Why Harris is grateful for his 2023 slump

March 8th, 2024

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- You can get a sense of how good is feeling by simply asking him what his goals are for the upcoming season.

“I’d like to be an All-Star and finally win the Gold Glove,” Harris said. “Win the World Series. Get a Silver Slugger.”

Lofty goals? Sure. But they all seem attainable for this incredibly gifted outfielder, who may be on the verge of becoming Atlanta’s latest superstar.

“It’s crazy to think what this kid is capable of,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “That ball coming off his bat is something else. He is still maturing and developing. But what he is capable of is off the charts.”

Harris has hit .295 with 37 home runs and a 123 OPS+ through the first 980 plate appearances of his career. He is one of just 15 players since 2000 to post a OPS+ of 120 or higher through that many plate appearances at 22 or younger, joining the likes of teammate Ronald Acuña Jr. and likely Hall of Famers in Albert Pujols, Miguel Cabrera and Mike Trout.

Being included with this MVP-laden group certainly enhances excitement about what Harris may accomplish over the next few seasons.

“Mentally and emotionally, it’s not a roller coaster ride with Mike,” Braves hitting coach Kevin Seitzer said. “He’s a lot like Nick Markakis was. He was the same guy every day. You didn’t know if he was hot. Didn’t know if he wasn’t. He just shows up, does his work and makes adjustments when he needs to. He’s been a lot of fun to be around.”

Harris has been a key to Atlanta’s success going back to late May 2022, when the Braves promoted him from Double-A Mississippi with just one full professional season under his belt. He was named National League Rookie of the Year a few months later and didn’t experience growing pains until the start of last season.

Harris tweaked his back when he slammed into St. Louis’ outfield wall and landed on the injured list in April. He strained his back while lifting weights a short time later, which delayed his return and marked the start of a forgettable two-month stretch. By June 6, he'd hit .163 with a .490 OPS through 138 plate appearances.

“I’m actually glad I did what I did last year,” Harris said. “I got to learn from it, and then I got back on track. So now I know what works for me, and when everything is going wrong, what to look for and what to change. What I didn’t do right and knowing what I can do when I’m doing the right things can help take me pretty far this season.”

Harris highlighted a three-hit performance with an eighth-inning game-winning home run against the Mets on June 7. This marked the start of a 100-game stretch during which the Braves center fielder hit .335 with 16 homers and a .912 OPS. He ranked fourth among qualified MLB players in batting average and 13th in OPS during this stretch.

“You saw a guy who got his first taste of failure in the big leagues,” starter Max Fried said. “To be able to face it, get through it and have the turnaround he did while being that young was impressive. You can see the confidence in him this year. He knows the kind of player he is.”

Harris certainly seems to be looking forward to the start of the regular season. He has gone 8-for-20 with three home runs and a double through his first eight Grapefruit League games.

“Right now, he might be even a little better [than he was last year],” Seitzer said. “He’s in a great place. His timing is good and his swing is great. His swing is loose and he’s pulling the ball with some authority, which is really great to see.”

Harris graduated from suburban Atlanta’s Stockbridge High School just five years ago. He has already earned an eight-year, $72 million deal with his hometown team. Now, he’s looking to help his city celebrate its second World Series title in the past four years.

If all goes well, he’d also gain an All-Star selection, Gold Glove Award and Silver Slugger Award along the way.