The Braves had a very different draft strategy in 2019. We had become accustomed to prep players, in particular pitchers, coming off the board early for Atlanta as the Braves trusted their scouts to find the prep players that could blossom into studs down the line even if they had to wait a little while to get them in the big leagues.
In 2019, the early rounds saw the team going after proven college bats. This is a pretty stark difference in strategy, but when you look closer...you can see a bit of fidelity to taking chances on prep players albeit different kinds of chances. Day Two and Three of the draft saw the Braves take a lot of high ceiling, high floor prep talent and was successful in signing them away from college commitments thanks to saving a little bit of draft pool money in the early rounds.
Michael Harris was one of those players and he is already getting a lot of notice. A tooled up, athletic outfielder who could have also been drafted highly as a pitcher, Harris wowed the Braves at a private workout enough for the team to invest a third round pick on him. After raking down in a rookie ball during his pro debut, the organization had need of an outfielder at Rome and Harris was promoted despite being a prep draftee in his draft year. While he did struggle a bit, he did not look out of place going against older, more experienced competition and many national outlets are already pegging him as a breakout candidate for 2020.
Michael was gracious enough to take time away from his very busy schedule to talk to me about his journey to pro ball, some things he has learned along the way, and what some of his goals are for the 2020 season. Enjoy!
First of all, Michael...you pretty clearly have a lot of raw athletic ability so you could have probably played any sport you wanted to if you so desired. What sports did you play growing up and what made you decide to focus on baseball?
I kind of played every sport there was growing up. I started baseball at 3 and I also did soccer, swimming, tennis, football, basketball, and I tried golf but that didn’t work out. I really fell in love with baseball, basketball, and football, but I stopped football because of injuries and I knew that baseball would take me further than basketball would so I just stuck with baseball.
A lot of kids play organized baseball growing up and only a very select few get to even play in college let alone as a pro. When, in your amateur career, did you notice that you were getting scouted by MLB teams and realized that you could realistically make a career out of baseball?
I might have been getting noticed earlier, but I probably didn’t notice that I was getting noticed. I think at 13, I did a small showcase for the smaller colleges. That was really the only showcase I have ever done other than the Perfect Game national showcase and that was when I was 17. So, I didn’t really do that many showcases, I just played in big tournaments with Perfect Game and the scouts would be there. I would just try to play to my highest potential there in order to be seen.
Flash forward to the draft and your hometown Braves selected you (and the video of your family and friends’ reaction was great by the way). Going into the draft, how firm was your commitment to Texas Tech and what did you think the odds were that you were going to go pro?
Well, my number one choice was always to go pro, but if the draft didn’t go how I wanted it to go, I would have went to school, but it went how I wanted it to go and now I am here today as a Brave.
This brings us to actual baseball talk now. You were both a highly regarded outfielder as well as a highly regarded pitcher in high school and a lot of scouts actually preferred you as a pitcher. What went into your decision to focus solely on being a position player and would you be open to switching back to pitching if you had to?
Well, most scouts thought I was a pitcher going into the draft. However, most of the coaches I grew up playing with probably thought, in their hearts, that I was an outfielder. I never really picked the position, it just happened that at the workout for the Braves. I was supposed to pitch at the workout, but I ended up not pitching because I guess I hit so well. I hit it into the Chophouse a few times and they were just blown away by that, so that is really what happened. I didn’t really choose the position myself...I was always open to either one. If all else fails, I would still be open to pitching.
In high school, you were a switch hitter early on, but as a pro you have been solely a left-handed hitter. Was that something the Braves wanted you to do from the get-go, is there any chance that you will go back to switch hitting?
Well, I switch-hit in my junior year of high school. I didn’t do it my senior year, so I don’t think I would go back to it. I honestly don’t think the Braves knew that I did it earlier because the games they went to, I was hitting lefty on lefty so I am not sure that they were even thinking about that.
Given that you adopted being a full-time lefty, one would have thought that lefty pitchers would have given you more trouble, but you performed pretty well in rookie ball against them. What was the biggest struggle facing lefties from a side of the plate you weren’t used to?
Well, I knew in high school that when I faced lefties in high school, that I had some success against them. I did notice that. Each pitcher has different movement and different tendencies that you have to look out for, but it is always tough lefty on lefty.
What has been your focus this offseason? Have you been working on anything or with anyone in particular as you are about to enter your first full season as a pro?
I have just been working on getting a little bit stronger and faster. Going into the season, I have been working with the coaches on getting more launch on the ball because I didn’t get under the ball a lot last year. I would wrap around and if I hit it down the line, it would wrap foul and it wouldn’t have true flight. I’m really working on that and keeping my hands through the whole at-bat and just getting stronger and faster.
The 2019 draft class is fascinating for us because it signaled a shift in philosophy for the Braves. Other than yourself, who really stood out to you as guys that impressed you...in particular, guys that may be flying a bit under the radar?
I would definitely say Vaughn Grissom. He definitely improved towards the end of the season in getting his average up to .300. He was always doing good, but I think at the end of the season, he really took off. Other than him, a lot of the other guys were already high on the radar although I probably didn’t get the chance to see all of them a lot.