Monte Harrison Swats Homers, Swaps Jerseys

MIDLAND, Mich.—The 53rd annual Midwest League all-star game was a spectacle from start to finish, beginning with an incredible home run derby on Monday night at Dow Diamond and ending with the presentation of a most valuable player award to a player who hit two home runs from the wrong spot in the batting order and managed to switch jerseys mid-trot.

Brewers outfielder Monte Harrison carried the long ball contest excitement over to Tuesday night, launching two balls over the left field wall to help his West squad to a 5-2 win over the East. After declining to participate in the derby the night before, Harrison hit a solo shot in the seventh and a two-run bomb in the ninth, all while hitting out of order.

“Somebody said that to me in the dugout, that I batted out of order there," Harrison said. “I said, 'My name is behind (Marcos Almonte) in the order,' and they just said, 'It doesn't matter anyway; it's an all-star game.' If it was a real game and I hit those home runs they would have been like, 'Nope,' but it is what it is, so they count here."

After starting the game in the five hole for the Western Division, the 21-year-old left fielder dropped to the sixth spot in the order for his third at-bat. After working the count full, Harrison sent the sixth pitch of the at-bat out of the Great Lake Loons park, switching jerseys with first-base coach Tyler Collins on his way around first base and wearing Collins' jersey for the rest of the game.

“I can't really say much about that," he said. “It wasn't me who brought the whole situation up. I just came through with it."

After hitting .265/.359/.475 in the first half, with 11 home runs and 12 doubles in 63 games for low Class A Wisconsin, Harrison is excited to start the second half and take the momentum he built at the circuit's event into it with him.

“This was a great experience," the Missouri native said. “Just to know I've played against these guys and talked to them, we had a good time . . . and honestly I've been swinging the bat well the whole season, whether I'm high or low, I'm trying to stay even keel. I don't try to get too high because you get humbled very quickly. I hope to go into the second half with the same work ethic that brought me here."

The rest of the West squad's production came in the fourth inning, courtesy of a two-run home run from 20-year-old Cedar Rapids (Twins) infielder Lewin Diaz. Hitting .271/.314/.446 in the first half of the season with 29 extra-base hits, he gave his team the early advantage. On the East side, Loons infielder Brendon Davis carried his home run power from the derby and launched his longest one of the year to dead center in the ninth in the losing cause.

Two Lugnuts

Blue Jays prospects Vladimir Guerrero Jr. and Bo Bichette brought the excitement early in the all-star affair, getting on the board in the bottom of the first when Bichette led off the frame with a single, stole second, and Guerrero Jr. drove him in.

In the first half of the season, Bichette led the Midwest League in hitting at .396/.463/.639 with seven homers, three triples, 28 doubles and 45 RBIs in 56 games for low Class A Lansing. Guerrero Jr. was close behind him, batting .321/.411/.469 with 24 extra-base hits in 59 games.

“We go about the game a little bit differently in terms of how we prepare," Bichette said of his infield partner. “But in terms of the game, he takes the game very seriously just like I do. If you asked him, he'd probably say he wants to be the best player who's ever lived, so to have someone like that on my team, and someone who doesn't just say that, who actually goes out there and performs, he has the ability to be that, it definitely pushes me.

“I mean, man, I'm having a great season and he's right on my tail. So to have someone like that with me pushes me a lot for sure."

Both young Lugnuts credit their big-league dads—who both attended the all-star festivities in Midland—for their early introductions to the finer points of the game, and understand that they are where they are because of what their fathers, Dante Bichette and Vladimir Guerrero, did before them.

“My father and a lot of other people, other players that I've met through him and other players I've played with have helped the adjustment," Guerrero said through a translator. “I've learned a lot by example and so my dad has helped me a lot with that . . .

“I've grown up a lot as a player lately, because I have been working hard, and when I'm at home I have my dad to work with me. I know I have to develop and I'm starting to do that, and I thank God for the opportunity to be able to play here."

Added Bichette: “It's an advantage for me, being able to learn from my dad and the other guys he was friends with who played. I have an advantage in the field, and knowing what I learned, I made adjustments quicker and knowing things that people learn in pro ball from when I was seven years old, that's definitely been big for me."

Big Cut

Despite finishing second in the MWL home run derby to Loons slugger Carlos Rincon on Monday night, it was Guerrero Jr.'s bat that made the most noise in the event.

Taking his cuts without batting gloves, using a violent effort reminiscent of the swing of his father–who will be inducted into the Canadian Baseball Hall of Fame on Saturday—Guerrero Jr. reminded everyone of what the game lost when his dad retired, and gave Blue Jays fans a glimpse of a bright future.

“I had a lot of fun both days here," Guerrero Jr. said through Loons and East manager Jeremy Rodriguez. “I was a little nervous yesterday. It was the first home run derby for me, but I really enjoyed it. Today, my biggest goal was to enjoy with my teammates and my buddies, and make memories.

“It was awesome having my dad here, especially for my first all-star game and home run derby. To have his support was phenomenal. He gave me some tips and some pointers to help me through it, so it was fun. And he gave me advice for the second half, just to keep my head up and keep working, and keep doing what I've been doing."

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