PHOENIX – Monte Harrison’s baseball career – and life, really – has come full circle.
The onetime prospect, probably best known for being part of the four-player package sent to the Miami Marlins in 2018 for Christian Yelich, is back with the Milwaukee Brewers after signing a minor-league deal on Jan. 30.
Harrison, 27, is in major-league camp and on Saturday met the man he was traded for, something of a surreal moment for a player the Brewers had hoped would develop into a mainstay in their outfield after drafting him 50th out of high school in Lee’s Summit, Missouri, in 2014.
“I’m definitely happy, definitely blessed to be back,” Harrison said. “It’s one of those things that’s part of the business, when you get traded, but they got a great player back in Yelich and sometimes the things you go through, you’ve just got to go through them.
“I’m just happy to be back is the main thing.”
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Harrison battled injuries and inconsistency in the minor leagues for the first three years of his first Brewers tenure before breaking through by hitting a combined .272 with 21 home runs, 67 runs batted in and 27 stolen bases with an OPS of .832 in 122 games split between Class A Wisconsin and advanced Class A Carolina.
Then, on Jan. 25, Harrison was packaged along with fellow prospects Lewis Brinson, Isan Díaz and Jordan Yamamoto and sent to Miami in exchange for Yelich, a mammoth transaction for both organizations.
Yelich went on to be named the National League’s most valuable player that season and finished as runner-up to Cody Bellinger in 2019.
The narrative that the Brewers committed highway robbery was pervasive. And correct.
“Oh man, I heard it every day,” Harrison admitted. “It was frustrating. Some crazy times dealing with new fans in Miami. So, when things aren’t really going your way and especially with the seasons that he was having at the time, you know you’re going to hear a lot about it.
“But at the end of the day it helped me grow as a man. I’m here to learn, I’m here to compete and I’m here to win. That’s what I’ve been about my whole life.”
Harrison and the other three players sent to Miami all reached the major leagues with the Marlins.
But none has had any staying power to this point with Harrison likely ticketed for Class AAA Nashville this season, Brinson playing in Japan, Díaz a 40-man roster member with the San Francisco Giants and Yamamoto having recently signed a minor-league deal with the Los Angeles Dodgers.
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Harrison made his debut and played 32 of his 50 career major-league games in 2020. He played nine games in 2021 and was released by Miami last March, then played nine more after being picked up by the Angels last season.
He enters 2023 a career .176 hitter with two home runs and six runs batted in.
“It’s been a difficult (road),” Harrison said. “There’s a lot of things that go on in other organizations that aren’t like the one you originally come to. So, you try to make those adjustments and you try to get situated but sometimes that doesn’t work out. At the end of the day I think it’s all about learning lessons.
“What you go through, it’s all about how you respond. I appreciate the Marlins for calling me up and giving me the opportunity but that’s in the past. I’m moving on and I’m back here where I first started.”
Harrison actually had opportunities to sign with other organizations – some of which, presumably, would present better opportunities to impact the major leagues – but said the pull he felt from Milwaukee was too strong.
“Once you get to a certain point in your career you start making connections, you start talking to people,” he said. “They actually talked to my agent before but I personally reached out to (vice president of player operations and baseball administration Tom Flanagan) and a couple other guys to make it known, I want to come back.
“I didn’t want to leave in the first place but once I actually got the call and things started to roll, I felt a lot of peace behind it.”
From the Brewers’ perspective, bringing Harrison back was an easy choice.
“It was really open and honest,” Flanagan said. “We’ve known him a long time and he was real clear with us that he felt a comfort level here. He had offers to go other places and when it got right down to it, he knew a lot of people here, just felt comfortable and that he has a lot of unfinished business.
“This is a great opportunity to see where it goes. He’s ready to compete. Excited to have him back, certainly.”
Now, for however long he’s in camp, Harrison will get to work closely on a daily basis with the player who he’ll forever be linked to in Yelich.
“You hear the name before and when the trade happens, all the hype and stuff that goes with it – to actually see him in person and be able to move around and bump shoulders with him is going to be a very interesting thing,” Harrison said. “More than anything, I’m blessed to be able to learn from him. He’s done things in this league, won MVPs, and I can take a lot from that and I’m ready to do that.
“I think at the end of the day a lot of Brewers fans see you get two big, key pieces back. I think it’s going to be fun.”
The Brewers currently have only five outfielders on the 40-man roster — Yelich, Jesse Winker, Garrett Mitchell, Tyrone Taylor and Blake Perkins — with top prospects like Sal Frelick and Joey Wiemer both in camp as well.
Doing the arithmetic, that doesn’t leave a lot of space for Harrison. But that doesn’t mean he can’t go down to Nashville, produce and get himself into the conversation at the major-league level moving forward — especially with the great physical tools he possesses.
“Get better every single day. Help this team win ballgames,” Harrison said when asked what he hopes to accomplish this spring.
“That’s what I’m about. Every time I step foot out on that field there’s no surprise. People know how I play. People know how I go about the game. Take it one day at a time and if the opportunity presents itself, then whatever happens, happens. But more than anything I’m just happy here.
“I don’t worry about the results or anything like that. I worry about being a good teammate and helping these guys achieve the goals that they want to achieve.”
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This article originally appeared on Milwaukee Journal Sentinel: Once traded for Christian Yelich, Monte Harrison back with Brewers