If Michael Harris II had been drafted by perhaps anybody else but his hometown team, he might be preparing to take the mound every fifth day. But the Braves have made it a little bit of a habit to go against the grain in the scouting industry and draft players generally perceived to be pitchers and give them the chance to hit at the professional level.
That worked out pretty well with 2021 Silver Slugger award winner and MVP candidate Austin Riley, who was taken No. 41 overall in the 2017 Draft and obviously developed as a slugging right-handed hitter. In the third round of 2019, the Braves took on Harris, a player from their own backyard in Georgia, who most teams liked as a left-handed pitcher. But the Braves knew that Harris wanted to hit, and they wanted to let him. With his call up to Atlanta on Saturday, they’ll get to see just how well it will work in the big leagues.
As much as the Braves like Harris, they would be the first to admit that he has developed a lot faster than anyone anticipated. And he showed off a more advanced feel for the game than many expected, especially for a high school player who previously had split his focus between pitching and hitting. He did not waste any time showing they may have gotten a better player than even they realized after signing him for slightly below slot when he played his way to full-season ball in his debut summer of ’19. He had a .917 OPS that year, serving notice that he might have the chance to be something special.
We may not know for a very long time what the impact of the canceled 2020 Minor League season will have on the development of young players. What we do know is Harris used that time to get better. At 19, he was one of the youngest players at any alternate training site and definitely looked like he belonged with the slew of other young Braves outfielders at the time, a group that included Ronald Acuña Jr., Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. All of them had the tools to play center field, and Harris immediately showed that his instincts as a defender were just as good as, if not better than, the others in this group. That’s something Braves fans can bank on right out of the gate: plus defense in the outfield. He’s certainly capable of playing all three outfield positions, but with all due respect to Adam Duvall, Harris will be a huge defensive upgrade up the middle. His plus arm that made him such an intriguing pitching prospect in high school works very well from any spot.
Harris also has plus speed, which not only allows him to cover a lot of ground in the outfield but has also helped him be a very effective base stealer. So even if the 21-year-old does not hit right out of the chute, he can contribute to winning games with his legs, his arm and his glove.
That’s not to say Harris isn’t going to hit. He is a very confident hitter with an advanced approach from the left side of the plate. While typically being one of the youngest players at whatever level he’s been assigned to, he has shown the ability to take the same, consistent at-bats regardless of who was on the mound. That kind of mindset will help him as he makes the double leap to the big leagues.
As good as Harris was right after being drafted, there was some concern with his chase rate. Rather then being a young arrogant player who feels he has it all figured out, Harris worked to improve his overall approach and has cut his chase rate down considerably since that first professional summer. Now he has elite bat-to-ball skills that jump off the page, with a very strong knowledge of the strike zone.
Power is often the last tool to show up consistently, and Harris is definitely just scratching the surface of tapping into his tremendous raw pop. That might take a little time to show up in the big leagues, especially as he is often content to let the ball travel deep and trust his hands to make hard contact. Once he learns what his hot zone is and starts to barrel those pitches out front, the power will continue to come, giving him a very exciting combination of power and contact skills.
It was clear the Braves needed some outfield help at the big league level, and it’s telling them they opted to bring up Harris from Double-A rather than give Waters, currently in Triple-A and already on the 40-man roster, an opportunity . The Braves clearly believe that Harris’ mature approach to the plate and five-tool potential have him ready for The Show.