Monte Harrison likes the positioning he has inside the Miami Marlins’ clubhouse this spring. His locker inside Roger Dean Stadium is situated next with a mass of young teammates to one side and a handful of veterans to the other. When he sits facing it, Matt Kemp is to his immediate right. Sean Rodriguez is two lockers over. He spends a lot of his time with two of Miami’s most experienced outfielders.
He leans on those two for advice when they’re sitting around in the locker room or standing around on one of the back fields in Jupiter. Harrison wants to learn from them how players can make it through a 162-game grind. They tease him about the lion tattoos he has on his arms.
“There’s just a little saying that I keep saying to myself every single day,” Harrison said as he stood outside the clubhouse Monday. “Lions don’t flock with sheep. Lions flock with lions.”
Just at this moment, Kemp happened to walk by.
“You’re a cub, man!” he shouted at the young outfielder.
He just smiled as the three-time All-Star walked past him and into the batting cages. Stuff like this is exactly what he was hoping to get out of this spring training, very possibly his last before he’s an MLB veteran. Harrison came into camp this year with an outside shot to land a spot on the Opening Day roster and he knew it.
His shot is still long, but his play in the Grapefruit League is at least forcing the Marlins’ hand a bit. Miami envisions Harrison, to some degree, as a five-tool player — he’s 6-foot-3, 220 pounds and such a good athlete he committed to play wide receiver for the Nebraska Cornhuskers before the Milwaukee Brewers took him in the second round of the 2014 MLB Draft. He has flashed just about every one of those tools this spring. After walking in his only plate appearance of a 3-2 win against the Washington Nationals on Tuesday, Harrison is 8 for 20 with a 1.070 on-base-plus-slugging percentage and six stolen bases.
“Speed and power’s the thing that everybody wants to be able to do. A lot of people talk about it, but to actually go out there and do it’s a whole different thing,” Harrison said. “Honestly, I just try to step on the field and set the tone, whether that’s baserunning, defense, hitting — whatever. Try to punch them in the face before they punch us.”
He has done it since he stepped on the field for spring training last month. In the first inning of the first game of the spring, Harrison singled for Miami’s first hit of spring training, stole second base, stole third and then scored on a single.
The next day, Harrison stole another base and drove in a run. Spring training statistics mean next to nothing, but Harrison has outperformed just about every outfielder he’s competing with, including Harold Ramirez, Magneuris Sierra and Kemp. He hasn’t hit for power, so he has instead made plays with his speed and contact.
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“He’s a gamer,” minor-league outfield coordinator Juan Pierre said. “He’s a football guy at heart, so he’s known for the aggression and stuff.”
Said Harrison: “You’ve got to be a savage in this game. If you’re not a dog in anything you do sports-wise or even like trying to be the best front-office person, you don’t have a chance.”
The Marlins reassigned six of their top 15 prospects to minor-league camp Tuesday, which leaves Harrison as the top-ranked prospect still competing with the major-league team. If it wasn’t for a wrist injury Harrison sustained midway through last season, manager Don Mattingly said Harrison “probably” would have gotten the call to the majors at some point. As long as nothing similar happens this year, he will likely make it sometime in 2020.
This is Harrison’s third time in major-league camp, which means Mattingly has now gotten to see him year after year after year. By now, Mattingly and Pierre said Harrison finally blends in with the veterans in terms of maturity, and routine.
Harrison is fine with being a “cub” right now. He knows he won’t be this time next year. This spring, he’s doing a good enough impression of a lion, anyway.
“They all come up to me and be like, ‘Bro, you’re a cub. You’re a cub, you’re a cub,’” Harrison said. “I’m like, ‘That’s fine. Cubs grow up.’ You wasn’t popped out of the womb being a big old strong lion, you know what I mean? It takes time to grow sometimes.”