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Braves Player Pool Profile: OF Michael Harris II

Michael Harris came into this season with breakout potential, and while he didn’t get that opportunity We did get more evidence of just how much the Braves believe in his talent

Photo Credit: Garrett Spain

You may have watched the Braves exciting comeback win in their exhibition against the Marlins and noticed a few fresh faces dotting the lineup. One of those, Michael Harris (not Trey, much to the chagrin of Chip Caray) has been the subject of quite a bit of talk between the Talking Chop Minor League crew and is the focus of today’s profile.

Harris is a local kid who was drafted out of Stockbridge High School just last summer, and the young player who dreamed of one day becoming a Brave found himself suiting up in Truist Park at just 19 years of age. While the empty stands and exhibition atmosphere may not have been exactly what he envisioned, he still got a great experience and showed some of what makes him a highly hyped prospect. He worked two deep counts, showed off his approach at the plate, and even knocked an RBI infield hit and then scored a run.

Harris has come a long way in his development and shown himself to be one of the favorites in the system despite having spent his high school career as a two way player who many viewed as superior on the mound. The Braves had other ideas and took the athletic lefty as an outfielder in last year’s draft. Questions about his bat had dropped him on many boards, but he came in and did nothing but hit in the Gulf Coast League with a .349/.403/.514 line and a 16.8% strikeout rate. Strikeout rate at this level doesn’t matter, so that’s not solely a reason to get excited, but it was still ahead of where many had pegged Harris. The Braves thought highly enough of Harris to do a rare move on their part and promoted him all the way over Danville and into Rome for the remainder of 2019. His performance wasn’t all that good on paper as he hit just .183/.269/.232 but he was a stronger performer on the field and more than held his own despite the hits not always falling.

As a player Harris has a lot of things to like and for a guy as young as he is and as inexperienced there are really very few glaring weaknesses. The hit tool is far and away better than expected at this stage and might end up being the tool that carries him through the minor leagues. He is able to get his bat on the ball anywhere in the zone and he can drive the ball to all fields, traits that are often rare from young players. Harris has a solid approach and doesn’t get bodied by left handed pitching, meaning same handed matchups won’t be something he has to sink significant amounts of work into improving going forward. His strike zone recognition and plate discipline are both well ahead of the average 19 year old top prospect, and he has shown the ability to make adjustments on the fly and shorten into a two strike approach to help prevent his strikeouts from ballooning. Harris further simplified his lower body this winter and spring and it has paid dividends in his timing.

Harris’s weaknesses at the plate are mostly youth related, but let’s take this chance to go over them. Harris’s two strike approach is optimized to prevent strikeouts but sacrifices too much power and leads him to basically acting as a slap hitter in late counts. This is really something that should be easy to adjust, and is more of a consequence of advanced situational awareness than anything. Harris’s batted ball profile is his biggest weakness right now as he is heavily skewed towards ground balls, but this is also something that many younger players struggle with and I expect it to improve going forward. In addition, you have the typical struggles with advanced sequencing that younger players have and with Harris you should expect him to pick up on that quickly and learn to adapt.

Power is the calling card for Harris as he creates leverage in his swing and can drive the ball to all fields. His exit velocities are easy plus and his bat is plenty good enough to tap into all of his raw power, with the only thing holding back his game power right now being the aforementioned ground ball tendencies. You’re not looking at a guy in that Acuña/Heyward range for natural power, but if you take a step below that you’ll find Harris. He’s added some strength to his body and will continue to grow into his projectable frame and could develop into a strong middle-of-the-lineup bat.

Defensively Harris is a mixed bag at times. He has the speed and jumps to make all the plays in the outfield, though as he adds strength and weight it’s likely he won’t stick in center field. Harris is still young and his lack of experience most shows in the outfield, but with plus arm strength and accuracy and his natural tools he should be able to develop into an above average right fielder. Whether he retains enough speed to be a consistent base stealer is 50/50 at this stage, I would venture to guess that he won’t be more than a 15-20 stolen base guy but if he holds onto that athleticism we could see more.

What brings the whole profile together for Harris and what gives all of the Talking Chop crew high hopes for him is just how thoroughly he checks off every intangible. Harris has incredible awareness and baseball IQ for his age, he’s a hard working player who is always putting in the effort to improve and make adjustments, and he’s a person that is widely loved by his teammates and coaches. From a makeup standpoint he’s the ideal young player and he has the raw talent to match and give him a real future in the sport. What he lacked in experience and development he more than made up for in these categories and that has positioned Harris to be the most advanced high school bat from the Braves 2020 draft despite many teams wanting him as a pitcher. The loss of this season hurts for Harris, and prevented a potential rise to being a Top 100 prospect, but the Braves faith in him to make him part of the prospect pool shows that they have just as much hope invested in him as we do. You won’t see Harris in Atlanta this year, almost certainly not next and maybe not even in 2022. But Harris is the gem of the lower minor leagues for the Braves, and if you’re looking for the next big name to follow as he rises through the system then Michael Harris is your guy.

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