The Braves are the hottest team in baseball. Winners of 13 straight, Atlanta has made up significant ground in the race for the NL East. About a week ago, they trailed the Mets by 10.5 games and now just sit five games back of New York.
The obvious contributions from Ronald Acuna Jr., Austin Riley, Matt Olson, Dansby Swanson, Max Fried, and Kyle Wright have been a driving force in the team’s win streak; however, there have been unexpected boosts from William Contreras, Spencer Strider, and Michael Harris II.
Contreras has made Brian Snitker‘s job very difficult, making quite the case for more playing time. The brother of two-time All-Star Willson Contreras has nine home runs in 27 games this season. He’s hitting .292 with an OPS of 1.050 and 17 RBIs, which nobody could’ve anticipated, but Strider and Harris have been just as critical, if not more, to the Braves success.
Whether it be as a starter or out of the bullpen, Strider has impressed. He’s currently boasting a 2.35 ERA over 38.1 innings and his 1.99 FIP even suggests he’s been unlucky. Strider’s fastball regularly touches 100 MPH, and his wipeout slider has batters swinging out of their shoes. If his changeup continues to develop, he has the makings of becoming one of the most dominant pitchers in baseball.
In 63 at-bats, Harris has a .317 batting average and .878 OPS with two homers. That’s not even considering the elite defense he’s been playing in center, which has relieved the pressure on Adam Duvall, who now looks like the 2021 version of himself. Harris was brought up to give the Braves a player who can make contact and play above-average defense, but he’s provided even more than that. The 21-year-old was given an opportunity much earlier than expected, and he’s running with it. I’m not sure Harris will ever go back to the minors.
So how do the Braves continually find these young difference-makers? Meet Dana Brown, the team’s scouting director.
Brown was responsible for Atlanta selecting Shea Langeliers with the No. 9 overall pick, who was later included in the trade for Matt Olson. Langeliers plays elite defense and his bat is no slouch either; he’s quickly becoming one of the hottest prospects in baseball. However, Brown was also responsible for the organization drafting Harris and Strider.
“I remember Dana telling me he was a top-five high-school bat in the draft — he wrote it in his report as well — and that we had to take him,” Alex Anthopoulos said. “He wasn’t highly touted at all and Dana wanted to take him in the third round. I remember asking him if he was sure we needed to take him that high and he was adamant. He did the same thing with Spencer Strider (the Braves’ fourth-round pick) in 2020. I’ve been with him a long time and when he’s that convicted I stay out of the way.”
Not only was Brown the reason the Braves drafted Strider and Harris, but he also loudly voiced his opinion about the team signing Tyler Matzek.
“One other time he pounded for us to sign a player was Tyler Matzek when he was in Indy ball. It was August (2019), minor league season was about to be over and he wouldn’t let it go so we signed him to a two-year minor-league contract. Dana doesn’t bat 1.000, no one does but when he’s passionate about something, I’ve learned the smart move is to listen.”
Matzek is currently on the Injured List, but nobody could forget his heroics during the team’s magical World Series run last season. The Braves are one of the best run organizations in sports, and it’s lesser-known individuals like Dana Brown that make all the difference.