It was shortly after midnight on Tuesday. Dana Brown, the Braves’ director of scouting, heard a ping on his iPhone. It was a text from outfielder Michael Harris II.
Harris had been named the 2022 National League Rookie of the Year a few hours earlier and reached out to thank Brown for selecting him in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft.
“He said, ‘Thank you and I appreciate everything you have done,’” Brown said. “He is excited [to win the award]. I always talk to my players, and I keep in touch with them.”
Harris was a pitcher/outfielder at Stockbridge (Ga.) High School when Brown first laid eyes on the young player. The scout didn’t think much of Harris as a pitcher, but when Harris played the outfield, Brown couldn’t believe what he saw.
“The power, speed and defense was real,” Brown said. “We thought we would have a shot at getting this guy. We brought him to Truist Park and he was hitting balls into the Chop House in right field.
“Harris wasn’t a famous guy. [General manager] Alex Anthopoulos asked me, ‘Do we really have to take him [in the third round]?’ I said, ‘Hey, this guy is pretty special.’ Then we drafted him.”
Harris was called up from Double-A Mississippi in late May, debuted on May 28 and had an outstanding rookie season, hitting .297 with 19 home runs and 64 RBIs in 114 games. He finished fourth on the team in Wins Above Replacement (5.3, per Baseball Reference).
Harris wasn’t the only Atlanta rookie recognized on Monday. Right-hander Spencer Strider, whom Brown nabbed in the fourth round of the 2020 Draft, finished second to Harris in the NL Rookie of the Year balloting. Strider was put in the rotation in late May and struck out 165 batters in 107 1/3 innings as a starter.
The Braves drafted Strider even though he had Tommy John surgery in 2019 while attending Clemson University.
“The fact that we got him in the fourth round was very exciting,” Brown said. “We knew he had an upside, and his work ethic was relentless.”
Brown felt that either Harris or Strider could have won Rookie of the Year honors.
“Those guys stepped up and made such an impact for our season this year while we were scuffling a little bit,” Brown said. “Those two additions were big pieces when we put Strider in the rotation and called Michael Harris up and put him in center field. It’s an exciting time for our staff and the organization.”
Look for the Braves to have more young players make an impact in 2023. As Brown put it, “Anthopoulos believes in going with the kids.”
Vaughn Grissom could be the everyday shortstop next year if Atlanta is unable to re-sign Dansby Swanson. Grissom already showed big league promise in 2022, filling in at second base for Ozzie Albies and Orlando Arcia when both went down with injuries. In 41 games, Grissom hit .291 with five home runs and 18 RBIs.
Braden Shewmake, Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect per MLB Pipeline, has struggled offensively at the upper Minor League levels. He produced a .715 OPS in 307 plate appearances for Triple-A Gwinnett this year. But his defense has impressed the Braves, and he could play the middle-infield positions and potentially be a quality backup next year.
Left-hander Jared Schuster, Atlanta’s No. 2 prospect according to MLB Pipeline, has a chance to soon impact the big league club as a starter or reliever. During his time with Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this past season, Schuster went a combined 7-10 with a 3.29 ERA and struck out 145 batters in 139 1/3 innings.
“It’s an exciting time for us as far as how we work as scouts. We are on the road over 200 nights a year,” Brown said. “It’s the reason we do what we do. The Braves have a rich history of signing good young players. As I told one reporter, when you come here you better bring your 'A' game because they have a history of signing good players. We have a good thing going with our scouting and player development staff with the leadership of Alex Anthopoulos.”