging. Surgery kept him out of the Midwest League for exactly two months, and he batted just .237 with a .572 OPS over the final 16 games of the season.

The odd nature of both injuries wasn't lost on the outfielder.

"Man, at the time I kept thinking, 'How did this happen to me?'" Harrison said. "I never really got hurt before, or if I did, I was back playing two days later. You can't really do anything about it when stuff like that happens. My ankle was definitely worse than my hand, too. But all you can think about is getting back in the best possible situation. My coaches, the trainers, everyone I had around me did a lot to keep me upbeat."

Harrison entered last year's instructional league knowing that he couldn't change his luck but that he could change his approach to hitting. He went to work with then-Brewers hitting instructor Jeremy Reed to start tinkering with a stance that would allow him to tap into his power more while limiting strikeouts. Through that work, Harrison felt like he was entering the offseason having finally unlocked some code. He always had the bat speed to punish balls but wasn't putting himself in the right situation to make enough contact.

"Physically, I added a leg kick and dropped my hands lower," he said. "Jeremy and I worked on establishing what pitches I want to see and making adjustments when they're coming. Ever since then, I'm seeing pitches so much better. I'm not swinging at balls in the dirt. Everything's clicking."

Now 21, Harrison tried his best to carry his momentum from instructs into the winter with weekly hitting exercises and the usual offseason preparation, but ironically it was a down performance that led to the realization he was finally on the right path.

"My first game in Spring Training, I went 0-for-4 with two strikeouts, but afterward I was telling a kid on the team, 'I think I got it,'" he said. "I knew what I needed to keep doing. Things just felt right. The next game, I think I had four hits and a homer.

"He was asking me later, 'How did you know after a day like that?' I kept thinking the more you play, the more you know what your body feels like. Ever since last year at instructs, it's felt better than ever before, even on days when I don't get a hit like that one."

Video: Wisconsin's Harrison goes for second time

But as good as he felt, Harrison didn't know if it was coming through to management or if fall and spring looks alone could mean he'd finally make the jump to Class A Advanced. In the middle of Spring Training, he requested a meeting with Brewers farm director Tom Flanagan, and though he wouldn't go fully into the details of that conversation, he left knowing he'd have to attack the Midwest League once more.

"I just wanted to know where I stood," he said. "I'm not a guy who likes being in the dark. I just wanted to know what my role was and get some insight on the plan they had for me. When they told me, I knew I just had to roll with the punches and keep working. Tom was great with me, and it was a great conversation. No complaints. The season's been good to me so far."

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The results are certainly there with the bat. With Harrison's plus-plus arm in center and plus speed in the field and on the basepaths, he still has all the tools that made him stand out in 2014. With injuries hopefully behind him, he's ready to be spoken in the same breath as Brinson, Ray, Phillips and Clark -- all acquired through the Draft or trades since Harrison first entered the organization.

"It actually works pretty well," he said. "We're not the type of people where we don't talk because we're competing. It's all respect. We're all trying to get to the same place. Me, I like the competition. I think it brings out the best or the worst in people. ... Whoever gets there will earn it. But I'm not worried about what [the Brewers] think about me, compared to them. I've shown in bits and pieces what I can do, and now I'm going about business to show I can do it longer."

Sam Dykstra is a reporter for MiLB.com. Follow and interact with him on Twitter, @SamDykstraMiLB. This story was not subject to the approval of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues or its clubs.

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