The Braves have selected the contract of top outfield prospect Michael Harris II, Justin Toscano of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reports. Harris will be taking the place of outfielder Travis Demeritte, who was optioned to Triple-A after last night’s game.
It’s an aggressive and somewhat surprising promotion on the Braves’ part, as the 21-year-old Harris has yet to play even in Triple-A ball. However, Harris could be seen as a center field upgrade immediately, as Adam Duvall has hit only .191/.263/.274 over 175 plate appearances. At the very least, the switch-hitting Harris will be sharing time with the right-handed hitting Duvall, though it seems likely that the Braves wouldn’t have called Harris up if they weren’t planning on playing the youngster every day.
Atlanta’s outfield has largely struggled all season, with the notable exception of Ronald Acuna Jr. since his return from the injured list. However, Acuna has missed time with a quad strain over the last few days, and while Acuna was able to pinch-hit last night, the Braves figure to be cautious with their superstar until he is closer to 100 percent.
This provides an opportunity for Harris to give the outfield mix a shot in the arm, and it represents the latest step in what has been a rather quick rise to prominence. A local product born in DeKalb, Georgia, Harris was a third-round pick for the Braves in the 2019 draft, and he had only an okay rookie season before sitting out in 2020 due to the canceled minor league season.
Upon returning to the field, Harris suddenly blossomed, hitting .294/.362/.436 over 420 PA for the Braves’ High-A affiliate, and also hitting seven homers and stealing 27 bases out of 31 chances. This breakout put him on the radar of prospect evaluators, with Baseball America listing Harris as the 46th-best prospect in baseball in their preseason rankings (Baseball Prospectus ranked him 58th, The Athletic’s Keith Law ranked him 61st, and MLB Pipeline ranked him 65st).
Defensively, Harris has played mostly as a center fielder, and received plus grades for his glovework and his throwing arm. (The latter is no surprise, as Harris was also a highly-touted pitcher in high school.) As per Pipeline’s scouting report, Harris was voted the best defensive outfielder in the High-A East league by rival managers.
At the plate, Harris hit exclusively as a left-handed batter in 2021 before returning to switch-hitting this season in Double-A. Harris has been prone to chasing pitches, but improved on that problem as the 2021 season went on, cutting back on his strikeouts while improving his on-base numbers. While Harris has posted big BABIP numbers over the last two seasons, those totals speak to both some good fortune and his plus speed, which allows him to beat out grounders.
Harris hit .305/.372/.506 with five homers and 11 steals (in 14 chances) over 196 PA at the Double-A level, leaving no doubt that his 2021 performance was for real. It was enough to convince Atlanta that Harris is ready for The Show, and yet as always with prospects, it shouldn’t be assumed that Harris will immediately play well in his first taste of the majors.
It could be that the Braves might eventually send Harris down to Triple-A if he struggles, which would halt his MLB service clock. If Harris does stay up, he likely won’t bank enough service time to make him a Super Two candidate (and thus earn a fourth year of arbitration eligibility). Players like Seiya Suzuki and MacKenzie Gore have an early lead in the race to be NL Rookie Of The Year, though there’s plenty of time for Harris to make a late charge, which would benefit both Harris and the Braves via the new Prospect Promotion Incentive plan.