Atlanta Braves outfielder Michael Harris was named as the 2022 winner of the Jackie Robinson Rookie of the Year Award for the National League Monday night. Harris received 22 of 30 first place votes beating out teammate Spencer Strider who took home the other eight votes to finish second.
“It was kind of crazy. I was just waiting for them to say a name,” Harris told reporters after the announcement. “I was kind of expecting Spencer and I felt like we were one and two. So it was kind of surprising to just hear my name. When I came up, I just tried to come up and do my job and then to end the season and get this award, it means a lot.”
It was a surprise to nearly everyone when the Braves called up Harris from Double A Mississippi after just 43 games and 196 plate appearances. Atlanta’s outfield defense at the time of Harris’ promotion was one of the worst in the league and it was clear that he would instantly become their best defensive option. What was unclear was how much he would be able to contribute from an offensive standpoint.
Given the opportunity, Harris met all expectations and then some hitting .297/.339/.514 with a 136 wRC+ while putting up 4.8 fWAR. He finished with 19 home runs and 20 stolen bases and impressed enough that Atlanta locked him up with an eight-year, $72 million extension.
“Just growing up here in Atlanta, getting the opportunity to even come up and play with this team,” Harris said. “Getting the deal in the middle of the season, and then icing on the cake, getting the award. Also having a chance to play in my first playoffs. Obviously, it didn’t go the way we planned, but it was a good experience and now I know what to expect and it just motivates me more for next season.”
The Braves drafted Harris in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft. He put up big numbers in the Gulf Coast League in his professional debut and earned a late-season cameo with Low A Rome. He turned heads during spring training and then again with his work at the alternate training site in 2020.
“I definitely wouldn’t believe it,” Harris answered on whether he would have believed he had a shot at winning the Rookie of the Year Award while he was at Mississippi. “I thought I at least had another year down in the minors at least to at least get to Triple A to see if I could handle that first. But I always told myself whenever I got the opportunity to get my name called I would do anything to be ready to make the right adjustments to stay.”
Harris was asked who he would credit for helping him reach his goals during his short major league career and he singled out former Braves outfielder Marquis Grissom.
“There’s a lot of people that I can go into credit, but the past few years, I’ve been working a lot with Marquis Grissom and he’s been helping me out a lot,” Harris said. “I worked out with him in the offseason. Just having him in my corner giving me a lot of feedback. I can kind of credit this season and this award to him.”
It is hard to nitpick anything about Harris’ debut season, but if you look hard, you can see a 4.8% walk rate. Per FanGraphs, Harris swung at pitches outside the zone 41.7% of the time which was third highest total for Atlanta trailing only Ozzie Albies and Eddie Rosario. It is something that Harris is aware of and he cited improving his plate discipline as a goal for the 2023 season.
“Plate discipline. I would just try to work on that a little more next season and improve that,” Harris said. “Overall, I just want to improve on everything because there’s always room for improvement.”
It is that type of awareness and work ethic that is responsible for Harris’ breakout rookie season. He didn’t look like a rookie very often in 2022 and winning the Rookie of the Year Award is most likely just the first many more awards to come.