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Braves Activate Michael Harris II


The Braves announced this morning that they’ve reinstated reigning NL Rookie of the Year Michael Harris II from the injured list. Atlanta optioned outfielders Nick Solak and Eli White (who’d been on the paternity list but was first reinstated) to Triple-A Gwinnett to open a spot on the active roster.

Harris played in just seven games this season before landing on the 10-day IL due to a lower back strain. While initial indications from the team were that Harris could be back after only a minimum stay on the IL, he wound up missing about three weeks of action due to the issue. His absence hasn’t done much to slow down a deep and talented Braves roster, as Atlanta currently sits atop the NL East with a 17-9 record, holding a two-game lead over second-place New York and a four-game lead over both Miami and Philadelphia, who’ll head into the weekend at 13-13.

The return of Harris figures to push Sam Hilliard from center field to left field somewhat regularly, with Kevin Pillar and Eddie Rosario also mixing in at the position. Hilliard, in particular, has been a key contributor in Harris’ absence, batting .296/.367/.537 with three home runs, four stolen bases and solid glovework in center field.

That said, Hilliard has also punched out in a mammoth 41.7% of his plate appearances (25 of 60) and is currently sporting a .500 average on balls in play that is sure to regress over time. Hilliard rarely chases off the plate (21%), but when he does, his 31% contact rate is the second-lowest mark in all of baseball (min. 60 plate appearances). His 70% contact rate on pitches within the zone is the third-lowest among that same subset, and his overall 58.6% contact rate leads only Giants Rule 5 catcher/outfielder Blake Sabol. Strikeout issues are nothing new for Hilliard, who entered the season with a career 32.7% rate in 639 plate appearances with the Rockies.

None of Pillar (.227/.277/.341), Rosario (.222/.263/.417) or Marcell Ozuna (.085/.194/.203) are hitting well this year. The Braves are winning anyway, and particularly now with Harris returning, they can afford to see if Hilliard can improve his contact skills or if one or more of those three struggling veterans can turn things around to help solidify the team’s outlook in left field and at designated hitter. If not, those could be potential areas of focus at this summer’s trade deadline.

Turning back to the 22-year-old Harris, he went just 5-for-23 to open the season. However, he was of course nothing short of brilliant as a rookie, batting .297/.339/.514 with 19 homers and 20 steals in 114 games en route to the aforementioned Rookie of the Year honors. He went 1-for-7 with a pair of walks, three strikeouts and a stolen base in two Triple-A rehab games before this morning’s reinstatement from the injured list. Harris is in the first season of an eight-year, $72MM extension he signed last summer; the contract spans the 2023-30 seasons and contains club options for the 2031 and 2032 campaigns.

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