Perhaps if Michael Harris II had been drafted by anyone other than his hometown team, perhaps he would be gearing up to take the mound every fifth day. But the Braves have made a bit of a habit of going against the grain in the scouting industry, drafting players who are widely perceived as pitchers and giving them a chance to score at the professional level.
That worked out pretty well with 2021 Silver Slugger Award winner and MVP nominee Austin Riley, who was drafted 41st overall in the 2017 draft and has obviously developed as a hitting right-hander. In the third round of 2019, the Braves brought in Harris, a player from their own Georgia backyard that most teams liked as a left-handed pitcher. But the Braves knew Harris wanted to hit, and they wanted to let him. With his call to Atlanta on Saturday, they’ll see how well it will work in the big leagues.
As much as the Braves love Harris, they would be the first to admit that he has developed much faster than anyone expected. And he displayed a more advanced feel for the game than many expected, especially for a high school player who had previously focused on throwing and hitting. He wasted no time in showing that they might have gotten a better player than even they thought after signing him for a spot just below pitch when he committed to the ball for the entire in his debut summer of ’19 season played. He had a .917 OPS this year, warning he might have a chance to be special.
We may not know for a long time what impact the canceled 2020 minor league season will have on young player development. What we do know is that Harris has used this time to get better. At 19, he was one of the youngest players at an alternative training ground and definitely looked like he belonged to the throng of other young Braves outfielders at the time, a group that included Ronald Acuña Jr., Cristian Pache and Drew Waters belonged. All had the means to play in midfield and Harris immediately showed his instincts as a defender were as good, if not better, than the others in this group. Here’s what Braves fans can count on from the get-go: plus outfield defense. 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 down the middle. His plus arm, which made him such an intriguing pitcher in high school, works extremely 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. Even if the 21-year-old doesn’t score straight from the slide, he can use his leg, arm and glove to help win games.
That doesn’t mean Harris won’t score. He’s a very confident hitter with an advanced approach from the left side of the plate. Although he’s usually one of the youngest players at each tier he’s assigned to, he has demonstrated the ability to execute the same consistent bats regardless of who was on the mound. That kind of mindset will help him as he makes the double jump to the big leagues.
As good as Harris was immediately after his draft, there were some concerns about his prosecution rate. Rather than being an arrogant young player who feels like he has it all figured out, Harris has worked to improve his overall approach and has significantly lowered his pursuit rate since that first summer of pro. Now he has excellent hit-to-ball skills, jumping off the side, with a very strong knowledge of the hitting zone.
Power is often the last tool to show up consistently, and Harris is definitely only scratching the surface in tapping into its tremendous amount of raw pop. That might be a little while before he shows up in the big leagues, especially as he’s often content to let the ball travel deep and trusts his hands to make hard contact. Once he learns what his hot zone is and starts shooting those spots forward, the power will keep coming, 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 that they opted to bring Harris from Double-A rather than Waters, who is currently in Triple-A and already at the 40-man squad stands to give a chance . The Braves clearly believe that Harris’ mature approach to the record and his five-tool potential will set him up for The Show.