By MARK SIMON
The Braves are 50-21 with 21-year-old rookie center fielder Michael Harris II in the starting lineup this season.
That’s a 114-win pace over 162 games and particularly impressive given that when Harris was recalled, the Braves were 22-24.
He’s started in all but one Braves game since making his MLB debut on May 28 and is hitting .287 with a .325 on-base percentage and .500 slugging percentage. That makes him one of the leading candidates for NL Rookie of the Year.
The Braves had a team OPS of .702 and were averaging 4.2 runs per game prior to his recall. Since May 28, their OPS is .802 and they’re averaging 5.3 runs per game. We pointed out their impressive offense in a Stat of the Week two months ago and they’ve largely sustained that success.
This is all pertinent given that Harris, who grew up near Atlanta, just signed an eight-year contract extension worth $72 million (club options could make it a 10-year deal). He will be a long-term core player along with other teammates with lengthy deals, including Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies, Austin Riley, and Matt Olson.
What’s so impressive about Harris is the completeness of his game. He can hit, hit for power, run, field, and throw.
He already has 12 home runs, matching the combined total he had in 144 games at in the minor leagues in 2021 and 2022. He’s 13-for-13 in stolen base attempts after telling us last season that he was working on getting better jumps on the bases.
Harris ranks 7th among center fielders with 5 Defensive Runs Saved. Even with the Braves leading the Mets 13-1 on Monday night, Harris wasn’t afraid to crash into the wall to make a catch. He also had several strong throws against the Mets in their previous series.
As Harris gets more experience, one thing to watch for is that he’s a pitch-chaser. Since his recall only three players have a higher chase rate than his 44%. He’s struck out 65 times and walked only 10.
But Harris has shown a comfortability at the plate when in adverse counts. Eight of his 12 home runs and 14 of his 28 extra-base hits have come with two strikes. And in a limited sample with runners in scoring position, he’s hit .389 with only nine strikeouts in 54 at-bats.
He’s also bounced back from a 2-for-24 slump in July when it looked like the league might have figured him out a little bit. He’s hitting .307 with an .863 OPS in his last 25 games.
With no Freddie Freeman, the 2022 Braves are a bit different from the 2021 World Series champs. Yes, they still have the stars mentioned earlier in this piece, but that team was floundering until Harris came up. There are many ways a player can spark a team. Harris has done so in just about every one of them.