Harris on MLB debut: 'I felt like I belonged there'

Braves' top prospect singles, scores while starting in center field

May 29th, 2022

ATLANTA -- Shortly after completing Double-A Mississippi’s game in Pensacola on Friday night, Michael Harris II called his parents and said somebody needed to come get him at Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport early Saturday morning.

A few hours later, Michael Harris I picked his son up and took him to Truist Park to experience his first day as a Major Leaguer.

The destination was far different. But the drive from one end of Atlanta to the other was similar to the many the two had shared while the Braves’ newest outfielder was growing up about 20 minutes south of Turner Field and dreaming of becoming the next Jason Heyward.

“Nothing can really match the moment actually being here,” Harris said. You can always dream about it, but actually being here, I don’t think anything tops it at all.”

Harris’ dream came true on Saturday, when the Braves called him up from Double-A Mississippi to make his Major League debut in a 4-1 loss to the Marlins. He wore No. 23 as he batted ninth and played center field. The 21-year-old outfielder struck out in his first plate appearance and then recorded his first hit, an opposite-field single off Sandy Alcantara, in the sixth.

“It was good to do that, especially against a very talented pitcher,” Harris said. “I was just staying within myself and trying not to do too much. I’m glad I got that out of the way.” 

Alcantara struck out 14 Atlanta hitters and surrendered four hits over eight innings. The lone run he surrendered came when Harris singled, raced to third on a Ronald Acuña Jr. single and then scored on a Dansby Swanson groundout in the sixth.

Harris achieved this milestone with his parents, siblings, girlfriend and other friends in attendance. He looked forward to thanking them and Marquis Grissom, the former Atlanta outfielder who has spent a significant portion of the past decade molding Harris’ development and pushing him toward realizing his dream to play for the Braves.

“It feels amazing, I never thought it would be like this,” Harris said. “You can dream about what you want it to be. But actually being here with these guys, especially a lot of guys I grew up watching and rooting for, is always a good feeling.”

Harris is a capable hitter who immediately improves an outfield defense that has been one of Atlanta’s most significant liabilities.

Travis Demeritte, who snapped a 0-for-34 skid on Friday night, was optioned to Triple-A Gwinnett to make room for Harris. Despite playing just one full season at the Minor League level, Harris is superior offensively and defensively to both Demeritte and Drew Waters, a once highly regarded prospect whose stock has fallen at Triple-A over the past couple years.

“We wouldn’t have brought him up if we didn’t think he could come up and help us win games,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “When [Ronald Acuña Jr.] starts playing right field [every day] and we put [Adam Duvall] on the other corner and have Harris roam center field, it’s going to be one of the better defensive outfields in the game.”

Harris’ promotion adds to the great story that has developed since the Braves took him in the third round of the 2019 Draft out of Stockbridge High School. Baseball has always been his love, with Chipper Jones and Andruw Jones being among his first favorite players. But his greatest memory may have come when he was 9, when he got to see Heyward homer in the first plate appearance of his much-anticipated big league debut.

Heyward was raised in the same county as Harris, who now has a chance to become the next hometown product to star for the Braves.

“As I grew, people were comparing me to him and saying I reminded them of him,” Harris said. “It really opened my eyes and gave me a lot of confidence.”

After being drafted and passing on the chance to pitch for Texas Tech, Harris began his quick ascent toward the Majors. He gained an invite to the club’s alternate training site when the Minor League season was canceled in 2020, and then became recognized as one of the game’s best prospects last year. Now, he joins Jeff Francoeur, Brian McCann, Andrelton Simmons and Swanson on the list of players the Braves have brought to the Majors straight from Double-A.

The lefty-hitting Harris ranks as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect and the league's No. 59 overall prospect, per MLB Pipeline. He has hit .292 with an .801 OPS while playing just 197 games at the Minor League level. But he showed an ability to compete against advanced talent while batting .305 with an .878 OPS in 43 games for Mississippi this year.

Still, while he can aid the offense with his bat and legs, his greatest impact will come defensively. He is an above-average center fielder, whose presence allows Duvall to move to a corner outfield spot and lessens the regularity of primary designated hitter Demeritte playing left field.

“He’s one of those guys I’ve loved to watch play and hit [in Spring Training],” Snitker said. “He’s a very impressive kid. I enjoy being around him and getting to know him. He’s a quality kid.”

As Harris reflected on his first game, he mentioned his desire to catch up on sleep. At the same time, he was already looking forward to getting back to living his childhood dream.

“It felt normal,” Harris said. “I felt like I belonged there.”