A calm mind as his guide, Michael Harris II continues to raise the bar
PEARL, Miss. (WLBT) - Just a couple of weeks into his first season as the Mississippi Braves hitting coach, Mike Bard decided to change up his routine a little bit.
He was going to talk to Michael Harris II about the player’s swing.
It’s not like the Atlanta Braves top prospect was in the midst of major struggles at the plate. After all, Harris was leading the team in balls hit with an exit velocity of 100 MPH or more, but three straight games without a hit during a home series with the Chattanooga Lookouts called for some consultation.
Bard is no stranger to working with hitting talent. The older brother of former Major League Baseball catcher Josh Bard, this is Mike’s third year in the Braves organization, but previous stops throughout his coaching career have seen him work with a pair of World Series MVP’s in David Freese and Ben Zobrist, among others.
Those experiences are why he takes a largely hands-off approach with Harris.
“You don’t want to screw them up,” he says, “It doesn’t matter what I think or say, it matters what they can do.”
So instead of Bard telling Harris what to change, he asked Harris what could they change together. After a video session, the duo identified a high chase-rate and a flat swing.
Harris had no home runs before that meeting. Now, he has four in his last 58 at bats (He had 9 HR in 565 AB from 2019-2021) and is in the midst of a 14-game hit streak. He is also the only player throughout Double-A to have reached base in all 27 games this season.
“It’s definitely a confidence boost,” says Harris, “I really feel good right now. It’s good to start the season this way. I just hope I can continue it the rest of the season.”
It’s funny hearing Harris talk about his 2022 season.
He gives off quite the subdued reaction when his stats are pointed out. He does realize the torrid pace that he is on, and it probably helps that the Minor League Baseball schedule is a grinding slog of one six-game series after another that doesn’t really allow much time to admire your work.
But just like the 10 bases he has swiped so far this year, Harris takes what he is doing all in stride. He simply doesn’t allow his mind to wander too far, whether positively or negatively, to the extreme.
“I just go day by day,” he explains. “The amount of times you fail (in baseball), you never have steady success, I feel like that gives me more drive to play this sport.”
Even at his young age, Harris has seemed to already have found the perfect balance in knowing when to be assertive with his career and when to just go with the flow of things. Regardless of which approach he takes, what is ultimately supposed to happen often does.
After all, having grown up right outside of Atlanta in DeKalb, Georgia, the lifelong Braves fan dreamed of playing for his hometown team and did everything he could to be the best baseball player he could be. He also accepted that maybe he was on a different path after the Braves didn’t have much communication with him in the lead up to the 2019 MLB Draft.
Atlanta ended up selecting Harris in the third round.
“I’m not sure where I got it from, but I’ve really been that way my whole life,” Harris says of his mindset. “It’s tough at times because sometimes you want to get out of your element and do too much, but you just have to stay true to yourself.”
Bard feels like Harris’ true self is an oxymoron in the most wonderful way.
He describes Harris as a funny, even a little dorky, kid who loves to joke around in the clubhouse and sometimes wear a Spider-Man headband. During every pregame batting practice, the left-handed Harris – who was a switch-hitter in high school – still takes a couple swings from the right side, just for fun.
The scary thing is that the sound of the bat on ball makes the same piercing crack no matter which side he hits from.
There’s still a certain child-like innocence with a lot of things for Harris, but when it comes to the minutiae of baseball, he suddenly seems like grizzled 10-year veteran.
“He’s so poised, he’s quiet, but he’s happy,” Bard says of Harris. “Emotion is a thing that gets in the way of a lot of players and it distracts them, but he just doesn’t emote negatively. so it’s pretty easy to coach him.
“In the Braves organization, everybody loves Mike.”
And what’s not to love?
Between the prospect rankings and getting a few starts with the Atlanta mainstays during Spring Training, Harris had crazy high expectations put onto him this season. Somehow, he has already soared well over those – even Bard believes a 40-home-run MLB season is in the cards.
Harris has firmly entrenched himself as the next great hope of the Atlanta Braves. But as close as that call up to The Show may be, he still doesn’t know what to expect, because he isn’t sure what previous moment in his life could replicate the feeling.
“Maybe the closest thing would be when I played in the (2021) Futures Game,” says Harris when asked if he’s ever pictured what his MLB debut would feel like.
“During the national anthem before the game, so many people were there cheering and the fireworks were going off. Maybe it would be something close to that.
“I just remember getting a chill then.”
The funny thing is, Harris’ performance so far this season and what he projects to be when his full powers are realized, could be the thing giving Braves fans chills for many years to come.
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