Monte Harrison was on the outside looking in when the coronavirus pandemic forced MLB to shut down spring training on March 12. At that time, he was competing to make the 26-man Marlins Opening Day roster, trying to fit into an outfield that already included Lewis Brinson, Harold Ramirez, and recent signings Matt Joyce and Corey Dickerson. Although the 24-year old center fielder had a solid Triple-A season last year, his ETA was still estimated at mid-to-late 2020.
That all changed when MLB imposed a shortened 2020 season and added new wrinkles to rosters. Active rosters can fit 30 players at the start of the season, with that number dwindling down to 26 towards the end of the year. A universal designated hitter creates an extra lineup spot for National League clubs like the Marlins to get more of their position players involved in the action.
These new rules along with the cancelation of Minor League Baseball should accelerate MLB debuts for guys like Harrison.
“We love Monte,” Marlins manager Don Mattingly said. “Monte the athlete, Monte the competitor. Monte’s worked really hard to continue to improve. And he’s going to continue to improve and get better. We’re happy with the strides he’s been making. Obviously the new summer camp puts him back in the equation.”
Although the skipper did not specify what role he sees Harrison taking this year, it seems that most of the position battles have already been hashed out privately.
“We were down to the last couple of guys when we left (spring training),” Mattingly said. “There’s still a few decisions to make, but not a lot.”
Harrison, who is the No. 9 Marlins prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has hit the ground running in the first few days of summer camp. On Saturday, he made solid contact against both Sandy Alcantara and Caleb Smith, including a home run to the Budweiser bar in left-center field.
The ability to seamlessly plug players into the lineup will be a key for the Fish this year. Four players have already tested positive for COVID-19—three before the report date, and one at the intake screening on July 1. Although these cases all happened before players entered into their pseudo-bubble, the Marlins are still taking precautions to minimize the chance of infection, including the rules already laid out by MLB. Mattingly said that they split up the players into two different groups throughout the day. Although the team doesn’t technically need to do this, Mattingly feels it’s a good way to reduce contact among teammates.
“There’s kind of a method to the madness of who’s here in the morning and who’s here in the afternoon,” Mattingly said. “There’s going to come a day when pretty much all players are here...it’s just a matter of situating it to where everyone is getting their best work.”
Two more top-ten prospects joined the Marlins on Sunday. First baseman Lewin Díaz and outfielder Jesús Sánchez made the trip down from Jupiter, and will report to Marlins Park instead of Roger Dean Stadium.
Monday’s practice will be closed to the media, but Fish Stripes will be at the park on Tuesday for full coverage.