Braves: Does Michael Harris’ emergence make a Drew Waters trade even more probable?

Braves farm system taking a hit

Michael Harris just turned 20 years old and has only played 53 games in the minors, but that hasn’t discouraged some from believing he could contribute at the major-league level as early as this year.

Before I begin, it’s important to remember that Harris broke into professional baseball as an 18-year-old back in 2019 and quickly earned a promotion to Rome after dominating rookie-ball. Unfortunately, he didn’t have the chance to build off that progress in 2020 because the minor-league season was canceled. However, it wasn’t a total loss for the former third-round pick.

The Braves invited Harris to be apart of their 60-man taxi squad last season, where — by all accounts — he looked extremely impressive. Had Harris been able to participate in a normal minor-league season, he would have finished the year in high-A at the very least. However, I imagine he likely would have ended the season in AA.

So it’s not totally ridiculous to think Harris could contribute at the major-league level in 2021, and the man who caught the final out of the 1995 World Series certainly thinks he’s already ready for the moment.

“All I can say as a former player is, he’s different,” said Marquis Grissom, a former All-Star center fielder who played 17 seasons with six teams, including two with the Braves in 1995-1996, winning Gold Gloves both of those years and a World Series ring in 1995. “And the last time I saw a player when I said he was different, that was Chipper Jones, that was Barry Bonds, that was Gary Sheffield, that was Jim Thome.

That is from David O’Brien’s most recent article for The Athletic. If you have a subscription, I suggest you read it. There are many fantastic quotes from Grissom and several other members of the Braves organization — and one thing is constant, Michael Harris is a stud.

Now, considering Harris has only logged 22 games at the A-level, expecting him to start the season in Atlanta or contribute at any point in 2021 is a bit far-fetched. However, I believe seeing Harris make his debut in 2022 is not only possible but probable, which creates a predicament for the front office.

The 2021 outfield is already set. Ronald Acuña, Cristian Pache, and Marcell Ozuna will be the starters; all three are cornerstone pieces to the organization and will be around for years to come. However, presumably, one spot in the outfield will open up in 2022 when the universal DH is implemented (assuming it is), setting up a fierce competition between Drew Waters and Michael Harris. But either way, the Braves have a surplus of young, uber-talented outfielders, and it only makes sense that one of them is eventually traded for an All-Star caliber player.

With the Braves smack-dab in the middle of their window for contention and Liberty Media handcuffing them financially, a trade is the best way for Alex Anthopoulos to acquire another star player and put this team over the top. He’s held onto his chips so far during his tenure as general manager, but after coming just one run shy of the World Series, the pressure to win now is at an all-time high, and the Braves have the pieces to make pretty much any blockbuster trade they want.

Of course, Anthopoulos could always include Harris in the trade package, taking advantage of the hype he’s garnered over the last couple of years. But for several reasons, it seems more likely that Waters is dealt.

Most importantly, Waters’ value is exceptionally high right now. Following a 2019 season in which he won the Southern League MVP and held his own at the AAA level at just 20-years-old, he could easily be the centerpiece of a trade that could net an All-Star like Jose Ramirez. Aside from that, though, there are also some concerns about how his bat will translate to the major-league level.

I’m not on this bandwagon, but some believe his high K-rate is a cause for concern. They also question his power, especially from the right side of the plate, which would lower his ceiling considerably. On the other hand, Harris might have the highest ceiling of any prospect in the Braves organization not named Cristian Pache. He’s a true five-tool player, featuring incredible speed and power to all fields, which he demonstrated in yesterday’s Spring Training game with this opposite-field homer.

In no way am I advocating for a Waters trade. There’s a reason why we still have him ranked 3rd on our SportsTalkATL Top 30 Prospects List, much higher than Harris. However, it does feel like Anthopoulos will pull the trigger on a blockbuster trade at some point during the Braves championship window. If — for any reason — he isn’t 100% sold on Waters, or they are simply more committed to Harris as a future piece of their outfield, it does make sense to dangle Waters out there and see what he could bring back in a trade.

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