2014 was a strange year for Milwaukee. As the draft approached, the Crew was in the midst of one of the best starts in team history: entering play on June 5, the Brewers were 36-25 and owned a five game lead in the NL Central. Yet even as the Brewers remained publicly committed to winning in the present, the shift into rebuilding mode started that evening in Secaucus, New Jersey. For years, the Brewers draft strategy had been to focus on college-age pitching early in the draft, arms that could move quickly through the system to supplement the big league team as soon as possible. This strategy was born out of a desire to maximize opportunities to win with the early century core of Ryan Braun, Prince Fielder, Rickie Weeks, Yovani Gallardo, and J.J. Hardy and his successor, Alcides Escobar. It didn’t work, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t the right idea – they just didn’t select the right guys (I’m looking at you, Eric Arnett).
The 2014 draft represented a shift from this thinking (though they’d also taken a couple of prep arms in the second round the year previous after forfeiting their first round pick for Kyle Lohse). The Brewers selected Kodi Medeiros, a high school lefty out of Hawaii, with the 12th overall pick. In the supplemental first round, they selected Jake Gatewood, a prep shortstop out of California, with the 41st pick and then nine picks later in the second round, they scooped up Monte Harrison, a high school outfielder out of Lee’s Summit, MO. Harrison is the #4 prospect on our list.
The selection of Harrison was a calculated risk by Doug Melvin when he made him the 50th overall pick in the draft. He was considered by most scouts to have front-of-the-first-round talent, but he was also an elite WR recruit committed to Nebraska, and many teams felt he might be difficult to pry away from the gridiron. The Brewers took him anyway and coaxed him into signing with an over-slot $1.8 million bonus, a win-win for Wisconsin sports fans as in one stroke the Brewers strengthened their farm system and weakened the Badgers’ biggest competition in the B1G West (and the Cornhuskers certainly could have used him).
Harrison started the season with Low-A Wisconsin, where at 19-years-old he struggled against more experienced competition. He hit .148/.246/.247, striking out a ridiculous 41.8% of the time – Harrison had more than three times as many strikeouts as hits. When the Pioneer League kicked back into gear in June Jarrison, who spent 2014 with the AZL Brewers, was sent back down to Rookie-level Helena for further seasoning.
Back with players closer to his own age Harrison, who turned 20 in August, began to thrive., He showed improvement almost across the board from his 2014 numbers, lowering his K% to 19.3 to go along with a solid 11.8 BB% while more than doubling his ISO (.175 in 2015) and slashing .299/.410/.474 over 28 games. He continued to flash the plus speed that made him a valuable football recruit as well, swiping 14 bags while being caught only twice (Harrison has a career 86.6% stolen base success rate in 60 attempts). Unfortunately, just as he was beginning to put things together, Harrison suffered a tibia fracture and a dislocated fibia when he slipped on wet grass rounding third, an injury that ended his season in mid-July.
Coming from a cold-weather state with a limited amount of high-level baseball – and having spent half his time focusing on football – Harrison is still raw, as evidenced by his struggles to make contact in Appleton. This will be a telling year for Harrison, both in his return from a devastating ankle injury and in how he navigates the competition in the Midwest League after two seasons with Helena (EDIT: one season with Helena, and one with the AZL Brewers). Though he certainly has the raw athleticism and tools to become an elite prospect, he’ll eventually need his swing, plate discipline, and baseball IQ to catch up with his physical talents in order to put it all together.