Harris sparks big win, continues to prove he belongs

Harris sparks big win, continues to prove he belongs

ATLANTA — Austin Riley is surging toward another 30-homer season and Ronald Acuña Jr. is performing like a superstar again. But if evaluating why the Braves have suddenly gone from mediocre to red-hot, you can’t overlook the great impact Michael Harris II has made since arriving in the Majors.

Harris tallied two hits, including a go-ahead two-run triple in the fifth, to help the Braves extend their winning streak to seven games with a 13-2 victory over the A’s on Wednesday night at Truist Park. The reigning World Series champions have gone 8-3 since promoting the 21-year-old outfielder from Double-A Mississippi on May 28.

“I was just coming up here and expecting to do what I did in the Minors,” Harris said. “I feel like I’m doing pretty much the same thing, just feeling comfortable going out there and trying to help us win. We’re on a streak, so you can’t ask for more.”

There was plenty for the Braves to celebrate, as they swept this two-game series with the help of Riley, Ozzie Albies, Adam Duvall and William Contreras, who all homered to back Ian Anderson’s strong start.

Anderson spotted Oakland a two-run lead in the fourth, but then found himself ahead for good an inning later when Harris smacked his first career triple down the right-field line.

Harris followed up his three-bagger by sparking a seven-run seventh with a leadoff double. He is now hitting .268 with a .701 OPS through the first 11 games of his career, which becomes more impressive when you consider he played just 197 games and totaled 828 plate appearances at the Minor League level.

But even if Harris was struggling offensively, his defensive value would be enough to justify him being Atlanta’s everyday center fielder.

“He’s been awesome,” Anderson said. “He’s just the kind of guy you want to pull for. He’s got that infectious attitude, and it seems like he’s starting to find his footing. He’s just an exciting player.”

After Harris went into the right-center-field gap to rob Sean Murphy of an extra-base hit on Tuesday night, Braves starter Kyle Wright said it may have been the best catch he has ever seen. Ten-time Gold Glove Award winner Andruw Jones was in attendance and was in awe.

Harris, who had committed to be a pitcher at Texas Tech, showed off his great arm on Wednesday, when he threw a laser from right-center field that nearly denied Ramón Laureano’s attempt to reach third base. Blessed with a plus arm, range and speed, the young outfielder ranks as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect and MLB’s No. 57 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline.

“He’s got great baseball instincts,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “I’ve been really impressed with that. Just the jumps, his arm and the reads, he’s been really, really impressive.”

Harris graduated from Stockbridge High School in suburban Atlanta and was taken by the Braves in the third round of the 2019 MLB Draft a couple weeks later. He got a brief introduction to professional ball that summer, but when COVID-19 canceled the 2020 Minor League season, he was limited to work at the Braves’ alternate training site (Triple-A Gwinnett’s Coolray Field). So most of his post-high school experience came as he played at the High-A level.

The Braves recognized the chance they were taking by fast-tracking Harris to the big leagues. But at the same time, the need to address their outfield defensive woes led them to make the move. The impact has been noticeable, especially now that Acuña has distanced himself from his ACL recovery by playing right field each of the past five games.

With Acuña in right field, Harris in center and Adam Duvall in left, the Braves have one of the game’s best defensive outfields. This arrangement keeps Marcell Ozuna in the designated hitter role and lessens the fatigue Duvall felt when playing center on an everyday basis.

Duvall has produced a multihit performance in each of his past three games as he’s gone 6-for-13 with two doubles, a triple and two homers. His continued rejuvenation would only enhance the value Harris has brought since making the big jump to the Majors.

“Growing up, I was always playing against the top talent and playing above my age group,” Harris said. “I feel like it prepared me for times like this, and I’m really feeling comfortable. I feel like I belong.”

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