Mississippi Brave Michael Harris II would seem to be on a fast track to Atlanta, his hometown. (Courtesy Mississippi Braves)

Outfielder Michael Harris II, the No. 1 prospect in the Atlanta Braves organization, has gotten off to a blistering start with the Class AA Mississippi Braves.

Rick Cleveland

Harris hit safely in the Braves first 10 games and was one of only three players in all of Minor League baseball to do so. He has reached base in all 12 M-Braves games and is hitting .319 with three doubles, two triples and four stolen bases. That’s after being the Atlanta Braves Minor League player of the year in 2021 at Class A Rome and spending much of spring training 2022 with the parent club.

Harris has, as baseball folks say, all the tools. The 21-year-old Atlanta native can hit (one), hit for power (two), field (three), throw (four) and run really fast (five.) He is that rare five-tool player, and, actually, Harris has six. He can pitch, as well. In fact, most Major League Baseball scouts projected him as a pitcher, not an everyday player before the Atlanta Braves drafted him in the third round in 2019 and decided quickly they wanted him on the field every day — not once every five days. 

Harris gets all that talent honestly — and he’s not the first Michael Harris to display his baseball talents on a Mississippi diamond. His dad, Michael Harris I, was a standout for longtime Alcorn State baseball coach Rat McGowan back in the mid 1980s, and he was versatile, too. The elder Michael Harris, who goes by Mike, played every position except catcher for the Alcorn Braves. He once retired 26 batters in a row before settling for a one-hit shutout against Rust College. As a junior he helped the Alcorn Braves win a game against Alabama at Tuscaloosa. He could hit. He could run. In fact, he was playing semi-pro baseball at age 18 in Atlanta when an Alcorn State assistant coach saw him, called McGowan and told his boss, “I found us one.”

The elder Harris grew up playing youth league baseball at Gresham Park in the Atlanta suburb of Decatur. The younger Harris began playing T-ball at the same park at age 3. When this writer caught up by telephone with Michael Harris I on Thursday evening, he had just finished umpiring a game for 10-year-olds at the same ballpark where he and his son learned the sport.

“Just trying to give back,” the elder Harris said. “Can’t get enough of it I guess.”

Michael Harris won the Rawlings Gold Glove as the most outstanding fielding outfielder in minor league baseball in 2021. (Mississippi Braves)

No way the elder Harris could ever count the hours he has spent at Gresham Park, especially watching his son develop into the player who was heavily recruited by colleges before signing a $548,000 bonus contract with the Braves.

The father says the son showed promise through all the youth leagues, but it was when he was in the ninth grade, playing for the high school varsity team, the father first believed the son might have a future playing the sport.

“That was when he really started to grow, put on some muscle,” Michael Harris I said. “That’s when you could really see the potential, see what he could become.”

What the junior Harris has become is a 6-foot, 190-pound package of talent, just now getting what baseball people call his “man strength.”

That strength was evident during Thursday batting practice when laced line drive after line drive deep into the opposite field. (The younger Harris bats left-handed, but took a few turns from the right side of the plate with no noticeable fall off.)

“I used to switch hit,” he said. “I still like to mess around with it.”

Harris hit .294 with gap power (26 doubles, three triples, seven homers) last year at Rome. The Braves believe he can become a 25-30 home run guy as his strength continues to develop.

Brian Snitker, the former M-Braves manager who now manages the World Champion Atlanta Braves, was mightily impressed with Harris this spring in Florida.

“I’m all over Michael Harris,” Snitker told reporters there. “I love that kid. It’s hard not to. That’s what they look like. He just needs more experience.”

The Braves would like for Harris to spend at least most of this season at Pearl. But there seems little doubt the master plan is for Harris — perhaps as soon as 2023 — to play beside Ronald Acuna Jr. in the Braves outfield. Like Acuna, Harris plays both center and right fields.

Bruce Crabbe, the Mississippi Braves new manager, calls Harris “a real pro” and talks not only about the immense talent but also “his rare professionalism at such a young age.”

“The kid know what it takes, and he works at every part of his game,” Crabbe said. “He’s such a smooth runner it’s hard to tell how fast he’s really going, but it’s fast. He hits the ball to all fields with power, and he’s only going to get stronger. He just needs reps. He’s so smart. He just gets it.”

As for Michael Harris II, his dream always has been to play for the Atlanta Braves, his hometown team. He says playing with the Big League club this spring made him realize how close that dream is to becoming reality.

“I’ve just got to put in the work, and I’ll do that,” he said. “Whenever they feel like they need me, I plan to be ready.”

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Rick Cleveland, a native of Hattiesburg and resident of Jackson, has been Mississippi Today’s sports columnist since 2016. A graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi with a bachelor’s in journalism, Rick has worked for the Monroe (La.) News Star World, Jackson Daily News and Clarion Ledger. He was sports editor of Hattiesburg American, executive director of the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame. His work as a syndicated columnist and celebrated sports writer has appeared in numerous magazines, periodicals and newspapers.
Rick has been recognized 13 times as Mississippi Sports Writer of the Year, and is recipient of multiple awards and honors for his reporting and writing.