What to expect from Michael Harris II in the Majors

What to expect from Michael Harris II in the Majors

If Michael Harris II might have been drafted by someone other than his hometown team, he might be preparing to take the mound every five days. But the Braves have made a habit of going against the grain in the scouting industry and signing players typically seen as pitchers and giving them the chance to hit pro level.

It worked out pretty well with 2021 Silver Slugger award winner and MVP contender Austin Riley, who was ranked No. 41 overall in the 2017 draft and obviously developed as a scathing right-handed hitter. In the third round of 2019, the Braves took Harris, a player from their own backyard in Georgia who most teams loved 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 works in the major leagues.

Both the Braves and Harris would be the first to admit that he developed much faster than expected. And he showed a more advanced feel for the game than many expected, especially for a high school player who had previously focused between throwing and hitting. He wasted no time in showing they might have a better player than they thought after signing him for a slightly lower slot when he made his way to the ball from the full season when he debuted in the summer of 2019. He had a .917 OPS that year, meaning he might get a chance to be something special.

We may not know for very long what impact the canceled 2020 Minor League season will have on the development of young players. What we do know is that 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 to the multitude of other young Braves outfielders at the time, a group that included Ronald Acuña Jr., Cristian Pache and Drew Waters. All had the tools to play in the center, and Harris immediately showed that his defensive instincts were as good, if not better, than the others in this group. It’s something Braves fans can count on right off the bat: more 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 improvement in the middle. His positive arm that made him such an intriguing pitching prospect in high school works great from any spot.

Harris also has more 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 doesn’t kick right out of the parachute, he can help win games with his legs, his arm and his glove.

That’s not to say Harris won’t hit. He is a very confident hitter with a forward approach to the left side of the plate. Although he was generally one of the younger players, no matter what level he was assigned to, he showed his ability to take the same consistent strikes no matter who was on the mound. That kind of mindset will help him as he takes the double leap into the big leagues.

As good as Harris was right after being drafted, there was some concern about his chase rate. Rather than being an arrogant young player who feels like he’s got it all figured out, Harris has worked to improve his all-around approach and has reduced his chase rate significantly since that first pro summer. Now he has eye-catching elite bat-to-ball skills, with a very good knowledge of the strike zone.

Power is often the last tool to appear consistently, and Harris only scratches the surface of exploiting his massive raw pop. It might take a while to show up in the big leagues, especially since he’s often content to just let the ball travel deep and trust his hands to make hard contact. Once he learns what his hot zone is and starts throwing those throws in front, the power will keep coming, giving him a very exciting combination of power and contact skills.

It was clear the Braves needed help on the field at the big league level, and it’s telling that they opted to bring in Harris from Double-A rather than give Waters, currently in Triple-A and already on the list of 40 players, an opportunity. The Braves clearly believe Harris’ mature approach to the plate and five-tool potential sets him up for The Show.

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