The Atlanta Braves have been one of the best organizations in baseball over the past few years. With their win on Tuesday night, they won the National League East for the fifth consecutive season. Last year, they went on an incredible run without their best player and won the World Series for the first time since 1995.
How have the Braves been able to sustain their most recent success? Homegrown talent.
We have come accustomed to hearing the names Ronald Acuna Jr., Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and more when watching the Braves. Acuna Jr. and Albies were both signed as international free agents, and Swanson was traded for before playing in the big leagues.
Austin Riley is turning himself into one of the game’s best right-handed bats and could be an N.L. MVP finalist this year. Max Fried and Kyle Wright are turning into a very good one-two punch at the top of Atlanta’s rotation. William Contreras is 24 and enjoying a ton of success at the plate this year. Riley, Fried, Wright, and Contreras all spent time in the Braves minor league system before making their major league debuts.
While the Braves have many other names we could discuss, they have two players who are going to finish in the top two in National League Rookie of the Year voting. Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider have been the two best rookies in the N.L. this season.
Which one should the award is a great question, but it will not be answered in this article. Instead, we are going to look at the amazing seasons from two of the game’s best up-and-coming players.
Michael Harris II
Michael Harris II was called up to the big league roster on May 28. The 21-year-old was supposed to help the Braves with their outfield depth at the time of his call-up but has turned into more than just depth. Prior to his promotion, Harris II had played just 43 games above High-A ball, but nobody would have guessed that by watching the young centerfielder.
Harris II has been impressive all around. He has flashed his speed and glove all season. His average sprint speed is 29.4 ft/s, which is in the 95th percentile in the majors this season. He is also in the 93rd percentile in outs above average and 86th percentile in outfielder jump. Harris II has logged all of his defensive innings in centerfield this season. He has 8 DRS and 6 OAA.
Here is an example of Harris II’s ability in the field:
When it comes to hitting, Harris II can do that, too. He is currently hitting .297/.339/.514 through 441 plate appearances, with 27 doubles and 19 home runs. He also has 20 steals on the season.
While he doesn’t walk a lot, he has a 4.8% walk rate, and strikeouts out 24.3% of the time, he has shown the ability to hit to all fields.
His current spray chart shows that he pulls the ball 32.1% of the time, hits it towards the middle of the field 43.5% of the time, and goes to the opposite field 24.4% of the time. He can also hit for the power to all fields. The left-handed hitting Harris II has 8 opposite-field home runs this year.
The success at the plate for Harris II can be explained in one simple way. He crushes 4-seam fastballs. His batting average against 4-seamers is .375 and his slugging percentage is .708. Out of his 19 homers, 13 have come against fastballs.
With great speed, the ability to flash the leather, and spraying the ball all over the field with power, Michael Harris II should become one of the game’s best centerfielders for years to come.
Spencer Strider started the year out of Atlanta’s bullpen, but was moved to the rotation on May 30 and has been one of the most effective pitchers in the game. He has appeared in 31 games, starting 20, with 131.2 innings pitched, 202 strikeouts, and a 2.67 ERA.
Batters are hitting .180/.254/.264 against Strider, and his fastball is a big reason why. Hitters have a .201 batting average against his 4-seamer that averages 98.2 MPH. He has a whiff rate of 27.7% on his fastball, and 120 out of his 202 strikeouts have come on his 4-seamer.
He also throws a slider and a changeup. Strider’s slider has not been touched at all this season. He has allowed just 1 home run off of his slider, hitters are hitting .139 against it, and he has a whiff rate of 52.2% on that pitch.
He mixes in his changeup just 4.8% of the time, but hitters don’t hit that pitch either. They have a .136 average against his changeup and swing and miss at it 47.5% of the time.
Strider’s strikeout rate, 38.3%, is in the 99th percentile in the majors this year. To put his 202 strikeouts into perspective, Strider is 84th in innings pitched in MLB in 2022, but has the 11th most punchouts. Not only are his strikeout numbers impressive this year, but when they are compared to the entire history of baseball, they are even more impressive.
Strider is the first rookie in the Modern Era to have 200 strikeouts in a season for the Braves. He also recorded 200 strikeouts in just 130 innings, which is the quickest by any pitcher in AL/NL history.
Spencer Strider has been a lot of fun to watch this season and looks to be another great piece in Atlanta’s rotation. If he continues to develop, he will be one of the game’s best pitchers for a long time.
The Braves have done a great job with their player development, and continue to churn out some of the game’s best young players. Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider are the most recent examples of that.
Even though just one of Harris II and Strider can win the award, they are both worthy of winning N.L. Rookie of the Year. Harris II has created some exciting highlight real plays at the plate and in the field this year, while Strider has dominated hitters with his explosive fastball and dominant slider.
No matter who wins the award, it is safe to say the Atlanta Braves are going to be a very talented team for a while thanks to their homegrown players.
Featured Photo: Twitter / @Braves