Resurgent Harrison better than ever

SAN ANTONIO - Hampered by a chronic shoulder injury in 2007, Ben Harrison struggled with Double-A Frisco and High-A Bakersfield. But the outfielder is having little trouble at the plate this season, as he is batting .362 in his first 12 games. Lone Star Dugout features the prospect, who is quickly putting himself back on the prospect map.

Outfielder Ben Harrison enjoyed a breakout season in 2006 when he belted 26 home runs while batting .289 between High-A Bakersfield and Double-A Frisco.

After cementing himself as one of the top power prospects in the Rangers' system, Harrison spent the following offseason playing winterball in Venezuela. The slugger batted .311 with 14 doubles and two home runs in just 39 games before separating his shoulder while diving for a ball in the outfield.

The injury caused Harrison to miss the first two months of the 2007 regular season. The outfielder re-surfaced with Double-A Frisco in early-June, but he would spend just eight games there before being sent back to Bakersfield.

Harrison struggled to find any consistency with the Blaze, as he batted just .240 with six home runs in 61 games. He also struck out an alarming 75 times in 221 at-bats. Not surprisingly, Harrison says he was still feeling the effects of his separated shoulder.

"I ended up having some nerve complications that were not expected and I didn't know what it was," said Harrison. "I tried to battle through it and play through it, but I couldn't get any extension. I was playing games where I couldn't get through batting practice. I was getting weaker and weaker – I couldn't strengthen it."

Despite the injury, Harrison, who turned 26-years-old shortly after last season ended, was afraid to lose an entire season of development.

"I was scared to shut it down because I knew my season would be over if I did that," he said. "Late in the season, I started swinging the bat o.k. It felt like it started coming around."

Even when the Florida native began to feel better about his shoulder, he believes the injury caused him to fall into some bad habits that were difficult to shake.

"I'm usually not a guy that fouls balls off their foot or hits them into the dugout," explained Harrison. "Usually if I have a problem, I'm way too far out front. I was catching balls deep. I just couldn't get any extension with my right hand. My swing just wasn't the same."

In order to get out of those bad habits and keep them from creeping back into his swing, Harrison says he did more hitting than ever this past offseason.

"I actually hit more this offseason than I ever have," he said. "I usually hit a lot, but I lived with Ryan Shealy of the Royals and he just hits and hits and hits. He has been in the big leagues and he knows. I think he has helped me out some."

Harrison missed the season's first two weeks after beginning the year on the disabled list. The University of Florida product was able to take advantage of his extra time off by getting in as much hitting as possible.

"I really had a chance every day to hit and hit and hit," Harrison said. "I knew I couldn't play so I took pride into feeling like my batting practice and extra hitting was my game. I stood in against live pitching as much as I could so when I did get into a game situation, I wouldn't be that far behind."

Following an offseason full of hitting and strenuous workouts, Harrison says his shoulder currently feels as good as ever.

"[My shoulder] feels great now," he said. "The Rangers really pushed me in spring training to see if it feels healthy and it didn't bother me at all. I did not play winterball for the sole fact that it was important for me to build up the strength."

Since Harrison returned to action on April 18, he has been nothing short of dominant at the plate. The 6-foot-4 slugger has batted 17-for-47 (.362) with four home runs. He has also walked six times and stolen three bases.

The hot start has even prompted first-year Frisco manager Scott Little to experiment with Harrison in the leadoff spot for some games. Although he is not exactly a prototypical leadoff hitter, Harrison enjoys the unexpected change of pace.

"The other day I looked at the lineup and I didn't think I was playing because I had never looked at the leadoff spot," Harrison joked. "It has been fun. The first game here was the first I had ever led off – I think in my life."

Because he has never hit in the leadoff spot before, Harrison doesn't go into an at-bat with the mindset of a typical leadoff hitter.

"I try not to take it as much as being a leadoff hitter," said Harrison. "I try to take it as if I were hitting in the three- or four-hole. I'm just being aggressive and I feel like my game is to try and drive the ball rather than just to try to get on base."

Harrison is also quick to downplay his role, believing that the leadoff spot does not matter much after the game's first at-bat.

"I know that the guys hitting seven, eight, nine have all led off at some point, so besides that first at-bat, I really have leadoff guys hitting in front of me," he said. "Besides the very first at-bat, it could be considered like the three-hole."

Regardless of where his manager has batted him thus far, Harrison has continued to mash the ball. Given his age and the fact that he proved to be successful with Frisco in 2006, it should be interesting to see how aggressive the Rangers will be in promoting the 26-year-old. But Harrison says he will not allow himself to get caught up in where he plays this season.

"[The Rangers] told me that they know I can play at Triple-A, I can play at Double-A, and that they like me," Harrison said. "It has been one of those things that I don't feel it is important where I play – being Double-A or Triple-A – as long as I'm healthy and playing the game hard. Other things will just kind of take care of themselves as far as where they want to put me."

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