When this past season ended, it was presumed these two Braves would finish first and second in balloting for the Jackie Robinson National League Rookie of the Year Award. The only question was who would win. The answer was revealed on Monday night, when Harris was announced as the recipient of this year’s honor.
Harris is the ninth Braves player to be named NL Rookie of the Year and the first since Ronald Acuña Jr. in 2018. This was an honor the 21-year-old center fielder certainly didn’t anticipate when he began this season with Double-A Mississippi.
Harris received 22 of the 30 first-place votes cast by members of the Baseball Writers' Association of America, and Strider received the remaining eight. This is the first time teammates have finished first and second in Rookie of the Year balloting since former Braves Craig Kimbrel and Freddie Freeman in 2011.
“To get the award [that is named after] Jackie, it means a lot because he paved the way for players like me,” Harris said. “Just to be able to have an award named after him and actually win it … I don’t know. I can’t even put it into words.”
Harris dedicated the award to former Major League outfielder Marquis Grissom, who played two seasons with the Braves in the 1990s and helped them win a World Series title in '95. The two have worked out together during the offseason. Harris said having Grissom in his corner was a blessing.
“He gave me a lot of feedback and a lot of different things to help me in my career,” Harris said. “He helped me a lot this year. I kind of credit this season and award to him.
“He said, ‘Go out, handle your business. Do what you did to get the opportunity to go up [to the big leagues]. Just be yourself. It’s the same game. … The game doesn’t really change when you are up there.’”
Harris, who was the Braves’ third-round Draft pick (98th overall) in 2019, had the start of his professional career delayed. Baseball didn’t have a Minor League season in 2020 because of COVID-19, but he worked out at the Braves’ alternate training site. During that period, Harris faced a lot of pitchers with Major League experience.
“I would say I was kind of ready at that moment,” Harris said. “I kind of trained myself to be prepared for anything or anybody.”
Despite not making his MLB debut until May 28, Harris led all NL rookies with a 5.3 bWAR. The Cardinals’ Brendan Donovan, who finished third in the voting, ranked second with a 4.1 bWAR.
Going back to 2010, the only position players who have won the Rookie of the Year in either league with a bWAR higher than 5.3 were Mike Trout ('12), José Abreu ('14), Aaron Judge ('17) and Pete Alonso ('19).
Harris experienced just one full professional season before making the smooth leap from Double-A to the Majors. The 21-year-old outfielder hit .297 with 19 homers, 20 stolen bases and a .853 OPS. He finished one home run shy of becoming just the second NL player to record 20 homers and 20 stolen bases in one season.
Along with strengthening Atlanta’s lineup with his power and speed, Harris quickly showed why he could be a future Gold Glove Award winner. He missed most of the season’s first two months, but still finished fifth among all center fielders with eight defensive runs saved, and he ranked eighth among this group with eight outs above average.
Harris was five games into his career when the Braves began a 14-game winning streak that propelled them to a fifth straight NL East crown. Atlanta went 79-35 with Harris in the lineup. That equates to a 112-win pace over 162 games.
Don’t think for a minute that Harris is satisfied with what he accomplished this season. Next year, he hopes to improve his plate discipline. Harris struck out 107 times in 414 at-bats and had only 21 walks.
“Overall, I want to improve on everything as well. There is always room for improvement,” he said.