There are few positions on the roster where the Braves are not elite, evident in the team’s overwhelming presence on MLB Network’s Top 10 players at each position heading into 2023. Austin Riley was the 3rd ranked third baseman, and Matt Olson just missed out on top 5 honors. There are plenty more coming, and Michael Harris II is next in centerfield.
I’m biased and believe Harris is too low, but I digress. He’s only done it for one season, so I understand the ranking. Still, a top five center fielder is what he’ll be for the remainder of his career.
It’s not a hot take to say the Stockbridge native was the Braves best player across the 2022 campaign. Matt Olson and Dansby Swanson have said that everything changed when the rookie was called up from Double-A Mississippi. At the time of his debut, the Braves boasted a 22-24 record; they’d go on to win 101 games.
People often throw around the term ‘five-tool’ athlete, but it actually rings true with Michael Harris. He can hit for contact and power, is a menace on the bases, and is reminiscent of Andruw Jones — the greatest defensive center fielder of all time — in the field. There isn’t a single facet of the game that Harris doesn’t excel in. He’s already the most athletic player on a team that includes Ronald Acuna Jr. and Ozzie Albies.
Many, including myself, expected regression at some point, but he never hit the rookie wall. He slashed .297/.339/.514 with 19 long balls, good for an .853 OPS and 135 OPS+ across 114 games. He drove in 64 runs while swiping 20 bags, nearly reaching the impressive 20/20 mark for home runs and steals.
Harris was excellent for the entire year en route to Rookie of the Year honors and a massive contract extension. Everyone around the league is eager to see how he handles his second season in the big leagues, but I wouldn’t expect much of a drop-off. Even FanGraphs’ cautious projections have Michael Harris finishing with the fourth-most WAR at his position and a 276/.327/.466 slash line.
Photographer: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire