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What to expect from Monte Harrison in Marlins debut

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Harrison will become the last of four players received in the Christian Yelich trade to make his big league debut.

Miami Marlins Summer Workouts Photo by Mark Brown/Getty Images

There may be a memorable day in Marlins history on the horizon. Sunday afternoon, Craig Mish reported that the team intends to call up outfield prospect Monte Harrison for their upcoming series with the Orioles; with the move, all four prospects received in the deal for Christian Yelich have now reached the big leagues. It’s the end of a long journey for Harrison, who made his pro debut at age 18 in 2014 and has worked tirelessly to polish his game while accumulating over 2,000 minor league plate appearances since.

Harrison was the 50th overall pick of the 2014 draft by the Brewers, and was considered a tough sign with a strong commitment to Nebraska, where he planned to play both football and baseball. Harrison had a promising future on the gridiron—he was a star receiver and one the best players in his state, but his tools on the diamond vaulted his baseball stock to different heights. He received the largest bonus of the entire second round at $1.8 million to forego college, and immediately became one of the most exciting prospects in the Milwaukee system.

As a draft prospect, Harrison had uncommon tools but something of a familiar profile. Despite sporting a bulky 6’3” frame, he had elite speed and arm strength in addition to impressive power potential. His high school swing was not geared for power, and there were questions about his contact ability, but he did show a patient approach and with three plus or better tools he was highly coveted nonetheless. Once he got to work in rookie ball, that profile was quickly on display—in his first taste of the pros, he stole 32 bags in 34 attempts, drew a healthy complement of walks, and actually made contact at pretty solid clip, striking out in less that 20% of his plate appearances.

After a quick trip back to rookie ball in 2015, where he hit .299/.410/.474 in 119 PAs with a 19.3% K rate, Harrison was promoted to full-season ball for the first time, where he faced adversity for the first time. While he was just 19 years old at the time and competing against players that were roughly two years his senior on average, the results were not at all pretty. He struggled to make much contact at all, striking out in 41.8% of his plate appearances, which all of a sudden brought his contact skills, one of the weaker parts of his game at the time, to the forefront. That dampened expectations for the moment.

The bump in the road led the Brewers to reassign Harrison to Low-A in 2016, where he improved a bit in the contact department and showed a little more power, but overall the results were still a bit wanting, as he ended up with a .221/.294/.337 slash line and 32.6 K%. While the results at this point tested the patience of his supporters, Harrison was still a bit young for the level at this point at age 20, and most evaluators cautioned against writing him off. When he returned to Low-A one last time in 2017, he broke through as a steady producer and solidified an upward trajectory for himself, hitting .265/.359/.475 in 261 PAs with 11 home runs, by far his best power production of his pro career to that point. These totals earned him a midseason promotion to High-A Carolina, his first new level since the 2015 campaign.

Harrison responded pretty well to the challenge, managing a respectable .278/.341/.487 line with 10 more homers to bring his season total to 21. It was at this time that Harrison’s prospect stock started to peak—yes, there were some persistent concerns about just how much contact he would make, but evaluators were starting not to mind. The rest of his tools were so impressive that he projected as a 2-4 win player even if he were to hit for a low average, as scouts were coming away impressed by his defense, arm speed, and on-base ability. Despite not having the plate coverage of a true five-tool threat, Harrison displayed an understanding of how to maximize his tools on the diamond, only swinging when necessary and making hard contact when he was able to put bat to ball. It was after this successful 2017 campaign, in January of 2018, when he was traded to Miami, and it was also around this time that he broke into top 100 lists for the first time.

Harrison entered 2018 with serious hype, and was aggressively pushed to Double-A to start the season. The High-A to Double-A jump is perhaps the steepest in the minors, and it took Harrison some time to adjust. His contact numbers backslid, as he struck out in 36.9% of his plate appearances, and he only reached base at a .316 clip, but he did continue to impact games with his power and speed, socking 19 homers and stealing 28 bags.

Fish Stripes original GIF

While evaluators weren’t necessarily out on him at this point, his stock did slide. This might’ve been a bit short-sighted, as the Marlins were working on some pretty significant adjustments with him, making his transition to the upper minors all the more difficult. The Marlins were impressed enough with what Harrison was able to do at Double-A in 2018 to push him to Triple-A in 2019, where he appeared to be taking another step forward.

With New Orleans in 2019, Harrison was able to employ a slightly shorter swing to great effect, improving mightily on his Double-A numbers in a 56-game sample. His K rate dipped to a much more manageable (albeit still high) 29.9%, and his walk rate rebounded to 10.2%, resulting in a .274/.357/.451 slash line with 9 homers in 215 PAs. While his wRC+ was actually a bit lower than it had been the previous year in Double-A thanks to the gaudy offensive environment in Triple-A last season, the contact numbers were the real focus and the improvements in that department had evaluators taking note.

Unfortunately, his season would be cut short by a wrist injury, and he was unable to build on the momentum.

In a normal season, Monte would’ve been on pace to debut around June 2020 or so, but the COVID-19 shutdown delayed his slow rise to the big leagues even further. While this had to be frustrating, Harrison obviously continued to work tirelessly, as he showed up to MLB “summer camp” with a chip on his shoulder, turning heads with impressive plays on both sides of the ball. His performance was so impressive that Marlins fans and fantasy baseball enthusiasts alike were clamoring him to break with the big league club, which ultimately didn’t happen, but it was nonetheless a confidence builder for Harrison, who said in an interview at the time that he “knew’ he was ready for big league competition.

As the Marlins have struggled to maneuver through a COVID-19 outbreak, they’ve had to look to Jupiter for reinforcements, and we learned Sunday that Harrison would be among the group joining the big club in Miami. Given that manager Don Mattingly said that the club felt strongly about Harrison playing every day at this stage in his career when the team declined to add him to the “Opening Day” roster, it should be expected that he’ll step into a regular role in the outfield now. While it has taken time for him to arrive, his projection at this point looks much like it did back when he was figuring things out in A-ball. His hit tool hasn’t made a quantum leap, but he continues to show a good feel for the strike zone, and his quality of contact has steadily improved. He hasn’t lost so much as a step as he has continued to add strength, and the speed along with his arm, one of the best in the minors, should make him a serious plus on the defensive side of the ball, and while he won’t be a table-setter, his patience and power should allow him to make a solid offensive impact as well, with the potential for some huge seasons over the course of his career when things are really clicking for him.

The promotion is a sorely needed feel-good story for the Marlins, who have had a rough week with several players and coaches contracting COVID-19, prompting Isan Díaz to opt out. The team and fans will be thrilled for Harrison, not only because he’ll bringing an exciting style of play, but because they know how long and hard he has worked for this moment. His presence will also help take some of the sting off of Díaz’s (understandable) absence for the remainder of the season. Look for Harrison to immediately slide into an everyday outfield role, most often in center and right field, when the Marlins resume play against Baltimore this week.

Poll

What will Monte Harrison’s weighted runs created-plus (wRC+) be for the Marlins in 2020? (100 is league average)

This poll is closed

  • 25%
    125 wRC+ or higher
    (17 votes)
  • 39%
    Between 100-124 wRC+
    (26 votes)
  • 27%
    Between 75-99 wRC+
    (18 votes)
  • 7%
    74 wRC+ or lower
    (5 votes)
66 votes total Vote Now