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Could this be Michael Harris’ last week in Double-A?

Could this be Michael Harris’ last week in Double-A?

Perhaps the most popular storyline within the Atlanta Braves minor league system so far this season has been one that we probably all saw coming. Either way, though, it has to be the amazing play of prospect outfielder Michael Harris II. Coming into the campaign as a bonafide top-tier prospect in the organization, the 21-year-old has easily exceeded any and all expectations, becoming not just a regular contributor as a hitter and defender, but literally the leader of a rather talented Double-A Mississippi team.

Need some evidence? Ok… there was this insane diving grab… just last night… that saved at least one run and possibly even protected the M-Braves lead late…

It’s not all about the glove either. Earlier this month, as part of a two-homer performance against Montgomery, Harris whacked what’s probably one of the furthest hit balls of his pro career. Honestly, I don’t really know where this ball landed…

Then, just a few days ago, there’s this patented inside-out swing by Harris – a skill that the kid has essentially mastered at this point, and has been an aspect of his game that has allowed him to become an even more dangerous hitter. I mean, this is just beautiful…

If that’s not enough proof that Harris is legit, than just simply search “Michael Harris Braves” on Twitter and you’ll find at least another dozen clips showing how awesome he is.

But I guess this is the part in the article where you need some stats, right? Well, he has those too. So far, in 35 games with the M-Braves (through Wednesday), Harris is slashing .299/.352/.493 with 4 home runs, 12 doubles, 2 triples, 24 RBI and 10 stolen bases – giving him an above-average 122 wRC+ (which ranks within the top 10 among all Braves minor league hitters). Sure, he’s cooled a bit since that scorching-hot April, when he posted a 148 wRC+ that also featured a 10-game hitting streak to begin the 2022 season. But overall, Harris is still raking, and after a brief five-game slump last week, the kid is heating back up again, now 4 for his last 9. I know I mentioned it with the clips above, but what’s really unlocked things for Harris is his ability to now go the other way with ease. He’s always been above-average when it comes to hitting line drives, but that skill has become even more evident now that he’s going the other way so regularly. In fact (and I mention it in the tweet above, but it deserves repeating), Harris has went to the opposite field more than nearly any other hitter in the Braves system, with a 43.9 Oppo% (2nd-best rate in the Braves system and 5th in the Southern League). That’s a lot of oppo hits, folks, and nearly 4% more than his rate last season (which at the time was also a career-high). Harris isn’t slapping line drives quite like he did in 2021 (when his 25.9% rate ranked 2nd in the ATL system), but that’s ok, because he has traded some of those line drives for fly balls this year, hence the uptick in home runs. Harris was already an above-average hitter and defender, but it appears he has become even better at the plate – and as a result, many in Braves Country are calling for him to receive an opportunity in the majors.

MLB or not, Harris is going somewhere soon

We see this type of discussion almost every season. Some prospect is killing it in the minors and everyone starts screaming that he deserves to be in the majors. You don’t see it as much with guys in Double-A, but it’s not exactly rare either. I usually don’t take any of the talk too seriously, for these days big league teams seem more worried about service time then seeing if a prospect can cut it against the increased competition. And whether that’s right or wrong or even good for the game, it causes me to remain skeptical that a prospect in the Braves system could make the jump from Double-A to MLB.

But Harris is making quite a case, I’ll give him that. No, I don’t believe he’ll skip Triple-A. For one, there’s really no reason for the Braves to bring him to the majors right now. And second, the organization already has a talented prospect outfielder right on the cusp in Drew Waters. Yeah, Harris has played better than Waters so far this season, as the latter missed roughly all of April with a hamstring issue. But it’s very rare for an organization to bring a player to the big leagues after just 35 games, let alone from Double-A.

But that doesn’t mean Harris is guaranteed to stay in Mississippi very much longer. In fact, it seems as if a promotion to Triple-A Gwinnett could come any time now, and this tweet from the M-Braves broadcaster, Chris Harris, on Wednesday night sort of solidified that…

Chris Harris says himself that he “doesn’t know anything”, but as a guy that follows the Mississippi team more than anyone else, he probably has a much better feel for this than any of us. And a promotion would make sense for Harris. I just recently re-read an old Hardball Times write-up from several years ago, regarding the “Double-A jump”, and while the article is more about how and why prospects are able to make the jump to the majors, it also features some insightful details as to why the Double-A level is oftentimes considered the most talent-filled class in the minors, suggesting that strong numbers from a hitter at the Double-A level are usually more meaningful than at any other class in the minors.

According to that piece linked above, if a player can excel in Double-A, there’s a very likely chance he can do so in the majors. And for prospect hitters, this is usually the first level in which they’re forced to face pitchers that not only have plus velocity and strong secondaries but can also locate consistently. Here are a few excerpts from that Hardball Times article…

“It’s the level where weaknesses are often uncovered — that hole in a hitter’s swing now exposed, that pitcher’s inconsistent command now a problem that needs fixing. If you excel in Double-A, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get a shot in the majors, and sometimes you’ll even bypass Triple-A altogether.”,

“This sounds banal, but it is true: The players are simply better [in Double-A]. At the A-ball level there are many ‘organization players’ and roster-filler types who aren’t likely to succeed at higher levels…pitchers with 86 mph fastballs, position players who can defend competently but don’t have impressive bats, etc.”

So sure, talent-wise, Harris is probably good enough to earn a shot in the majors, and he very well could at some point this season, especially if a Triple-A promotion comes this early (like we think it will). Hell, there’s still time for Harris to play another 15 or so games with Mississippi, get promoted to Gwinnett, play 50 games (or roughly two months) there and still be looking at a possible August/September ETA to the big leagues, IF Atlanta was in a position to throw him out there. It’s just not something I believe will happen now.

But regardless, it’s evident, given his performance and from folks closer to the organization than we are, that Harris’ time in Double-A will likely come to an end soon. And that alone is exciting, because then the next step is what we’ve all been waiting for (not to mention what Harris has been dreaming about since he was in Little League). This could very well be the last week we see him as an M-Brave. And while that may be disappointing for those of us still waiting for Mississippi and Harris to visit our home cities this season, it’s coming… and at this point it definitely should.

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