Hometown hero Harris thrilled to be Brave for long haul

Rookie outfielder discusses new 8-year contract: 'It's just a blessing'

August 17th, 2022

ATLANTA -- As Michael Harris II sat with Braves president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos on Wednesday afternoon at Truist Park, he was surrounded by a collection of family members who have gladly spent much of the past decade traveling around Atlanta supporting his love of baseball. 

This group can now look forward to watching Atlanta’s newest star spend at least the rest of this next decade playing in his hometown. 

Three years removed from suburban Atlanta’s Stockbridge High School and less than three full months into his big league career, Harris has signed an eight-year, $72 million deal with the Braves. The deal, which was announced Tuesday night, would be worth $102 million over 10 years if options for the 2031 and 2032 seasons are exercised.

“Yeah, I definitely never thought about the year 2030,” Harris said in reference to the last guaranteed season of his deal. “That’s far. I’m just glad to be able to stay here in Atlanta that long.”

Harris entered this season having played just one full Minor League season. But the center fielder’s meteoric rise since being taken in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft isn’t completely surprising to those who know the 21-year-old, who has grabbed the baseball world’s attention since making the leap from Double-A to the Majors on May 28.

“Everything I know about Mike, he truly loves Atlanta,” Anthopoulos said. “I see him walk in here with a Hawks jersey or a Falcons jersey. I think it’s important that we have players that it means something to be a Brave and it’s important for them to be here.”

Harris fondly remembers some of those 20-30 minute treks he would make to attend Braves games during his childhood. He was around six or seven years old when his youth baseball team had a chance to hit the ball around the outfield before a game. So he has memories of Chipper Jones’ final years and the excitement of Jason Heyward and Freddie Freeman hitting the scene in 2010.

“For me to actually be in this position is kind of crazy,” Harris said.

Harris hadn’t even played a full Minor League season when he impressed observers – including veteran Nick Markakis – with how he handled himself as a teenager at the team’s alternate training site after COVID-19 erased the 2020 Minor League season.

Still, Harris has far exceeded expectations since he was fast-tracked to the Majors a few months ago to primarily fix the Braves’ outfield defense.

Harris has hit .287 with 12 homers and an .825 OPS (best among qualified rookies) through his first 71 career games. Despite missing most of the season’s first two months, he’s tied for fifth among all MLB center fielders with six Outs Above Average. He has done all of this while being the youngest player in the Majors.

“I think once you do deals like this, you’re telling other guys in the clubhouse what you value, who you value and the way they go about it,” Anthopoulos said. “I think Mike is going to continue being who he is.”

Blessed with quick wit and a good sense of humor, Harris has remained soft-spoken and humble while establishing himself as one of the game’s top young stars. His humility is a product of the guidance he received from Michael and LaTucha Harris, the parents who proudly came to Truist Park on Wednesday to see their son discuss this life-changing moment.

“They’re just a good support group,” Harris said. “I don’t know what I would do without them. Meow.”

Meow is a term that Harris has playfully included in some recent interviews. The origin comes from the cult classic film “Super Troopers.” But the young outfielder’s decision to begin using it was influenced by Tyler Matzek’s dare.

Harris quickly became a clubhouse favorite and now he finds himself part of the impressive core the Braves will carry throughout the remainder of this decade. Austin Riley could stick with Atlanta through 2033 and Harris’ two option years could keep him controllable through 2032. The eight-year, $168 million deal first baseman Matt Olson signed in March has an option for 2030.

Ronald Acuña Jr. has a club option through 2028 and Ozzie Albies has a club option through 2027. As for Spencer Strider, Vaughn Grissom, William Contreras, Kyle Wright and Ian Anderson, they are all arbitration eligible through at least 2026.

“I don’t know how to feel because it hasn’t really kicked in yet,” Harris said. “It’s just a blessing.”