As he searched for opportunity, Braves prospect Hayden Harris turned to LinkedIn

Augusta native used the platform to communicate with baseball scouts
Braves pitcher Hayden Harris throws in the bullpen during spring training baseball workouts at CoolToday Park, Thursday, Feb., 15, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /



Braves pitcher Hayden Harris throws in the bullpen during spring training baseball workouts at CoolToday Park, Thursday, Feb., 15, 2024, in North Port, Florida. (Hyosub Shin /

NORTH PORT, Fla. – “Hey Alan, wanted to reach out and introduce myself. I’m Hayden Harris. I’m looking for a pro opportunity. I’m up in the Draft League with the Frederick Keys. Finished up my five years at Georgia Southern. Just trying to get in contact with whoever I can. If you need data, video, contacts or references, don’t hesitate. I’m a hometown guy from Augusta and would love an opportunity to play in the Braves organization. Thank you for your time.”

That was the message Hayden Harris crafted on LinkedIn – the networking platform used by professionals across all industries – and sent to Alan Butts, the Braves’ area scout in charge of Georgia. As Harris searched for any opportunity to continue playing baseball, he did not rely simply on word of mouth or fate.

He used LinkedIn.

“I wasn’t ready at all to give up on baseball,” Harris said. “People have to hang the cleats up, but I definitely wasn’t ready for that, so I kind of put together a plan and followed it to the best of my ability.”

It worked. As he recalled his story, which can be inspiring for others in a similar spot, Harris, a lifelong Braves fan, stood in the major-league clubhouse at CoolToday Park. The Braves invited him to big-league spring training. He arrived here as a long shot to make the team, but the fact he earned this chance was gratifying enough.

Across the clubhouse, the names are unbelievable: Ronald Acuña Jr. Spencer Strider. Matt Olson. Austin Riley. Max Fried. And on and on.

“I mean, it’s a blessing,” Harris, a Grovetown High School alum, said of being in his first big-league camp.

‘Man, I’ll take a Snickers bar’

Everywhere, college students and professionals go on LinkedIn to seek, and apply for, internships and jobs. They connect with those inside and outside their respective industries. Even baseball people utilize it.

After Harris completed his fourth year at Georgia Southern, he toyed with the idea of creating a LinkedIn account because he was going for his business degree. At the time, he was playing in the Northwoods League, a summer ball league in the Midwest. Harris, a left-handed pitcher, knew scouts in the Southeast, but wanted to expand his network. He began connecting with a couple of scouts here and there, but didn’t reach out then.

The next year, Harris had a subpar fifth season in college. He found himself on LinkedIn again.

“I don’t even think I was looking at scouts or anything,” he said. “I was looking for a job or something before summer ball.”

A real job. A gig outside of baseball.

He had an idea: What if he began reaching out to scouts from different teams on LinkedIn? He would ask them to connect, and then he would send his statistics and metrics. So he started sending elevator pitches to scouts from different teams to gauge any interest.

One of the people he reached: Butts, who had watched Harris at Georgia Southern. The two had messaged back and forth a bit before Harris sent Butts the message cited above. Harris always intrigued Butts, and the scout figured Harris might be a late-round, money-saving pick for the Braves in the 2022 MLB draft. LinkedIn wasn’t the reason Butts became interested in Harris.

Harris went undrafted.

But a couple of days after the draft, Harris was driving to Maryland to pitch for the Frederick Keys of the MLB Draft League – a league for those searching for a professional opportunity. Butts had a question: Would Harris sign as an undrafted free agent for the amount the Braves were offering?

“Man, I’ll take a Snickers bar,” Harris responded.

“All right, give me an hour,” Butts replied.

Harris sat at a random gas station for that hour. Eventually, the phone rang again.

The Braves were signing Harris as an undrafted free agent.

“More than anything, he’s just got great makeup,” Butts told The Atlanta Journal-Constitution over the phone. “I’ve been with the Braves for 31 years, and he’s got that makeup that fits the Braves organization.”

‘I can’t really express the gratitude I have’

As an Augusta native, Harris grew up a diehard Braves fan. Of course, he loved Chipper Jones. What Georgia kid didn’t? But asked about his favorite player, he rattled off a few different names.

Tim Hudson.

Craig Kimbrel in his prime.

And Andrelton Simmons on defense?

“It was just something different,” said Harris, who turns 25 this year.

He then added: “When you’re a Braves fan, you just buy into the team.”

Two summers ago, the Braves bought into Harris when they signed him. They believed in him. This means something to him.

Butts didn’t need a LinkedIn message to pique his interest. He had watched Harris at Georgia Southern, where Harris eventually was the only member of his class left on the team during his fifth season. Harris was a lefty. He seemed to have great “makeup,” which is the baseball word for character.

“I liked the way he pitched on the mound and the way he attacked hitters,” Butts said. “You gotta have that to reach the big leagues, and you can’t be afraid to throw strikes. And he attacked the strike zone. He wasn’t exactly a plus strike-thrower, but you could see he wasn’t afraid to attack the strike zone. But he’s just got that makeup that you just really like in a pitcher. And then (being) left-handed really helps.”

A person who deserves credit: Will Siskel, a coordinator of major-league operations for the Braves. Butts named Siskel and praised him for seeing something in Harris. Siskel, as Butts recalls it, noticed Harris’ analytical metrics were impressive.

Ronit Shah, who is now the team’s director of amateur scouting, called Butts about Harris. “Hey, do you really like this guy?” Shah asked. Butts said he did, and that’s when the Braves reached out to Harris.

After signing in 2022, Harris pitched in rookie ball. Last season, he started at Low-A Augusta and ended at Double-A Mississippi.

All he wanted was an opportunity.

“I can’t really express the gratitude I have for (Butts) believing in me and pitching (him to the organization),” Harris said. “Because (scouts) don’t have any say at the end of the day, but him just pitching what he sees and what he believed in, and not like, ‘This guy’s a fifth-year senior, subpar college career.’ He’s pitching what they were looking for, the outlier stuff.”

What Harris brings to the mound

In his preseason meeting with the Braves upon arriving at camp, Harris told people he probably watched more Josh Hader highlights than the average person. Hader, of course, has been one of baseball’s best closers for years. He strikes out a ton of batters.

“And I was like, ‘I’m just gonna go up there and try to strike guys out like that,’” Harris said. “I mean, that’s what I gotta do.”

Going into last spring, the Braves told Harris to be available and pitch every second or third day that season. He did that all year. The organizational philosophy, he said, is to not walk batters and get as many swings as possible. This, he said, keeps it simple, and it’s all he tries to do.

Harris said he has a very flat fastball. He’s only 6 feet tall, but he has good extension for his size. The lefty is good against left-handed hitters. He has some deception in his delivery.

Harris estimated he threw around 87% fastballs last season. He used a bigger slider last year, but couldn’t execute it well. It produced whiffs, but when it got hit, it was hammered. This season, he wants to focus on throwing a slider he can execute. It doesn’t have to be special, he said, but he needs to locate it.

“Just talking to the guys that had him last year, they really like him, and he got great results,” Braves manager Brian Snitker recently said. “It’s different. That ball comes out his hand a little different, (with) the angle and stuff like that.”

At Double-A to finish last season, Harris posted a 2.83 ERA over 35 innings.

When he went to Georgia Southern, Harris became the first Grovetown High athlete to play at the Division I level. He could one day represent his schools as a major leaguer.

For now, Harris simply has been happy to be in big-league camp, no matter how long it lasts.

“It’s a great opportunity, obviously,” he said. “But I’ve always seen myself as always being able to improve, and it’s amazing to have a great organization and a group of guys that also thinks the same thing. Instead of you feeling like you have to prove yourself to everybody, well, they gave me an opportunity now, so somebody knows something. You gotta have self-confidence, but other people in an organization having confidence in you, it’s almost a relief. You can go out there and play.”

‘That’s just the determination’

To Butts, Harris has talent. He’ll also be a great clubhouse guy. He wants to learn, and he’ll buy into whatever the minor-league coaches teach him.

He has everything it takes to succeed in professional baseball. The Braves took a chance on Harris, and he’s started to run with it.

They never signed him because of LinkedIn, but his willingness to put himself out there, and how he battled to stay in baseball, tells you how much he wants this.

“That’s just the determination, that he wanted to continue (playing),” Butts said. “And he believed in himself enough to send that stuff out. You know, 99.9 (percent) of the time you send that stuff out, it’s probably not gonna work.”