Braves center fielder Michael Harris II has won the National League Rookie of the Year award, the Baseball Writers Association of America announced. He was followed by teammate Spencer Strider and Cardinals infielder Brendan Donovan in second and third place, respectively.
This has long been viewed as a two-horse race, with the pair of Atlanta players separating themselves from the pack. Harris, a third-round pick in 2019, emerged as one of the game’s more interesting prospects with a breakout 2021 showing in High-A. He began this year in Double-A but quickly proved too advanced for the level, tearing apart opposing pitchers through 43 games. The Braves made the bold decision to skip him over Triple-A entirely, installing him as the everyday center fielder upon calling him to the big leagues in late May.
Harris stepped in excellently for the defending World Series winners. The left-handed hitter posted a .297/.339/.514 line through his first 441 big league plate appearances. He didn’t draw many walks, but Harris hit nearly .300 while connecting on 19 home runs and swiping 20 bases. He also played excellent center field defense, with Defensive Runs Saved pegging him as eight runs above average with the glove. Statcast estimated he was six runs above par, and the 21-year-old now looks like one of the most promising two-way position players in the game.
Strider, meanwhile, looks like one of the sport’s top young arms. A fourth-round draftee in 2020, he immediately outperformed that fairly modest selection. The right-hander earned a brief big league audition late last season and began this year in the MLB bullpen. By mid-May, he’d been moved to the rotation, and his excellent fastball-slider combination continued to befuddle big league hitters. The 24-year-old combined for 131 2/3 innings of 2.67 ERA ball between the bullpen and the starting staff, striking out an incredible 38.3% of opponents along the way.
A top-two finish in Rookie of the Year balloting takes on significance beyond its mere prestige value now, thanks to provisions in the new collective bargaining agreement. The CBA contained measures designed to counteract service time manipulation through the so-called “prospect promotion incentive.” Top-two Rookie of the Year finishers who were Top 100 prospects on at least two preseason lists at Baseball America, ESPN and MLB Pipeline are automatically credited with a full service year.
Harris meets all three criteria and will thus earn a full service year, although he inked an eight-year contract extension midseason that negates any chance he’ll ever proceed through arbitration and pushed back his path to free agency. The full service year will have a small move in Harris’ eventual push for 10 years in the majors and its associated pension and possible no-trade benefits. Strider earned a full service year by playing 172-plus days on the MLB roster regardless, although he also later signed an extension.
The second element of the PPI won’t come into play in the National League. A player who meets the aforementioned prospect criteria, entered the year with less than 60 days of service and spent enough time on the MLB roster to earn a full service year independent of the awards finish would net their team a bonus draft choice with a top-two finish. Harris qualified for the prospect criteria but was not on the MLB roster long enough for a full service year without the award bonus. Strider did accrue the service time element but did not appear on a preseason Top 100 at any of MLB Pipeline, BA or ESPN. Unlike the Mariners, who received an extra selection based on Julio Rodríguez’s AL ROY win, the Braves will not accrue a bonus pick.
Harris picked up 22 of 30 first-place nods, with Strider collecting the other eight votes. Harris and Strider were 1-2 in some order on 29 of 30 ballots, with Reds closer Alexis Díaz earning the other second-place vote. Donovan earned a third-place finish with a .281/.394/.379 showing over 468 plate appearances in a utility capacity for St. Louis; he grabbed 22 third-place votes. Arizona outfielder Jake McCarthy, Cincinnati starter Nick Lodolo and Pittsburgh shortstop Oneil Cruz joined Díaz in picking up stray support.
Full vote breakdown available here.
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