Tournaments | Story | 7/22/2013

No backseat for baseball

Jeff Dahn        
Photo: Perfect Game

GOODYEAR, Ariz. -- The whole "baseball or football?" question -- and even to a lesser degree, "basketball?" -- is inescapable for Lee's Summit, Mo., three-sport standout Monte' Harrison. Even the scouting reports from Perfect Game showcase events this summer can't help but reference the overall athletic prowess of the 6-foot-2, 195-pound Harrison.

Like this one from June's elite Perfect Game National Showcase in Minneapolis:

"Baseball may only be Harrison’s third best sport, as he’s being recruited by SEC schools as a wide receiver and has hops on the basketball court that produce highlight reel dunks. But he isn’t far behind on the baseball field and may evolve into the top defensive outfielder in the (2014) class very quickly."

Or this one from the Perfect Game Su0nshine South Showcase held in early June in Tomball, Texas:

"Harrison is a nationally recruited football wide receiver but baseball is likely to compete hard for his future services. He’s a top of the scale defensive centerfielder with an elite level arm and shows lots of potential as a right-handed hitter."

As this week unfolds in Phoenix's western suburbs, there is no question at all -- Harrison is here to play baseball, talk baseball, live baseball and love baseball. He is at the 2nd annual 17u Perfect Game World Series as part of a loaded Marucci Elite roster that is hopeful of contending for a PG national championship.

"I'm very excited about being here," Harrison said Monday morning from one of the Cleveland Indians' minor league fields at the Goodyear Recreation Complex. "This is a very good (tournament) to play in and I love being with these guys, and as good as this team is I wouldn't want to be with anybody else; I can just come out and play baseball."

Marucci Elite certainly got off to stellar start at the 17u PG World Series on Monday by shutting out two of the pre-tournament favorites. It started with a 3-0 win over 17u PGWS defending champion South Florida Elite Squad-Louisville Slugger out of Miami in which right-hander David Michael Burkhalter (2014, Ruston, La., Tulane commit) threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit ball with 11 strikeouts and a fastball that reached 90 mph.

The Elite followed that up with a 5-0 win over the historically strong East Cobb Braves when right-hander Maverick Buffo (2014, Salem, Utah, BYU commit), and lefties Brian Brown (2014, Glenmore, Pa, Duke) and Joshua Smith (2015, Ferndale, Mich., Kentucky) tossed a combined five-hitter with eight strikeouts.

"We added a few left-handed arms, some guys that really know how to pitch," Marucci head coach Chad Raley said, referring to lefties Alex Verdugo (2014, Tucson, Ariz.), Jeb Bargfeldt (2014, Owasso, Okla.) and Brown. Verdugo has committed to Arizona State and Bargfeldt is uncommitted.

"You've really got to take care of your pitching (at this tournament), and part of the plan is to extend guys early in the middle games and then kind of chop it up a little bit in the last couple of pool-play games we're going to try to ride those guys out as long as we can," Raley continued. "We'll make sure their pitch-count doesn't get up too high because we don't want to jeopardize anybody's future by throwing too many pitches."

Harrison, hitting ninth in Marucci's lineup, was 1-for-2 with a double in the win over the S.F. Elite Squad and sat out the game against East Cobb. Marucci Elite was scheduled to play a third game Monday night.

"The meat of the order can all leave the yard and we've got some good table-setters that get on and let the big guys drive them in," Raley said. "It's a deep lineup and 1 through 10 can all swing the bat; I've probably got five or six 3-hole hitters all over the lineup."

Marucci Elite arrived at the inaugural 17u Perfect Game World Series in 2012 somewhat undermanned in the sense that it was able to bring only four or five of its regular position players. This year they have just about everyone here, which provides more reason for optimism.

"We're looking to advance this year and possibly win this thing," Raley said. "I like the makeup of this team. These guys have pretty much been together for two  years now and they're a close-knit group. Everybody is in each other's rooms in the hotels and they all get along really well, so this has been one of the (more fun) groups that I've coached."

The Elite had a good run at the PG WWBA 17u National Championship in the north Atlanta suburbs two week ago, finishing 7-1 after losing to eventual champion the Orlando Scorpions Prime, 4-1, in the semifinals. Raley thinks that showing will help his team this week.

"I think the kids kind of got a taste of it and they're hungry to win one," he said. "I think they realize we had some opportunities ... and we just didn't capitalize and I think they're coming here focused on winning a championship and kind of end the summer on a high note."

This is Harrison's first year playing with Marucci and he flew down to Louisiana from his home in Missouri a couple of days before the Elite's first practice late in the spring and has been with the team all summer. He limited his football responsibilities to concentrate on baseball and being a good teammate to his new pals on the Marucci roster.

"He's been a lot of fun to be around," Raley said. "He's lived with us basically the whole summer and it's been fun having him. He's a great kid and he's fun to be around on and off the field."

Harrison was encouraged to get acquainted with Raley and the Marucci Elite organization by 2014 pitcher Alex Lange, a teammate of his at Lee's Summit West High School. Lange, a right-hander ranked 92nd nationally in his class and a Louisiana State commit, began playing with Marucci last summer.

"It's been a real good fit," Harrison said of his summer-long association with Marucci. "All of the guys knew I was new, but Alex Lange told me all about it before I came down and he told me, 'You're going to like it, man.' I've tried to take it all in and it's probably one of the best experiences that I've ever known.

"I came down (to Louisiana) for a reason, just to get better, and I didn't want to fly back and forth; I decided to make a commitment and when I do that I stick to it."

Harrison's summer started at the Sunshine South Showcase where he was named the Top Prospect in the 2014 class, and continued at the Perfect Game National Showcase where he was even more impressive. He clocked a 6.94-second 60-yard dash and threw 95 mph from the outfield at the Sunshine South and ran a 6.65 60 and threw 97 from the outfield at the National.

"It's just his explosiveness," Raley said when asked what Harrison brings to the table. "He's got some power potential and he's got the speed and athleticism; he can steal bags, he can hit doubles, hit the ball out of the yard if he gets a hole of one. He's unbelievable defensively and he's got one of the strongest arms in the country.

"He's just got that game-changing type of potential, whether it's going to be with the bat, on the bases or with the glove or with his arm -- he can change the complexion of a game (quickly). I don't think he's even scratched the ceiling on what's he going to be; he's a special athlete."

In a little less than three weeks, Harrison will slip on the uniform for the West Team at the 11th annual Perfect Game All-American Classic presented by Rawlings. The game itself will be played on Aug. 11 and televised live on the MLB Network from Petco Park in San Diego, but the 50 players chosen will be involved in a lot of activities in the three days leading up to the game.

Harrison will see a lot of familiar faces during his four day stay in San Diego. Marucci Elite teammates Keaton McKinney from Ankeny, Iowa (an Arkansas commit); Gregory Deichmann from Metairie, La. (Louisiana State) and Justin Smith from St. John's, Fla. (Miami) were also selected to the All-American Classic; McKinney will join Harrison on the West Team and Deichmann and Smith will play for the East.

"It's a great opportunity just to be able to hang out with the best players around the U.S.  and even a couple of other countries," Harrison said. "It's a great opportunity for me and I'm very excited to go out there; I'm missing football for it, but (his high school football teammates) know what I want to do and they really push for me.

"It's going to be a great experience to go out there and chill, hang out with the little kids (at Rady Children's Hospital) and do all that stuff, but at the end of the day we're going to go down there and play baseball and have a little fun."

Ah, there's that football reference again. Harrison just recently accepted a football scholarship offer from the University of Nebraska with the understanding that the Cornhuskers' head football coach Bo Pelini and baseball coach Darin Erstad will allow him to pursue both sports when he arrives in Lincoln -- if the baseball draft doesn't grab the front seat come next June.

"That is someplace that was going to let me play both," Harrison said. "I knew Nebraska was very serious about letting me do that because Darin Erstad played both sports at Nebraska. Darin is very serious about it and I have a great relationship with him; they were one of the first schools that talked to me and I developed a good relationship with them."

According to one online football recruiting service, Harrison received scholarship offers from Arkansas, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kansas State, Kentucky, Michigan State, Missouri, Tulsa and Vanderbilt.

Harrison said he is contemplating not going out for basketball his senior season, calling it a "last minute decision." He is a very talented hoopster and his older brother Shaquille Harrison just completed his freshman season at the Tulsa University where he plays for head coach and legendary Kansas Jayhawk Danny Manning.

Raley said he has never seen Harrison play football so he wasn't comfortable commenting on which field of play Harrison will end up enjoying the most success. He does like what he sees on the diamond, however.

"I think he's going to be kind of a Mike Cameron-type guy," Raley said, referring to former big-leaguer whose son, Daz Cameron, is the top-ranked national prospect in the class of 2015. "He's not an absolute burner on the field but he run, steal bases and hit for a little power. I think he could potentially be a 15, 20 home run and 30 steal type guy; he's got a really high ceiling."

Harrison has been juggling his time between schoolwork and three or four sports for as long as he can remember. He likes the excitement baseball offers with "highlight reel" defensive plays and extra-base hits; he said the appeal of football is the intensity required to play the game at the highest level. And despite the public perception that football will eventually win the day, it's wise not to jump to conclusions.

"I would say that baseball is right up there with football and baseball might be even a little bit more than football right now," he said. "But at the end of the day I still love both of my sports."

For the rest of this week, Harrison -- along with his talented Marucci Elite teammates -- are content to enjoy this week in the desert (despite a daily threat of rain). He just loves being at this tournament with 15 of the other best 17u teams in the country.

"The top teams in the nation are here, and there's a lot of good guys here -- a lot of D-I and major league prospects -- and all you've got to do is just come out and play your game," Harrison said. "I still have things I can work on a get better at and we're working on that to see what I can do to get better for the draft or college and stuff like that. We'll see what's going with all that but at the same time I'm just coming out and playing baseball."

 Give us your feedback
Copyright 1994-2020 by Perfect Game. All rights reserved. No portion of this information may be reprinted or reproduced without the written consent of Perfect Game.