Should the Braves be worried about the Mets?

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

-Clint Manry

With a brand-new manager and the sport’s highest 2022 payroll, once again (on paper) the Mets are looking like a real threat in the NL East. So far the team’s winter has featured one superstar signing after another, including pitcher Max Scherzer (3 years / $130M), infielder Eduardo Escobar (2 years / $20M), outfielder Starling Marte (4 years / $78M) and… much more. With nearly $230 million in total contracts to just those three players, it’s evident that spending is no obstacle for New York. But as we witnessed last season (when the Mets finished in third place in the division and eight games under .500), the team’s frivolous spending doesn’t necessarily translate to success on the field.

If you recall, the Mets made some pretty big transactions last winter, pulling off signings such as pitchers Taijuan Walker and Aaron Loup, as well as hitters Kevin Pillar and Jonathan Villar, not to mention huge trades that netted Francisco Lindor and Carlos  Carrasco. Heading into the 2021 campaign, FanGraphs’ Dan Szymborski called New York’s hitting “deep” and said he wouldn’t be surprised if its starting rotation is “the best in baseball”. Although, Szymborski felt the bullpen was merely average.

All in all, on April 1 of this year the 2021 Mets were pegged as a 91-win team by the ZiPS projection system, tying with the Braves for the most wins in the NL East. Braves-versus-Mets was expected to be a marquee race for the entire season, and one that would most likely be decided by each club’s mid-season additions. Except, as we now know, that wasn’t what really happened (at least not the first part). For the entire first-half of the season, the Mets paced the division, heading into the All-Star break with a four-game lead over the Phillies at 48-40. Meanwhile, Atlanta sat in third at just 44-45.

And it probably has more to do with how great the Braves were down the stretch, and less to do with how bad the Mets were, but by the first weekend of August the latter team’s lead in the NL East had completely dwindled. A dozen losses in a 14-game stretch from Aug. 13-27 for New York, to go with a nine-game winning streak during that period for Atlanta, turned a tied division into a five-game lead for the Bravos, and from there forward the Mets choked and the Braves took home its fourth consecutive NL East title… and eventually a World Series.

It’s probably safe to say that that kind of turnaround is doubtful to happen again, for both teams. But we’ve seen enough craziness with the Mets in recent years to know that bad things are simply more likely to happen to them. It’s very realistic to expect the 37-year-old Scherzer to be on some type of innings limit in 2022. The guy is a bulldog, but his “dead arm” during the most-recent postseason – preventing him from starting Game 2 of the NLCS versus Atlanta — could very well be a sign that some kind of decline is coming. Lindor proved he’s still an ultra-talented player, laboring through a tough first-half that featured just a .225 AVG to still finish the year with 20 homers and 2.7 WAR, but that’s quite a ways away from the nearly 5 WAR per season he averaged while in Cleveland over the last six seasons. And Escobar has had some really strong performances over the last handful of seasons, logging 9.5 WAR overall since the start of 2018, but 2022 will be his age-33 campaign, meaning it’s probably unfair to expect 3-3.5 WAR-type seasons going forward (hence just the two-year contract).

On the other hand, though they paid a premium in years, landing Marte could be a boon for the Mets. The outfielder is roughly three months older than Escobar (currently 33), but he’s coming off a breakout year with the Marlins and Athletics in 2021, ending the season with a .310 AVG, 12 homers, 47 stolen bases and 5.5 WAR. Soon he’ll be entering his mid-30s, but Marte has a chance to become New York’s top player in 2022. And I don’t think the team is too worried about the back-half of that contract. Getting Mark Canha for around $13 million a year for two seasons was a pretty good signing as well as Canha adds a little more pop to the lineup and does a great job of consistently getting on base.

There’s no doubt the Mets will probably end the offseason as the better team on paper – same as last year. And I haven’t even mentioned all the players that are returning for them in 2022: guys like Jacob deGrom, Pete Alonso, Walker and Carrasco. But if we’ve learned anything from the Braves current run, you can’t always buy a division title, and unfortunately for the Mets, they don’t seem to understand that yet. Hell, I’m sure Braves Country would love to have some of the players the Mets have heading into 2022, but make no mistake, the path to taking the NL East still runs through Atlanta.

2022 Braves Prospects Best Tools: Best power

Thursday, December 23, 2021

-Clint Manry

With Christmas coming up and some time off ahead, I’m keeping the Best Tools series rolling today. On Wednesday I looked at a pitcher’s tool, best fastball, and today I’m returning to a position-player’s tool – best power.

If you’d like to look at previous posts in this series, here’s what has been covered thus far…

Explanation of what best power means: I don’t think this one really even needs an explanation, right? The best power will be the Braves prospects who’re the best at slugging homers and XBHs. Plain and simple.

BEST POWER TOOL (TOP 5)

RankPlayerPosition’22 Prospect rank
1Jesse Franklin VOF13th
2Drew Lugbauer1B/DH25th
3Greyson JenistaOF/1B34th
4Shea LangeliersC3rd
5Braden ShewmakeSS11th
Other notable candidates: Drew Waters, OF / Michael Harris II, OF / Justyn-Henry Malloy 3B/OF

Contrary to what many of us believed on draft day, Franklin is much more than the “righty-punishing platoon sort”, which was the exact words of FanGraphs in its scouting report in the site’s March 2021 prospect list. The kid absolutely crushed it at the High-A level, finishing this past season with 24 home runs and 24 doubles (the former total led all Braves minor leagues and the latter was second). And not just that, but he actually posted a higher OPS versus lefties than he did against righties, proving that he’s plenty capable of becoming a full-time player in the big leagues. We’ll see how his power numbers look once he faces Double-A competition in 2022, but at least for night now, Franklin wields the most power among Braves prospects. (FYI: Franklin’s .278 ISO in 2021 was the top mark among Braves minor league hitters, by nearly 30 points.)

I’m probably one of the only ones to rank Lugbauer as a prospect. He’s a guy with a career K rate in the 30 percentile in the minors, and at 25-years-old, there’s probably not much projection left, meaning what he is now is most likely what he’s going to be as a hitter. However, the former 11th round pick had quite the 2021 campaign with Double-A Mississippi, swatting 18 homers and 15 doubles to go with 51 RBI in 86 games, all ranking within the top 10 among Braves minor league batters. FanGraphs gave Lugbauer a 60-grade Raw Power back in late 2018 (the last time he was prospect material nationally). This guy can definitely slug, but hopefully he can start making contact as well.

Jenista has an offensive profile fairly similar to Lugbauer’s above. In 2021, with Mississippi, the 25-year-old belted 19 homers and seven doubles with 42 RBI in 89 games, although he also struck out 35.9% of the time and finished with only a .216 AVG. Luckily for Jenista, he’s capable of having a little more value given he’s more athletic and can play the outfield, but like his M-Braves teammate, his overall stock is limited because he can never seem to make enough contact. The power is real, though, as FanGraphs has Jenista pegged with a 60-grade Raw Power. We’ll see if he can become a better overall hitter with Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022, but right now he’s still one of the better sluggers in the system.

The no. 5 hitter was a tough one as there are several different players I wanted to put here. If you’ve seen him in-person, Shewmake definitely doesn’t look like a slugger, with his tall and lanky build, but make no mistake, this guy has some serious pop. Sure, he’s known for being a skillful contact hitter, but with the M-Braves this past season, Shewmake tallied 12 homers and 14 doubles, all while spending the first month or so of the season basically doing nothing stats-wise. He’s 24-years-old so I’m not sure how much more he’ll grow into his 6-foot-4 frame, but I could see the former first-rounder evolving into a slugging shortstop one day. I mean, he did finish his freshman season at Texas A&M with 11 homers in 64 games back in 2017, so there’s a history of power with Shewmake.

2022 Braves Prospects Best Tools: Best fastball

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

Using my 2022 Braves Offseason Prospect List, I recently started a Best Tools series, beginning with the system’s Best Overall Bat. Today I’m moving on to the next tool – best fastball.

Explanation of what Best Fastball means: this one’s pretty easy, but best fastball simply means the prospect pitcher that not only has the highest velocity with the offering but is also able to command it consistently. The Braves have plenty of flamethrowers among its prospect list, but not all of them have developed their fastball well enough to pound the strike zone. The following players throw heat AND strikes.

BEST FASTBALL TOOL (TOP 5)

RankPlayerRHP / LHP’22 Prospect rank
1Kyle MullerLHP1st
2Ryan CusickRHP12th
3Victor VodnikRHP18th
4Spencer StriderRHP8th
5William WoodsRHP24th
Other notable candidates: Jared Shuster, LHP / Bryce Elder, RHP

As you can see, not only do I have Muller as the top prospect in the Braves system but I also believe that he has the best fastball, a pitch FanGraphs gives a 70-grade. Thanks to his 6’7”, 250-pound frame, the 24-year-old consistently throws his heater 95-96 MPH, oftentimes running it up to 98 MPH, which is absolute hell on opposing batters considering he also has two above-average breaking balls. Muller’s command isn’t great yet, but it was plenty good enough in 2021, allowing him to debut in Atlanta and post a 4.17 ERA in eight starts (and one relief appearance). It’s not all gas for this kid, but Muller’s fastball is what has allowed him to become the top prospect in the organization and it’s also what’ll give him a shot to compete for a spot in the Braves rotation come this spring.

It’s difficult to get a good read on Cusick, given he’s only made six Single-A starts as a pro. But even though the competition level was way too easy in 2021, there’s no doubt that he wields one of the better fastballs in the system. In FanGraphs updated 2021 Braves Prospect List, the site gave Cusick’s heater a 70-grade, and after becoming Atlanta’s top pick this past summer, the kid went out and overpowered opposing batters to the tune of 18.7 strikeouts per nine. There are questions regarding his command and I’m sure that fastball won’t be as dominant as he moves up the minors, but there’s a reason the Braves took the 6-foot-6, 235-pound righty first.

Vodnik is nowhere near the size of Muller or Cusick (6’0”, 200 lbs.), so it’s even more impressive that he’s able to run his fastball up into the mid-90s MPH, while sitting at 92-96 MPH. The righty reliever-turned-starter prospect reportedly has a ton of cut on his heater as well, and with his low release-point, the pitch is able to sneak up on batters, making it even harder to time. It’s the other offerings that will determine whether or not Vodnik sticks it as a starter or not; but for now, his fastball/power curve is a hellacious combination.

We didn’t see much of Woods last season as he only logged 10 2/3 innings in the minors. But make no mistake, this is still an exciting prospect in the Braves system, thanks to a rather substantial velo-jump during the 2020-21 offseason. Now the righty sits 96-99 MPH and is easily able to crank it up to 100 MPH when needed, making him most likely the hardest throwing prospect in the organization. However, with a career average of 5.1 walks per nine so far, Woods’ command has yet to fully develop. Still, that kind of gas is rarely squared up, so if the right-hander can just hone it in a bit, he has a chance to become a mid-rotation starter in the majors, or an electric high-leverage reliever.

Strider made it all the way to the majors in 2021, which was quite the feat considering it was just his first year on the mound as a pro. The Braves fourth-round pick from 2019 made two appearances out of the bullpen, and overall, he looked really good. The 23-year-old sits in the mid-90s MPH but is now able to touch 97-98 MPH, which makes his fastball/curve a pretty nasty combination. Now the question is whether he can develop that third pitch (a changeup) to solidify himself as a potential top-of-the-rotation pitcher in the majors. Either way, his fastball plays really well in the bigs.

Braves sign infielder Jordan Cowan to minor league contract

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

With MLB still in a lockout, the Braves added another minor leaguer on Monday, signing Jordan Cowan.

Honestly, there’s not a lot of flash when it comes to Cowan. He was drafted out of high school in the 37th round by the Mariners back in 2013 as a middle-infielder, though he did experiment a bit with pitching during his first two pro seasons. With hardly any power but a decent ability to make consistent contact at the plate, Cowan earned a Double-A assignment in 2015, though he only played in eight games there and struggled mightily. Since then, he has bounced back and forth from High-A to Single-A, but in 2019 he finally appeared to stick it with Double-A Arkansas, where he’s been the last two seasons.

Since 2019, Cowan has hit .261 with six home runs, 27 doubles and 35 stolen bases in 207 games combined at the Double-A level – good for a decent 97 wRC+. During that span, he has mainly played second base, though he also has a decent amount of experience at shortstop and first, as well as a little bit of time in left field. Defensively, at least from a number’s standpoint, the guy appears to be sharp with the glove as he’s only committed six errors total at six different positions over the last pair of seasons.

The problem, though, is Cowan will turn 27 in April, so he’s a little old for Double-A ball, although shown by his stats, it’s not as if he’s necessarily past due on a Triple-A promotion. I still like the add, though. The Braves minor leagues can always use a solid middle-infielder as it’s a pretty thin position group in the system, and with Cowan, he can provide some depth at a lot of different places on the field. Don’t get me wrong, this is essentially minor league filler, but with Cowan’s contact, speed and at least consistent defense, he can certainly help Mississippi in 2022, or even Gwinnett if the Braves believe he’s ready for a Triple-A assignment.

The New York Times and The Athletic: the perfect match

Wednesday, December 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

Now entering Year 6 as a national and local, ad-free sports website, major changes are likely coming at The Athletic. Once again, after nearly reaching a deal back in the summer, the New York Times appears interested in purchasing The Athletic, and to me, for several reasons the two sites seem to be perfect for each other.

From Day 1 it has seemed like The Athletic has overextended itself, which is why recently the site has been so eager to sell. Since its Chicago launch in January of 2016, The Athletic has continued to expand its market at a crazy pace, going from two cities (Chicago and Toronto) in its first year of existence, to now a whopping 47 in the US, including the United Kingdom. Landing huge hires from local newspapers, as well as other national sites like ESPN and FOX, The Athletic has spent money like a company on the rise, but the results in subscriptions hasn’t quite matched its aggressiveness to grow.

The Athletic’s following isn’t anything to scoff at, though. According to its Wiki page, at an undisclosed time within 2021, the site had roughly 1.2 million subscribers and a revenue of $80 million (a roughly 200,000-jump in subs since September of 2020). But when expenses are as significant as The Athletic’s, are there ever enough subscriptions?

Which is why a juggernaut like the Times makes so much sense as a buyer. If you’re not aware, the NYT is considered the “national newspaper of record”, and for good reason. Regardless of what side you’re on politically (though the Times tends to lean to the left a bit), you’ve probably read at least one compelling story as the publication boasts over 7.5 million subscribers worldwide, thanks to a news staff approaching the 1,500 mark. According to Statista, the New York Time Company’s revenue reached $1.78 billion in 2020, adding 2.3 million subs just last year alone.

And as far as content, the Times does it all and is perhaps the current leader in COVID-19 coverage. Political analysis, tech essays and opinion pieces are the Times daily bread and butter, and oftentimes there’s more posts than any one person can read in a day. However, sports haven’t been a huge priority historically, and from what I’ve read and heard, the Times has purposely made it that way. Although, maybe buying The Athletic is the beginning of something new, or perhaps a way to start giving more attention towards its sports division.

Other than simply the style in which the two cover stories in general, one of the best and potentially most exciting similarities of The Athletic and the Times are its investigative pieces. If you recall, the former broke the Houston Astros sign-stealing scandal back in late 2019, as well as numerous other high-profile reports recently. And hell, just a few days ago, the Times published the findings of its thorough investigation on hidden pentagon records that evidently revealed patterns of failure in deadly airstrikes. In the sports world, The Athletic is one of the best at investigative write-ups, while the Times has been the king for decades in terms of US and World news; therefore, a combination of both could be huge and possibly lead to many other deep, long-form sports stories in the future.

Regardless, The Athletic must do something. Per recent reports, the site has lost nearly $100 million over the last two years, and if it’s unable to find a buyer, there’s no doubt numerous cuts will need to be made to prevent such huge losses in the future. One of the most likely scenarios, if a sell isn’t made, is that The Athletic will do away with its broad local coverage and commit to becoming strictly a national site, for I’m sure having a beat writer for nearly every sports city in the country is becoming outrageously costly. Another option to help with revenue deficits is implementing advertisements to generate income. Either way, I hope the site sticks around, even if it’s under the direction of the Times. In fact, I believe The Athletic will benefit greatly from the resources of such a prominent publication in the industry, and the work the two could do together could be something readers have never seen before. We’ll see what happens, but this could be a real positive for those of us that love to read about sports.

2022 Braves Prospects Best Tools: Overall bat

Monday, December 20, 2021

-Clint Manry

It’s time for another series. Recently I’ve released my 2022 Braves Prospect List, featuring the top 35 players in the Braves system. Following that week-long release, I also wrote up a top 10 ranking of the system’s top trade chips for this year.

Today I’m going to begin another series – one that I’ve always wanted to do but have never had the time. If you’re familiar or are subscribed to Baseball America, then you’re most likely aware of the site’s annual Best Tools column, listing the top minor league players by their respective scouting tools.

This past September, BA’s did a Best Tools post, featuring a top 10 ranking for 21 different tools. Using its format, I’ve chosen the eight that I’d like to incorporate into my series (four for position-players and four for pitchers). Those tools are listed below (simply put the word best before each tool)…

Position-player tools

  • Overall bat
  • Power
  • Plate discipline
  • Fastest baserunner

Pitcher tools

  • Fastball
  • Breaking pitch
  • Changeup
  • Control

To prevent this from becoming too lengthy, instead of doing a top 10 like BA, I will rank the five-best prospects for each tool, while going back and forth between position-player and pitcher tools. This series should provide a bit more detail about these prospects, and more specifically, what it is that helps make them a prospect in the first place. Depending on how the MLB lockout is looking once this series is done, I do plan to also construct an organizational depth chart for the Braves minor leagues, to better illustrate the system’s strengths and weaknesses.

But let’s get started with my Best Tools column, beginning with today’s post – the best overall bat:

Explanation of what Best Overall Bat means: for me, this tool is essentially a combination of a player’s Hit and Power tool. These are the prospects that are above average at making consistent contact AND hitting for power. Now, power doesn’t necessarily have to mean home runs. It can also mean doubles and triples, or any kind of XBH. These are the true offensive stars in the Braves system.

BEST OVERALL BAT TOOL (TOP 5)

RankPlayerPosition’22 Prospect rank
1Shea LangeliersC3rd
2Vaughn GrissomSS15th
3Michael Harris IIOF5th
4Drew WatersOF4th
5Braden ShewmakeSS11th
Other notable candidates: Trey Harris, OF / Jesse Franklin V, OF

Other than Langeliers at no. 1, ranking these five players was pretty difficult. There’s no doubt the prospect catcher has the best overall bat right now, though, as he slugged the second-most home runs (22) among Braves minor leaguers in 2021 and posted a .256 AVG (ninth among qualified hitters). That’s some incredible production at the plate for a catcher and is why the buzz surrounding Langeliers is at an all-time high right now.

Grissom may come as a surprise being as high as he is on this list, but this just shows how quick he’s moving up the ladder in the organization. This past season the 20-year-old hit .311 with five homers in 75 games at Single-A Augusta, then .378 with two homers in a short 12-game stint at High-A Rome, more than doubling his career homer total in the span of 87 games. His long ball power perhaps hasn’t developed entirely, but 28 XBH in 380 PA in 2021, to go with a .300+ AVG, is a dangerous combination for a middle-infielder and makes him one of the best overall hitters in the system right now.

Harris is another bat that has been able to do both during his pro career, even more so in 2021. Spending all season with High-A Rome, the toolsy prospect outfielder hit nearly .300 (.294) with 36 XBH (seven HR) in 101 games, all while being one of the best line-drive hitters in the league. Harris is a bit undersized, but still just 20-years-old, he could continue to develop into quite the overall hitter as he wields both above-average contact and power (plus he’s fast as hell).

Waters and Shewmake are two that I could definitely see at nos. 1 and 2 on this list in the near future. With Triple-A Gwinnett in 2021, the former broke out in the power department, belting 11 homers and 22 doubles in 103 games, which was a helluva year given it was his first try at the minor’s highest level. Waters’ .240 AVG for the season wasn’t too great, but a lot of that was due to a poor month of August in which the outfielder hit just .164. Shewmake’s roller coaster of a season may have concluded with some rather underwhelming numbers, although like Waters, some context is needed. After hitting horribly during the first couple of months, the M-Braves shortstop went on to post a .280 AVG with eight homers and 11 doubles during the final 48 games. And after watching Shewmake hit in-person, I have to say, this kid has some serious line-drive power.


Be sure to check back soon. Next, I’ll look at the system’s pitcher with the best fastball.

Daily Notes: Daysbel Hernández’s prospect stock is on the rise this winter

Sunday, December 19, 2021

-Clint Manry

One of my favorite arms in the Braves system over the last few seasons and ranked 26th on my 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List, right-hander Daysbel Hernández is a player on the rise this winter, and according to The Athletic, he is Atlanta’s top candidate for the MLB Rule 5 Draft (which was originally scheduled for Dec. 9, but because of the lockout… will talk place… eventually).

Hernández may have stumbled a bit versus Triple-A batters to open 2021, but it’s important to remember that the now-25-year-old had never threw a pitch above High-A before this past season. The Cuban pitcher didn’t make it out of the month of May with Gwinnett (posting a 9.64 ERA in a short stint), but he was one of Double-A Mississippi’s best relief arms for much of the year, and by mid-September he was back with the Stripers, where he performed much better during the final few weeks.

Though his long-standing command issues — and the fact that he’s a reliever in his mid-20s – have plagued his stock lately, Hernández’s overall numbers in 2021 were strong. Opposing batters slashed just .208/.316/.329 versus the righty, including a paltry line for lefties (.193/.310/.351). With an average of 12.3 strikeouts per nine and just four homers allowed all year, Hernández’s minor league season is nothing to scoff at, even if the Braves decided not to protect him this winter.

Although, Atlanta may be kicking itself soon.

Hernández has been pitching with the Mexican Winter League’s Caneros de Los Mochis and has performed very well, striking out 32 batters in 24 innings so far, to go with a strong 3.00 ERA. In a span of 23 appearances, the righty is sporting an average of 12 K/9 and just 2.3 BB/9, suggesting that perhaps his command issues are improving.

It would be a shame to lose Hernández this winter, but given how well he has pitched this offseason it very well could happen. Thankfully, the Braves have several up and coming arms that could be perfect for the big league bullpen in the near future, so it’s not as if the system is thin in that regard. Regardless, though, it is good to see Hernández doing well, so if he is in fact selected in the Rule 5 Draft (whenever it takes place), hopefully he’s able to keep it up.

2022 Braves Offseason Prospect List: Top 10 trade chips among Braves prospects

Sunday, December 19, 2021

­-Clint Manry

Last offseason was unlike any other due to a raging global pandemic. Now, the current offseason is set to once again become unique given the sport’s lockout. But make no mistake, once MLB and its players finally come to a compromise on the next CBA (hopefully sooner than later), trades and signings will be prevalent, which means there’s a good chance the Braves will move a few of its prospects.

Over the last week or so I’ve banged out a steady diet of prospect posts, releasing my 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List and the player excerpts that come with it. And I plan to do more series regarding the organization’s prospects this winter, but first I should probably examine the system’s most likely trade chips. The following list is Braves prospects from my latest rankings that are the most likely to be moved this offseason, ordered from likeliest to least likely. Obviously, the team isn’t planning to trade away ten of its most talented minor league players in one given offseason, but I chose ten so I’d have an opportunity to touch on several different possible scenarios. Now, you should probably understand a few parameters first: this isn’t just a ranking of most likely prospects to be moved. The player has to actually have value as well, so look at this as more of a combination of prospects that are the likeliest to be traded because of organizational needs AND current value/prospect stock, if that makes any sense.

Following the list, I’ve written a few paragraphs on each prospect.

2022’s Top 10 Braves Trade Chips

PLAYER’22 PROSPECT RANKHIGHEST LVLPOSITION
1Freddy Tarnok9thAA-MississippiSP
2Drew Waters4thAAA-GwinnettOF
3Jesse Franklin V13thA+ RomeOF
4Vaughn Grissom15thA+ RomeSS/3B
5Jared Shuster16thAA-MississippiSP
6Bryce Elder7thAAA-GwinnettSP
7Luke Waddell21stAA-MississippiINF
8Indigo Diaz14thAA-MississippiRP
9Braden Shewmake11thAA-MississippiSS
10Cristian Pache2ndMLBOF
  1. Freddy Tarnok, RHP

Back in late July, several prominent writers at MLB.com put out a series regarding each team’s most intriguing prospect trade chip, and for the Braves, they chose the right-handed Tarnok. That piece didn’t get a whole lot of attention among Braves Country, but even then I believed it was an accurate choice.

Tarnok, entering his age-23 campaign in 2022, could be the most valuable and necessary trade chip in Atlanta’s system currently. He’s a top 10 prospect, ranked ninth on my 2022 list, and he’s still young enough that there’s some projection left in him. And even better, Tarnok is coming off a really strong showing from the 2021 season, featuring a 2.60 ERA in nine starts with Double-A Mississippi – his first appearance at such a high level.

The truth is, the Braves are absolutely loaded with arms, and right now Tarnok is probably fifth on the prospect depth chart when it comes to starters in the system (behind guys like lefties Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson and righties Bryce Elder and Spencer Strider). His stock is at its highest, he’s young and has plenty of strikeout stuff. There’s probably no better time to trade him, and there’s no doubt Tarnok could help fetch some strong major league talent. I believe Atlanta should move him this offseason.

Drew Waters, OF

Now while I feel strongly that the Braves should move Tarnok, my thoughts on Waters are a little different. I don’t necessarily want the prospect outfielder to be traded, BUT I do think it’s a viable option if Atlanta were to try and an obtain a star big leaguer this winter.

Heading into 2022, the Braves have several young talented prospect outfielders, which makes all of them potential trade chips, although right now it’s perhaps Waters that wields the most stock, following his 2021 campaign in which he hit .240 with 11 homers and 28 stolen bases in 103 games with Triple-A Gwinnett – his first opportunity at the highest minor league level. And the fact that Cristian Pache dealt with an injury and a poor performance in the majors, you could argue that Waters is a more sought-after prospect, making this the best time to move him.

I honestly doubt the Braves trade Waters, but if there’s an All-Star or MVP-caliber big leaguer out there that GM Alex Anthopoulos is heavily interested in, it’s Waters that’s going to help move the needle.

Jesse Franklin V, OF

This is the spot where I struggled, no. 3. I know Franklin seems like an odd choice, but to me, after Pache, Waters and Michael Harris II, he’s the top outfielder in the system and ranked 13th in my 2022 rankings. The fact that Franklin was able to mash against both righties and lefties this past season really improved his prospect stock this winter, and his power display with High-A Rome (24 HR) is just a bonus. At 23-years-old, this is a very valuable player, and one the Braves could move and still be fine in terms of outfield depth.

Although I must say, I really don’t want Franklin to be traded. This kid is not only an above-average hitter, but he’s also super athletic (19 stolen bases in ’21) and appears to have a solid glove at the corner-outfield spot. I believe, as long as his bat continues to flourish, Franklin could be a top 100 prospect and a player that has a lot to offer in the majors one day. However, unfortunately that makes him a really intriguing trade chip as well.

Vaughn Grissom, SS

With Braden Shewmake perhaps a few years away from the majors, the Braves could cash in on Grissom while his stock is at its highest. The latter, as a 20-year-old this past season, managed to slash .319/.418/.464 with 28 XBH (seven HR) in 87 games combined between Single-A Augusta and High-A Rome – good for a well-above-average 165 wRC+ and a no. 15 ranking on my 2022 list.

Ideally, it would be better to hold onto Grissom, but I could totally see a scenario in which he’s traded, especially with guys like Cal Conley and Luke Waddell coming up through the system. Star shortstops are hard to come by, and with Grissom, Atlanta could put together quite the trade package for major league help this winter.

Jared Shuster, LHP

Given how righty-dominant the Braves system currently is, you could argue that trading a lefty prospect is a bad idea in general. However, with both Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson (both southpaws) competing for a spot in Atlanta’s starting rotation this coming spring, the organization isn’t necessarily hurting when it comes to that particular flavor of pitching.

Shuster, the Braves top pick in 2020, is a 23-year-old with the projection of a mid-rotation starter, and as a lefty, he’s probably the seventh or eighth best arm in the system right now overall. The kid performed really well in Rome this past season, averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine to go with a 3.70 ERA in 14 starts, but struggled in his first taste of Double-A (7.36 ERA / 3 starts). I never like the idea of moving a top pick from just two drafts ago, but at this point Shuster is looking up at quite a few guys in front of him. The Braves could most definitely survive the blow, so if a viable opportunity presented itself I believe a trade involving the lefty could be an option this offseason.

Bryce Elder, RHP

While Shuster is currently outside of the system’s top handful of arms, the same can’t be said about Elder as the latter absolutely dominated three minor league levels in 2021, making it all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett during his first pro season. Altogether, the 22-year-old posted a 2.75 ERA in 25 starts last season between Double-A and Triple-A, while averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine, earning a no. 7 ranking on my 2022 list, which puts him directly behind Muller and Davidson within the organizational depth chart of prospect pitchers.

Including Elder in a trade package should get the Braves whoever they want as far as major league talent, and while it would certainly hurt to see such a promising pitcher go, it’s not as if it’s a position of need for a system currently loaded with potential star pitchers. Like most of these guys, I don’t want to see Elder moved, but in terms of trade value, he may be one of the top names on this list considering he’s a true starting pitcher that’s on the cusp of debuting in the majors.

Luke Waddell, INF

Waddell is more of a utility-type player and not really the headlining prospect you’d use in a blockbuster trade like some of these other names. However, as a kid who can play all over the infield and consistently make contact, the former fifth-round pick could be a valuable trade chip for the Braves.

Waddell, 23-years-old, is probably about two years away from the majors as he raked in High-A Rome before struggling with Double-A Mississippi in 2021. There are questions regarding just how good his bat really is, given he slugged eight homers in 56 games during his final season with Georgia Tech and then belted six long balls in just 21 games with the R-Braves. But if he can settle in as a near-.300 hitter with decent power, there’s no doubt he’ll become a solid major leaguer, and every team is in need of that.

I’m not sure Waddell’s trade value is very high. I’m probably higher on him than most, ranking him just outside the top 20 on my latest list. But he’d be a damn good no. 2 guy in a big trade, maybe even better given his versatility.

Indigo Diaz, RHP

As the system’s out-of-nowhere superstar from 2021, the Braves could strike while the iron’s hot and move Diaz, who completely overpowered opposing batters this past season, averaging 16.6 (!) strikeouts per nine in a combined 45 innings with both Rome and Mississippi. He’s strictly a reliever, but he’s also one of the best in the minors right now, so there should be plenty of interest.

Diaz is a 6-foot-5 beast on the mound and could very likely make his MLB debut some time in 2022. He’s that good. And at just 23-years-old, this is the type of arm an organization could groom into its next homegrown star closer. I’d rather see the Braves do that, but I won’t lie, Diaz’s trade value is probably sky high right now.

Braden Shewmake, SS

Above I made the case that perhaps Shewmake is the future and Grissom is the guy the Braves move, so here I’m flip flopping, making Grissom the future big league shortstop and Shewmake the trade chip. And honestly, the more I think about it… I kind of like the latter scenario.

As much as I love Shewmake as a player, his timeline just doesn’t mesh as good as Grissom, given he was a former college bat that played three seasons at Texas A&M (before being drafted in 2019). At 24-years-old and coming off a full season with Double-A Mississippi, he’s nearly at the end of his development. However, assuming he lights up Triple-A in 2022, what’s Shewmake’s path to the majors? I mean, Dansby Swanson isn’t going anywhere, and the only other position Shewmake has any meaningful experience at is second base, so again he’s blocked there for about the next decade.

The 2022 season will be Swanson’s final year of team control, but I believe it’s essentially a no-brainer that Atlanta gives him a multi-year extension in the near future, which means Shewmake is better served as a trade chip. Grissom, on the other hand, is at least three years away from the big leagues, so he makes more sense as the guy to possibly replace Swanson. Neither Shewmake or Grissom has to be traded, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d probably move the former.

Cristian Pache, OF

Ok, so notice I have Pache listed last on this list, which means of the ten total players I’m discussing today, I believe he’s the unlikeliest to be moved AND of course his trade value is at its lowest given his major league struggles in 2021.

Pache is still very much in contention for starting the 2022 season with Atlanta, although it may be ideal for him to get some more at-bats in Gwinnett. Either way, I do not believe the Braves are solely counting on him to be the team’s starting center fielder this coming season, therefore, at some point this winter, Atlanta will need to either sign someone or make a trade. That much I’m pretty certain about.

But then there’s also the scenario, given the decent surplus in prospect outfielders, in which the Braves decide to trade Pache, which would be quite a questionable decision… but not completely out of this world.

Teams don’t usually trade top-tier prospects coming off their worst season, but with Waters, Harris and even Franklin all at or headed for the upper-minors, a Pache-less system shouldn’t be as bad as it maybe would’ve been a year or two ago, especially if moving him helps net a big league star. Personally, I’m against trading Pache, at least for right now. I think, given how much of a generational talent he is, you have to give him another chance to figure things out. I mean, the kid is only 23-years-old for crying out loud. BUT, I’ll at least admit that moving Pache isn’t as crazy as it once was.

Braves sign righty Francisco Romero 

Thursday, December 16, 2021

-Clint Manry 

The MLB hot stove is cold as ice with the lockout, but the Braves made a minor league move on Wednesday as MiLB-Transactions Twitter reported that the team signed international free agent Francisco Romero. 

Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to find Romero’s age, but according to Baseball Reference and MLB.com, the righty is 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds.

Currently there’s no scouting report and frankly no information at all regarding Romero. Although, now that he’s been signed to a minor league contract, I’m sure some details concerning his abilities will come out soon. 

2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The fifth and final tier (nos. 27-35)

Wednesday, December 15, 2021

-Clint Manry

We’ve made it to the final group of prospects in my 2022 Braves Offseason Prospect List. Nine players remain as we’re now ready to cover the fifth and final tier of the list (nos. 27-35). Be sure to check back throughout the offseason, for I plan to do more series regarding the Braves prospects.

#27. Tanner Gordon, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 6th Round, 2019 from Indiana University (IN)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’5″ / 215 lbsL/R26th

The big righty pitched well in his first full season in the Braves organization. As a former sixth round pick from back in 2019, I’m sure Gordon was chomping at the bit to get back on the mound; following a strong 2.22 ERA in the Appy League during his draft year, the Braves decided to move Gordon to a starter’s role full time, and it appears to have been the right decision.

Split equally between Single-A Augusta (11 starts) and High-A Rome (10 starts / 1 relief appearance), Gordon held his own as a pro in 2021. With the GreenJackets, the righty averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine and just 1.6 walks on his way to a 3.43 ERA. He wasn’t as overpowering with the R-Braves, with his K rate falling to 7.8 K/9 there, but he still maintained a decent 4.44 ERA, and just as important, as he rose a level he continued to keep the free passes down (2 BB/9).

Despite being built like a power-pitcher, the guys at Talking Chop call Gordon more of a pitch-to-contact guy, and the drastic drop in K rate from Single-A to High-A sort of proved that this past season. The righty will pitch as a 24-year-old all year in 2022, so regardless, he’s on track to reach Mississippi at some point this coming season. I want to see how he handles the upper-minors before I get into invested, but so far I believe this could be a potential mid-rotation arm for the Braves.

#28. Brandol Mezquita, OF

Signed by ATL: 2017 from Dominican Republic

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’5″ / 215 lbsL/R26th

Mezquita is a kid I’ve already wrote about this offseason and he’s someone Braves Country really needs to start paying attention to. As part of the 13 prospects originally lost due to the actions of former GM John Coppolella, Mezquita re-signed with Atlanta prior to the 2018 season and has been developing at the rookie levels ever since.

Still just 20-years-old, Mezquita will finally get his opportunity to showcase his talent in full-season ball in 2022. After parts of three seasons in instructs, the outfielder slashed .255/.367/.357 with 25 XBH (eight HR) and 27 stolen bases in 129 combined games – good for an overall 110 wRC+ as a pro hitter. Coming off a career-year at the plate in 2021 (132 wRC+) with the FCL team, Mezquita could evolve into one of the most exciting young prospects in the system. We’ll have to wait and see as he’s yet to log any meaningful games at even the Single-A level, but I believe he — and one of his outfield mates from instructs that we’ll talk about later — is the real deal.

#29. Andrew Hoffmann, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 12th Round, 2021 from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (IL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’5″ / 210 lbsR/RNR

I’ve been interested in Hoffmann since he was selected in this past summer’s draft. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, and still only entering his age-22 season, the righty is both a two-year college arm AND young enough to still have a decent amount of projection left. The kid spent his first pro season with Single-A Augusta in 2021, where he made seven clean starts, logging a 2.73 ERA and averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine to go with just 2.4 walks.

This kid has size, fastball velocity and a wicked secondary in his changeup. The only thing left for him to do is continue to develop the rest of his repertoire. And even if a third or fourth viable offering isn’t in the cards, the Braves will no doubt develop Hoffmann into an overpowering reliever. Like a lot of these guys on the back-end of this list, the righty just hasn’t logged enough time in the minors yet to get a good read. But I think it’s safe to believe in Hoffmann. How he handles a High-A challenge in 2022 will go a long way on determining what the Braves have in their 12th round pick.

#30. Trey Harris, OF

Drafted by ATL: 32nd Round, 2018 from University of Missouri (MO)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old5’11” / 220 lbsR/R20th

To be a former 32nd round pick, Harris has become quite the prospect, even if his stock has declined rather sharply over the last season. Coming off a MiLB Batter of the Year campaign from 2019 (in which he raked at three different levels), the Mizzu product spent all of 2021 with Double-A Mississippi, although unfortunately he wound up having his worst season ever as a pro (89 wRC+), and as a result, I now have him barely in the top 30.

There are a few issues impacting Harris’ stock: for one, he’s now entering his age-26 season, which is really too old for a prospect. Secondly, he plays a position (outfield) that is pretty crowded in the Braves organization, making his path to the majors even more difficult. And lastly, though Harris is a mature hitter with some pop and athleticism, he’s an undersized player that doesn’t absolutely flourish at one single thing on the field. As the seasons go by, he’s looking more and more like a future fourth outfielder in the majors, though we’ll see how he does in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022.

#31. Tyler Collins, OF

Drafted by ATL: 8th Round, 2021 from McKinney Boyd HS (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
18-years-old5’11” / 180 lbsL/RNR

The guys at Talking Chop give him a Michael Bourn comp as Collins is your prototypical lead-off hitter, wielding plus speed and an above average ability to get on base. The 18-year-old was impressive with the FCL team in 2021, getting with the organization in time to play in 23 games down in Florida. In instructs, Collins slashed .347/.424/.453 with six XBH and 12 stolen bases – good for a solid 140 wRC+.

The Braves have a couple of options with Collins – they could either leave him in extended spring training and let him get a few more PA at the rookie level, or they could start him out in Single-A Augusta in 2022. With him turning only 19 in March, the organization definitely doesn’t have to rush. This kid could be a future star in center field.

#32. AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 7th Round, 2021 from Colleyville Heritage HS (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
19-years-old6’3″ / 205 lbsR/RNR

Shawver is a raw prep arm the Braves took a chance on in this past summer’s draft. The team really likes his mid-to-high 90s MPH fastball and wicked slider, and with his ideal size/build, there’s a solid chance he can stick it as a prospect starting pitcher. At just 19-years-old, he has plenty of time to develop more secondary offerings.

Like Collins above, the Braves could give Shawver more time in rookie ball or start him in Augusta in 2022 – either choice is a viable one and wouldn’t be surprising. The righty struggled with the FCL team this past season, posting an 8.64 ERA in four starts. Although, he did show an ability to induce a ton of swing and miss as he struck out a whopping 16 batters in just 8 1/3 innings (17.3 K/9). I’m interested to see more of this kid.

#33. Kadon Morton, OF

Drafted by ATL: 19th Round, 2019 from Seguin HS (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’2″ / 195 lbsR/RNR

Morton is the outfield mate I mentioned in the above Mezquita excerpt. For a few seasons now, the two 21-year-olds have made quite the pair down in instructs. But now’s their chance to shine in full-season ball.

Mezquita and Morton seem fairly similar, though I’d say the former is a little less raw as a prospect, with the latter striking out 35% of the time with the FCL team in 2021. In fact, Morton — a former 19th round pick — really has yet to do much at all at the plate so far as a pro, with a lot of the expectations surrounding him being built from projection. Either way, the kid’s career is still in it’s beginning stages as all 77 games thus far have come in instructs. We’ll be able to tell much more about Morton this coming season when he likely joins Single-A Augusta.

#34. Greyson Jenista, OF/1B

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2018 from Wichita State University

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old6’4″ / 210 lbsL/R25th

Other than an impressive 33-game stint in Single-A back in 2018, this past season was the best performance Jenista has put together so far, posting a 124 wRC+ with 19 homers, 42 RBI and seven stolen bases in 89 games with Double-A Mississippi. Sure, the former second round pick only hit .216 for the year, and he struck out at a 35.9% clip, but the production was still impressive as he also raised his walk-rate by 5% compared to his 74-game sample in Double-A back in 2019.

The evident issue with Jenista’s stock, other than the fact that he’ll enter his age-25 season in 2022, is that whiffs have been a problem essentially his entire career, and if it wasn’t for his breakout in the power department last year, his bat would’ve been nearly unplayable.

Given he’s logged 163 total games with the M-Braves over the last two seasons, it’s safe to say that Jenista will be in Triple-A Gwinnett this coming year, where he’ll need to show he can be more than simply a platoon hitter; in 2021, the lefty-batter hit just .147 versus southpaws, compared to a solid .242 AVG against righties. Jenista is running out of time, but if he can slug with the Stripers like he did with the M-Braves, I could definitely see some options opening for him.

#35. Alan Rangel, RHP

Signed by ATL: 2014 from Mexico

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’2″ / 170 lbsR/RNR

No one wants to be the last prospect on the list, but this year I wanted to find someone both different and deserving, and Rangel certainly fits that mold. The 24-year-old righty has been in the Braves farm system for going on eight seasons now as he joined the organization as just a 17-year-old. The team must think a lot of him, too, because Atlanta protected him from the Rule 5 Draft this year, selecting his contract back in early November.

So why is his prospect stock so low? Well, it’s actually as high as its ever been for him. The Braves have always been really conservative with Rangel, letting him develop in instructs for two years before he spent parts of 3 seasons (or 327 2/3 innings) at the Single-A level, just earning his first taste of High-A in 2021. However, the promotion proved to be the right choice as Rangel averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine and just 2.7 walks, posting a 3.57 ERA with Rome this past season. By early August he was moved up to Mississippi, where he held his own there as well, managing a 4.50 ERA with 10.8 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in seven starts.

Because he started his pro career so young, Rangel is still only entering his age-24 season, so he’s pretty close to following a traditional track through Double-A in 2022. An uptick in fastball velocity, and solid secondaries that include a breaking ball and a changeup, has allowed Rangel to evolve from a pitch-to-contact guy to more of a power-pitcher lately, and the ability to induce strikeouts is giving him a nice trend heading into next season. We’ll see if he can keep it up. If he’s able to… I could see him moving up the list rather quickly.

2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The fourth tier (nos. 22-26)

Tuesday, December 14, 2021

-Clint Manry

Three groups down and two more to go. Today I’ll start covering the final nine prospects on my 2022 Braves Prospect List, with this post covering Tier 4, featuring nos. 22-26. Like the third tier, this fourth one is rather small, only including five players, including some you’re probably familiar with, as well as a few that are new to my list. Let’s get started.

#22. Dylan Dodd, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2021 from Southeast Missouri State University (MO)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 210 lbsL/LNR

Coming out of a small school (Southeast Missouri State), I admit, it was a bit surprising when the Braves selected Dodd in the third round of this past summer’s MLB Draft. Although at only a $122,500 signing bonus, Atlanta got him waay under-slot (Pick 96 value was $604,800 in 2021).

Regardless, the lefty was fine in his pro debut this past season. Sure, he only managed a 4.91 ERA in three starts with Single-A Augusta, but Dodd didn’t allow a single home run during that stretch with the GreenJackets as he averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine and only 2.5 walks. His one start with High-A Rome in September went very poorly (3 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 4 HR, 6 K), but it was simply one horrid outing.

Given Dodd will turn 24 in early June and he’s coming off four years worth of college ball, I definitely expect him to begin 2022 in High-A Rome, where he’ll be shooting for a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Dodd isn’t a hard thrower, hanging around the low-90s MPH, but reports indicate he has four viable offerings, so as long as he can continue to maintain solid command he should fit in as a potential mid-rotation starter.

#23. Justyn-Henry Malloy, 3B/OF

Drafted by ATL: 6th Round, 2021 from Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’2″ / 212 lbsR/RNR

This could be an intriguing prospect at third base, and still only entering his age-22 season in 2022, Malloy appears to have a bright future ahead of him, after being selected by the Braves in the sixth round of this past year’s draft. Athleticism, some solid speed, above average contact and plus power are all in play here.

Coming off a three-year collegiate career at both Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, that featured a career .279 AVG, .931 OPS and 11 homers in 82 games overall, the Braves assigned the kid to Single-A Augusta following the draft. Malloy was impressive with the GreenJackets in 2021, slashing .270/.388/.434 with 10 XBH in 37 games, likely earning himself an opportunity to jump the gun a bit and start 2022 in Mississippi.

#24. William Woods, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 23rd Round, 2018 from Dyersburg State Community College (TN)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’3″ / 190 lbsR/R24th

As I’m sure you know, Woods has a chance to be one of the better pitching prospects in the system. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been able to log many innings yet as a pro, totaling 51 back in 2019 as primarily a reliever and then only 10 2/3 frames this season. The Tennessee native didn’t start his 2021 campaign until August 19 – a one-inning opener with the FCL team. The next four starts never surpassed 42 pitches at a time as the Braves eased him back on the mound during the final month of the season with High-A Rome.

The undisclosed injury that Woods dealt with all this past season is a bit concerning, but all indicators seem to point to him being 100% in 2022. The Braves have always been wowed by his high-90s MPH (sometimes 100-MPH) velocity, and evidently there’s a future regarding his secondaries given the organization decided to transition him to a starter. The missed time has surely hurt Woods, but nearing his 23rd birthday later this month, he’s still at a young enough age that his prospect stock shouldn’t necessarily be impacted. I’ve had him at no. 24 in the system essentially since this past June, but I think by this time next year he’ll be inside the top 15. Woods just needs a full, healthy season to show what he can do.

FYI: Woods had a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League this fall, posting a 4.21 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance (21 IP), to go with 8.6 strikeouts per nine and 4.3 walks.

#25. Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH

Drafted by ATL: 11th Round, 2017 from University of Michigan (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old6’3″ / 220 lbsL/R27th

Braves Farm may be the only site that lists Lugbauer as a ranked prospect. Most in the industry look at him as more of an honorable mention, and I did too until this past season. He’s always had power, but the big guy could never seem to make enough contact to provide much value as a hitter. That changed with Double-A Mississippi in 2021.

During the first month of this most-recent campaign, Lugbauer’s power-stroke was still getting warmed up but the University of Michigan product hit .308 with a .881 OPS in his first 16 games. Over the next two months (through June and July), Lugbauer would go on to become one of the M-Braves most dangerous bats, slashing .252/.362/.531 with 10 homers and 11 doubles in 42 games during that stint. The first-half performance earned him a spot in my midseason top 30, and even though he cooled off quite a bit during the second-half of the season (.145 AVG, 10 XBH, 33 games), I believe the former 11th round pick has turned a corner.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Lugbauer, though. At 25, he’s getting old for a prospect, and he doesn’t really have a home on defense, only able to man first base or DH. Plus, despite huge offensive numbers in 2021, Lugbauer still struck out at a career-high rate (37.4 K%), which has been an issue for him his entire pro career.

A long stint in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022 could go a long way in truly determining what kind of player Lugbauer is. Right now I believe his ceiling is a potential bench bat in the majors, but if he can cut down on the whiffs going forward, and maintain his power, he could evolve into the Braves future homegrown designated-hitter when the universal-DH comes along.

#26. Daysbel Hernández, RHP

Signed by ATL: 2017, from Cuba

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old5’10” / 220 lbsR/R21st

I’ve been mostly alone on the Hernández hype train for a few years now, but I think more of Braves Country is beginning to come around. If you recall, the righty was absolutely incredible back in 2019 with High-A Florida, putting together a 2.76 ERA in 32 2/3 innings, which included an average of 12.6 strikeouts per nine and 4.4 walks. That performance must have really impressed the Braves. Though 2021 was his age-24 season, Hernández initially skipped Double-A and was given a Triple-A assignment to begin the year. However, unfortunately, it didn’t go very well.

Really it was just one bad appearance in Gwinnett that spoiled Hernández’s stint with the Stripers at the start of this past season. After posting a 3.86 ERA during his first three games with the team, on May 18 he allowed four runs in 2/3 innings, and a week later he found himself demoted to Double-A Mississippi.

But with the M-Braves, Hernández bounced back nicely and morphed into one of the team’s most dominant relievers. He didn’t allow a single run in his first three appearances with the team, and from July 29 through September 12 (10 1/3 innings worth of appearances), Hernández pitched to a 0.87 ERA and struck out 13 batters. Rightfully, the Cuban prospect earned another try with Gwinnett in mid-September, and remained there until the end of the season, posting a 5.40 ERA in five innings during his second stint with the team.

Now coming into his age-25 campaign, the time is now for Hernández. There’s no doubt he has the talent, it’s just a matter of putting it altogether and being more consistent. Given his age, the Braves really have no choice but to start him in Gwinnett in 2022 and see if he can get on a roll. To avoid just becoming minor league bullpen depth, Hernández needs to put up some strong numbers with the Stripers this coming season. We’ll see if he can match what he was able to do in Double-A.


Be sure to check back again soon. Next, I’ll cover the final group of prospects of my 2022 Braves Prospect List, featuring Tier 5 (nos. 27-35).

2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The third tier (nos. 17-21)

Monday, December 13, 2021

-Clint Manry

I’ve discussed the first 16 players from my 2022 Braves Prospect List, and I hope each player-excerpt has provided at least a little bit of insight into why I have each player ranked where. Today I’m keeping it going, moving on to Tier 3 – one of the smallest tiers on my list, covering nos. 17-21.

Previous tiers

#17. Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2021 from University of Nebraska (NE)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’1″ / 200 lbsR/R17th

The only prospect on my list that didn’t play at all in 2021, Schwellenbach underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the Braves for $1 million back in July/August. Following the draft, it was reported that the righty was originally Atlanta’s first-round choice, but the need for elbow surgery dropped him down a round. Either way, Schwellenbach will be lucky to log a meaningful amount of innings in 2022 as he’ll likely require most of the season to recover and rehab.

But if you can get over the fact that it’ll probably be 2023 before we really see the kid in action, it’s important to know just what Schwellenbach could provide to the organization. He’ll pitch as a pro, but the former Nebraska star was a touted two-way player in college, hitting .284 with 19 XBH and nine stolen bases in 48 games as a hitter during his final year in Lincoln, to go with a 0.57 ERA and an average of 9.7 strikeouts per nine in 31 2/3 innings as a high-leverage reliever. Put that together and you have a tremendously athletic prospect who won’t turn 22 until next summer.

Missing basically entire year is never a good start for a prospect. But given this kid’s tools, I’d say the wait may be worth it for Schwellenbach.

#18. Victor Vodnik, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 14th Round, 2018 from Rialto HS (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’0″ / 200 lbsR/R18th

Year 3 was more of a challenge for the right-handed Vodnik. The undersized pitcher met his first real taste of adversity in Double-A as part of the M-Braves starting rotation. The kid dealt with injuries that caused him to miss a good bit of time in 2021, but overall he logged a 5.35 ERA (4.06 xFIP) in 11 starts with Mississippi, while averaging just under 11 strikeouts per nine.

Unfortunately, Vodnik’s biggest struggle had to do with free passes this past season. With the M-Braves, he walked 22 in 33 2/3 frames (5.9 BB/9) and then while in the Arizona Fall League he walked 14 in 23 2/3 (5.3 BB/9). However, to be fair, the California native did earn a Fall Stars invite with Peoria.

Personally, I’m not too concerned with Vodnik’s middling performance from 2021. He’s still fairly young, and given he only had roughly 70 innings of work above rookie-ball coming into last year, the jump to Double-A can humble any potential star. Although the bad health isn’t quite ideal, and I hope he’s able to do a better job of staying healthy in 2022. Vodnik has a real chance at becoming a top 10 prospect this coming season. He has the stuff. He just needs a full year to show it off.

#19. Cal Conley, SS/2B

Drafted by ATL: 4th Round, 2021 from Texas Tech (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old5’10” / 185 lbsB/R22nd

Conley came from Texas Tech this year, where he crushed it in college, slashing .329/.393/.587 with 15 homers, 13 doubles and seven stolen bases in 56 games. As a guy that played all of his games at shortstop for the Raiders, those are some impressive numbers in general, not to mention for a defensive position.

The fourth-round pick got his professional start with Single-A Augusta, and Conley had time to get in on 35 games with the GreenJackets – a healthy sample that resulted in a .214 AVG. The kid didn’t necessarily hit very well in the minors last year, but he held his own and his plate discipline indicates a player not out of his realm; in 161 PA, Conley struck out only 20.5% of the time in Single-A.

As a college bat, and also a guy that plays a position the Braves are rather thin at organizationally, I expect the 22-year-old Conley to be moved up through the minors rather quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if those 30-ish games in Single-A last year is all he gets as he begins 2022 with High-A Rome.

#20. Darius Vines, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 7th Round, 2019 from California State University (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’1″ / 190 lbsR/R23rd

The recent rise by Vines has been crazy. Coming into 2021, the former seventh-round pick’s latest performance was a rather underwhelming rookie-level campaign in which he allowed a horrid 6.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings combined with the GCL and Appy League teams in 2019. But in Year 2 (well Year 3 if you count the cancelled 2020 season), the 23-year-old Vines shined. First it was Single-A Augusta, where his 92-93 MPH fastball and “deceptive” slider (per Talking Chop) set down opposing batters with ease. With the GreenJackets, Vines averaged 12 strikeouts per nine and completed the level by posting a 2.25 ERA in eight starts (36 IP).

Towards the end of June, the Braves promoted Vines to High-A Rome, and this is where the kid starting really getting some attention. With just 30 or so innings above rookie ball under his belt, the California native was just as strong with Rome, putting together a 3.24 ERA in 14 starts with the team and becoming one of the staff’s more consistent starters. By August, I had Vines pegged as the no. 23 prospect in the Braves system, and throughout the second-half of 2021, he continued to trend in the right direction (featuring a 2.38 ERA in his final six outings of the campaign).

Last season’s Double-A South manager of the year, Dan Meyer, should really enjoy working with Vines in 2022, where the latter will likely join a more depleted M-Braves starting rotation this time around. As he turns 24-years-old just after the regular season begins, this coming year is a big one for Vines, who, because he lacks a ton of velocity, will need to continue to hone in his command and control. This could certainly be a much more well-known name by mid-season.

#21. Luke Waddell, INF

Drafted by ATL: 5th Round, 2021 from Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old5’9″ / 180 lbsL/RNR

As a four-year starter at Georgia Tech (and fifth-round pick in this past summer), Waddell was given a pretty aggressive assignment in Year 1, spending 21 games in High-A Rome before finishing out the 2021 campaign in Double-A Mississippi. As a 22-year-old, he played all over the infield on defense, and while with the R-Braves he got hot at the plate, slashing .304/.372/.580 with seven XBH (six HR) in just 78 PA, including a late-August stretch in which he went 10 for 18 (.556 AVG) with four long balls.

Waddell ran into a bit of a wall with the M-Braves, going just 5 for 31 (.161 AVG) during his short stint there to end the year, but even though he failed to produce much with the bat, he still managed to show a strong glove at several different positions (zero errors at second, short and third). Plus, despite only posting a 7 wRC+ in Mississippi, the kid only struck out four times (a 12.1% K rate), indicating he’s plenty able to put the ball in play versus high-minors pitching.

While his power display in High-A was impressive, Waddell isn’t the flashiest in terms of tools, and I don’t believe power is ever going to be his game. For a guy just now entering his first full season as a pro, he definitely has an advanced feel for hitting, though four years at a Power 5 school will help with that. Though he’s probably topped out in terms of prospect stock (and I didn’t even have him ranked back in August), to me, I now believe this is a solid future big league utility-infielder, and his strong performance this fall in Arizona makes me confident that he’s perhaps only a few seasons away from the majors. With Peoria this past fall, Waddell hit .311 with five doubles in 18 games as one of the only Braves to actually produce in the Arizona Fall League. If he can hit in Double-A in 2022, this could be a very interesting prospect going forward.


Be sure to check back soon. Next, I’ll cover the fourth tier of my 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List, featuring nos. 22-26.

2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The second tier (nos. 10-16)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

This weekend has been a busy one for my little blog as I’ve been releasing my latest Braves prospect list. On Friday it was all about the honorable mentions and the guys that just missed my 2022 rankings. Saturday was the actual list and a breakdown of the first tier of players. And today… well today I’m keeping it going with Tier #2, covering nos. 10-16.

What is Tier #2… and how does it differ from the first one? Well, for me, the main difference between the first and second tier of my list is each group’s current proximity to the majors. When you look at those 1-9 guys on my list, these are primarily players that are on their way to cracking the big leagues — some of them as soon as this coming season. Most of my Tier #2 prospects aren’t quite at that level yet, even if some are perhaps just as talented. Now my list isn’t based solely on each prospect’s ETA to the big leagues – that wouldn’t be a prospect list, but simply a ranking of who makes it to the majors the quickest. However, I will say that a player’s path to making it to The Show is significant. I mean, that is the whole point for these young guys. But it also shouldn’t be the only variable included when trying to justify each player’s ranking.

Regardless, the second tier is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the next group of prospects, and regarding the actual rankings, it’s mostly the guys just outside the top-10. Here’s the list.

#10. JOEY ESTES, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 16th Round, 2019 from Paraclete HS (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’2″ / 190 lbsR/R15th

Moving up five places from where I had him in my mid-season rankings this past August (at no. 15), Estes is already a stud, coming off one of the best minor league performances by a starting pitcher this past season. As a teenager (19-years-old) in 2021, the righty led Single-A’s East League in strikeouts (127), ERA (2.91) and WHIP (0.960), while tallying 99 innings with Augusta – a huge improvement compared to his rookie-level campaign back in 2019, when he pitched to an 8.10 ERA in five starts with the Gulf Coast team.

Estes may have been one of my biggest risers on the list, but we must remember this kid is just now entering his age-20 season in 2022, so there’s no need to start chanting for his MLB debut. Reports indicate he has improved his command and is working on honing in a third pitch, a changeup, to go with his overpowering fastball and wipeout slider. Estes just needs to keep racking up innings in the minors, and personally, I’d love to see the Braves approach his development as conservative as possible, giving him a hefty amount of time in High-A next year, before throwing him into the upper-minors. Although, if he keeps dominating, Estes could be knocking on the majors’ door before he’s even old enough to legally drink a beer. Either way, this kid will soon be a household name in the Braves system.

#11. BRADEN SHEWMAKE, SS

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2019 from Texas A&M (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’4″ / 190 lbsL/R12th

We can’t talk about Shewmake without mentioning the crazy 2021 season he had. With Double-A Mississippi, the former first-rounder put together one of the worst starts I’ve seen in quite some time, going 8 for his first 85 (.094 AVG) during the first 22 games of the campaign, good for a minus-17 wRC+. That kind of performance from a college bat – that the Braves signed for over $3.1 million (!) – is hard to make sense of. However, Shewmake went from one extreme to another. If you exclude those first 22 games of the 2021 season (from June 5 on), the guy had a pretty damn good year, hitting .276 with 11 homers, 13 doubles and a solid 19.7% K rate in 61 games, good for a much-better 120 wRC+.

Of course, those first 22 games still count, and because they do, Shewmake’s overall performance last year is a bit distorted. But imagine if during that first month of the season he had actually hit. I think it’s pretty impressive how Shewmake was able to pull himself out of such a hole, and hopefully he learned a lot from his struggles. The guy is a natural hitter, and when I watched him back in late July, he barreled up every ball he made contact with, featuring a 3 for 4 night on July 25 versus Double-A Biloxi. The 2022 season will be a nice opportunity for Shewmake to reset and start over with a fresh year. I think he’s ready for Triple-A Gwinnett, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves give him another month with the M-Braves. Given his age… it’s hard to tell.

#12. RYAN CUSICK, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2021 from Wake Forest (NC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’6″ / 235 lbsR/R14th

There are some real believers in Cusick, and I’m not just talking about folks in Braves Country. Hell, FanGraphs has the former Wake Forest star at no. 7 in the Braves system. And I may be a bit low on him here at 12 (up two spots from August), but as a college arm I’d still like to see more of him as a pro.

In 2021, Cusick was as advertised. His 70-grade fastball and two breaking balls helped him rack up a ridiculous K rate down in Single-A Augusta, where he struck out 34 batters in just 16 1/3 innings (folks, that’s 18.7 strikeouts per nine lol). It was only a sample of six starts by the then-21-year-old, but it was definitely enough to illustrate that he was head and shoulders above the competition.

The thing is, and this is nothing against Cusick, he was supposed to overpower Single-A last year. Most college arms from Power 5 schools do. So this coming season will be really interesting as Cusick advances to High-A and maybe even Double-A, where he’ll face much more advanced batters. According to the guys at Talking Chop, Cusick’s a three-pitch pitcher right now, but if he can continue to command his stuff and develop his changeup, he’s no doubt a big league starter. We’ll see if he can put it all together with a full year in the pros in 2022.

#13. JESSE FRANKLIN V, OF

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2020 from University of Michigan (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’1″ / 215 lbsL/L10th

The question with the lefty-hitting Franklin was whether or not he was going to be able to hit southpaw pitching in the pros, and I believe he passed that test with flying colors, posting a .926 OPS against lefties in 2021, compared to an .815 OPS versus righties. So that much has been settled: he’s not simply a platoon bat.

But while Frankin mashed a whopping 24 homers and 24 doubles with High-A Rome this past season (to go with a surprising 19 stolen bases), the kid went back and forth with a few concerning slumps and ultimately finished the season with just under a 30% K rate (28.3%). For instance, in May, Franklin hit only .200 with four XBH, but then hit .338 with 14 XBH in June, only to follow up with a July in which he struck out 31.6% of the time (although he also walked 12.8% of the time). The back and forth continued in August and September as he hit .203 in the former month and .268 during the latter.

All in all, though, I believe Franklin has a bright future. The inconsistencies from month to month isn’t really ideal, but hell, it was his first year in the pros, so I’m not too worried. The competition in 2022 will be much tougher, though, as the pitching is quite different from High-A to Double-A. If Franklin can keep the whiffs down to a minimum, his power and athleticism could make him yet another up-and-coming outfield prospect in the Braves system.

#14. INDIGO DIAZ, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 27th Round, 2019 from Michigan State (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’5″ / 250 lbsR/R19th

Of the seven prospects I have in this second tier, it’s perhaps Diaz that has the best shot at reaching the majors in 2022. If you didn’t know of him coming into last season, by now I’m sure you’re plenty aware, after he absolutely dominated the minors.

Other than a rough showing in the AFL this fall (12.79 ERA), Diaz was in cruise control in 2021. He began the year in High-A Rome, where he struck out 54 batters in 27 innings – a K rate of 18 K/9. Moving up to Double-A Mississippi in mid-July didn’t appear to slow Diaz down a bit. With the M-Braves, the righty logged a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings, to go with another freakish display of power-pitching, averaging 14.5 strikeouts per nine. Overall, by season’s end, Diaz owned a 1.20 ERA in 45 combined innings between the two leagues, and only in his final appearance of the season did he allow a home run from the opposition.

The only thing really standing in Diaz’s way is a lack of innings. Over parts of two seasons as a pro, the 23-year-old has only 55 1/3 frames to his name, but so far the career numbers are video game-like: a 1.63 ERA, 1 homer allowed, 0.867 WHIP, 15.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9.

He may repeat Double-A for at least a month or so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Diaz is in Triple-A Gwinnett to start 2022, and if his dominance can continue there, than there’s no reason to believe he can’t earn an opportunity in Atlanta at some point. Given his increase in fastball velocity (now up to the high-90s MPH) and the fact that he seems to be ultra-consistent command-wise, Diaz has quickly evolved into the top relief prospect in the system. There’s a bright future for this kid.

#15. VAUGHN GRISSOM, SS

Drafted by ATL: 11th Round, 2019 from Paul J. Hagerty HS (FL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’3″ / 180 lbsR/R13th

It doesn’t feel right knocking Grissom back two spots on the list, especially considering he had a career year in 2021, but rankings cannot always be perfect, which is why the tiers are so important. In a perfect world, I’d have the kid closer to the top 10, but either way, just know that the shortstop is definitely trending in the right direction.

Grissom started last season in Single-A Augusta and spent much of the campaign there, where he slashed .311/.402/.446 with five homers, 15 doubles and 13 stolen bases in 75 games – good enough for a 135 wRC+. The kid did it all down in Augusta, playing 35 games at shortstop, 23 at third and 10 at second, even getting a handful of games as a DH. By early September, Grissom received a well-deserved promotion to High-A Rome, where he hit even better, even if it was just a dozen games. With Rome, the 20-year-old hit .378 with four XBH, going 3 for 3 in stolen base attempts to post an impressive 196 wRC+. That performance should give him plenty of momentum going into 2022, where he’s basically guaranteed to begin the year as the R-Braves starting shortstop.

Like Shewmake ahead of him, for now at least Grissom appears to be a shortstop long-term. Also similar to the older Shewmake, Grissom is a pure hitter, sporting a career .308 AVG in two seasons as a pro. Impressively, the Florida native struck out just nine more times than he walked in 2021 (54 K / 45 BB), which is really promising for a kid his age. Basically, the 2022 season could be the year Grissom really puts himself on the map. If last year is any indication as to what’s coming next season, I could easily see him cracking the Braves top 10 and becoming a top 100 prospect by the midseason mark.

#16. JARED SHUSTER, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2020 from Wake Forest (NC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 210 lbsL/L11th

We finally got see a full season of the Braves top draft pick from a year ago, and for the most part, it was a great showing. The left-handed Shuster began his pro journey with High-A Rome in 2021, and with a solid 14-start stint there he managed to post a 3.70 ERA to go along with 11.2 strikeouts per nine. It wasn’t an otherworldly performance by any means, but it was good enough that the Braves promoted the then-22-year-old to Double-A Mississippi in early September.

In Pearl, Shuster ran into some adversity right off the bat. His first start with the M-Braves was his worst outing as a pro as he allowed eight runs from seven hits in four innings. However, starts nos. 2 and 3 were much better, and as he became more comfortable at a higher level, the southpaw concluded his 2021 campaign with a 3.38 ERA over his final 10 2/3 innings.

Signing a $2.2-million bonus back in 2020, this is a prospect the Braves are sure to be careful with, which means Shuster could likely spend a lot of time in Mississippi next season. The kid still needs to hone in a third pitch, his slider, which is sure to help compliment his bread and butter changeup. If you recall, coming into draft day, reports were that Shuster had drastically improved his fastball velocity, so he’s certainly not foreign to developing his repertoire. This is a future mid-rotation starter, but he may require a little more time than the Elders and the Striders of the organization.


Be sure to check back at Braves Farm soon. Next, I’ll look at Tier #3 of my 2022 list, covering nos. 17-21.

2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The first tier (nos. 1-9)

Saturday, December 11, 2021

-Clint Manry

This morning I put out my latest prospect list, my 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List. As I mentioned with the actual rankings, this time around I’ve increased the list to 35 players, which allows me to better cover the talent and depth in this Braves system. I’ve also incorporated tiers, including five tiers in my list to provide a bit of context.

My list on Saturday morning purposely didn’t include any player excerpts. I intend to provide that now, starting with this post that covers the first tier of prospects (nos. 1-9). Following this write-up, I’ll move on to Tier 2 and 3… and so on. Let me know what you think.

#1. Kyle muller, lhp

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2016 from Dallas Jesuit College Prep (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’7″ / 250 lbsR/L2nd

With Cristian Pache’s reign as the top prospect now over, someone had to take over the no. 1 spot, and for me, that guy had to be Muller. The lefty had an incredible 2021 season, not only getting his first taste of the big leagues but also dominating it for a bit; during his first six major league starts, the southpaw averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine, allowed just one home run and posted a 2.43 ERA – showing us that he’s definitely ready to begin contributing in Atlanta. Sure, the final two outings with the Braves wasn’t ideal. Muller got rocked a bit, allowing nine runs from seven hits combined versus the Nationals and Reds in August, but overall his performance this past year provided what we’d all been waiting for, and that’s that Muller had arrived.

The outlook for the Braves 2022 starting staff looks strong right now, and there’s no doubt that Muller will play a big role. With Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson as locks for the nos. 1-3 spots in the rotation, I’d be surprised if Muller doesn’t fit right in as the fourth or fifth starter by the time Spring Training is over. For me: even though his prospect title will most likely disappear early in 2022 because of innings, this is the Braves top prospect as we enter a new campaign.

#2. cristian pache, of

Signed by ATL: July 2nd Period, 2015 from Dominican Republic

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’2″ / 215 lbsR/R1st

I’ll admit, it feels odd not having Pache ranked first on this list, even though the difference from no. 1 and no. 2 is so small it really shouldn’t matter. And even though ineffectiveness and injuries derailed his 2021 season, it doesn’t mean his future has necessarily been negatively impacted. Pache struggled mightily in Atlanta last year, putting together a minus-8 wRC+ in 22 games with the Braves. And though he displayed some much-improved power with Triple-A Gwinnett, it’s not like he raked there either. Which begs the question: what kind of expectations should we have regarding Pache as a hitter moving forward?

After last season, I believe patience is most important. Not every prospect comes up and takes the league by storm, and for Pache, he still has some time to figure things out (remember, he’s only 23).

Pache has played a whopping 24 games in the majors over parts of two seasons, so I highly doubt the Braves are going to open 2022 with him as the team’s starting center fielder. Although, solid numbers with the Stripers during the first few months of the campaign could perhaps go a long way in getting him back where he was at the start of last year. Sure, Pache’s poor performance humbled us a bit, but I’m in no way concerned about this kid. He’s the real deal and I believe he’ll turn this around. Patience. We must have patience.

#3. SHEA LANGELIERS, C

Draft by ATL: 1st Round, 2019 from Baylor University (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’0″ / 205 lbsR/R4th

It’s crazy, but during his draft year — when Langeliers debuted as a pro with what used to be Single-A Rome — I worried whether or not he’d be able to hit. All the scouts went on about his glove behind the plate, so I just assumed this was going to be a defense-first catcher. But boy did he prove me completely wrong in 2021.

With Double-A Mississippi this past season, Langeliers led the team in homers (22) and finished the year second in long balls in the South League. And it wasn’t as if he was just going up there trying to launch either – the kid posted a 9.7% walk-rate with the M-Braves and sported a solid .258 AVG. Perhaps even more impressive was Langeliers’ work behind the plate – you know the thing that got him drafted first by the Braves two years ago. Amazingly, would-be base stealers at the Double-A level were thrown out 42% of the time by Langeliers, which is ridiculous.

Because of his incredible performance for much of 2021, Langeliers was rightfully promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett towards the end of September, where the catcher only got in on five games. However, Gwinnett is where Langeliers will likely spend all of 2022. And with many believing that William Contreras is a potential trade candidate this winter, there’s a scenario where Langeliers works his way to becoming a back-up catcher in Atlanta this coming season. I wouldn’t simply expect that, but it’s not out of the cards. Me personally: I think we should see how he handles Triple-A pitching first.

#4. DREW WATERS, OF

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2017 from Etowah HS (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’2″ / 185 lbsB/R3rd

You may think because Pache had a bad showing in Atlanta that Waters deserves to jump ahead. And that’s probably a fair argument, but that would also mean that Pache’s future value has taken a hit… and I don’t believe that.

But to be fair to Waters, he had another great year in 2021, spending all season with Triple-A Gwinnett where he hit .240, slugged 11 homers and stole 28 bases in 103 games. The numbers are obvious: like Pache, this is a very toolsy outfielder who still appears to have an ultra-bright future ahead of him. But with Waters (and Pache to an extent), I’m still worried about that approach at the plate. This past season makes two consecutive years in which the former has struck out over 30% of the time, and with his wheels on the base paths, that high of a K rate really holds him back. Waters did raise his walk-rate by 1% in 2021, which is good to see.

As far as Waters’ outlook in 2022, it’s hard for me to get a good read on what the Braves are thinking. I still believe that Pache is the next young outfielder on the cusp and that Waters is directly behind him. But, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the latter prospect given an opportunity instead. We saw what Pache could do – maybe it’s time to see what Waters can do? Regardless of the prospect depth chart, though, Waters still needs to cut down on the whiffs, for he doesn’t wield quite the same athleticism as his fellow outfield mate is so famously known for.

There’s also another notable storyline, though we won’t get into it here. But, given the two are essentially interchangeable talent-wise, wouldn’t it make sense to trade one of Pache or Waters? I don’t really have an opinion on that right now, but considering some of the other outfielders the Braves have drafted recently, you could make the argument that the organization has plenty of depth at the position to move one of its top players.

#5. MICHAEL HARRIS II, OF

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2019 from Stockbridge HS (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’0″ / 195 lbsB/L5th

Harris is no. 1 in the Braves system, according to Baseball America’s 2022 list. And I can certainly understand the reasoning, given Harris is both young and coming off a 2021 campaign in which he put literally every tool on display, hitting .294 with seven homers and 26 doubles, to go with 27 stolen bases – good for a 114 wRC+ — at the High-A level. And to top all of that off, he was the most-hyped Braves prospect heading into last season, so he did a great job of meeting and exceeding expectations.

There’s really nothing to critique here. Harris is developing almost perfectly, displaying an impressive approach at the plate that featured just a 18.1% K rate this past season. There’s no doubt that he has perhaps the highest ceiling of all the top-tier prospects in Atlanta’s system, as at only 20-years-old, he was three years younger than the average player in High-A last year (per Baseball Reference).

The only thing that’s really holding me back from ranking him higher is that he lacks any time in the high-minors, which isn’t his fault. However, it’s extremely likely that Harris begins 2022 in Double-A Mississippi, so if he’s able to continue his numbers there, he’ll once again start moving up the list. Just FYI: Harris finished last season with the third-highest line drive rate in the High-A East league, at 25.9%. That tells me his numbers should translate rather well in Pearl, Mississippi.

#6. TUCKER DAVIDSON, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 19th Round, 2016 from Midland College (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old6’2″ / 215 lbsL/L6th

It was an unfortunate season for Davidson in 2021 as he was shutdown in June because of a forearm injury, which came after a pretty solid performance in Atlanta, including a 3.60 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings (four starts). It was a nice showing by the lefty and had to of given him some confidence for next season.

I’m keeping Davidson right where I had him on my mid-season list from back in August. Despite only logging 43 total innings between the majors and minors this past season, I do believe he has a solid shot at earning a spot within Atlanta’s starting rotation this coming spring. The Braves desperately need another lefty on its staff and Tuck seems like the perfect candidate if he can stay healthy. He and Muller will have quite the competition in Florida this year.

#7. BRYCE ELDER, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 5th Round, 2020 from University of Texas (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’2″ / 220 lbsR/R8th

Elder pulled a Trey Harris from 2019 and totally dominated at three minor league levels in 2021, posting a 2.60 ERA in High-A Rome, a 3.21 ERA in Double-A Mississippi and a 2.21 ERA in Triple-A Gwinnett. Overall, the righty logged a stingy 2.75 ERA in 25 starts this past season, while averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine and just 3.7 walks per nine. Those are the numbers of a stud prospect pitcher, especially considering it was his first year pitching in the minors.

Given he only made seven starts for the Stripers in 2021, I expect Elder to spend much of his time in 2022 with Gwinnett. However, at his current rate of development, it’s not far fetched to expect him to crack the majors at some point next summer. Injuries happen all the time in the big leagues, and in my opinion, Elder is a just a few injuries away from getting his chance to show what he can do in Atlanta, which is crazy to say for a kid who’s tallied just 137 2/3 innings as a professional.

#8. SPENCER STRIDER, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 4th Round, 2020 from Clemson University (SC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’0″ / 195 lbsR/R7th

Armed with a grade-A mustache, Strider silenced all the critics that said on draft day he hadn’t posted impressive enough numbers as a college player at Clemson. The righty began his impressive campaign all the way down in Single-A Augusta, where he didn’t stay long after posting a 0.59 ERA in four starts. Then it was three starts in High-A Rome, where he managed a 2.45 ERA. And after that, Strider put together a 4.71 ERA in 14 starts with Double-A Mississippi. The Braves moved him up to Triple-A Gwinnett, and following one relief appearance there, they called him up to the big leagues, where Strider pitched out of the bullpen in two games and allowed a run from two hits in 2 1/3 innings. What a busy year.

The outlook is pretty simple for Strider: like Elder, the former will do all he can to try and crack the Braves starting rotation during spring camp, but if that’s not in the cards, he (along with Elder) will help make up probably one of the most dominant starting staffs in Triple-A. I’m not sure many realize this, but the Braves are still absolutely loaded with arms in the minors… and Strider is certainly one of them. The 2022 campaign will be a huge year for the Clemson product, and I believe we’ll see him in some sort of role in Atlanta before the regular season is over.

#9. FREDDY TARNOK, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2017 from Riverview HS (FL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 185 lbsR/R9th

Tarnok’s 2021 season didn’t get going until early June and he sort of struggled during that first month or so in High-A Rome. However, by the end of July the righty was in Double-A Mississippi, where he went on to post a 2.60 ERA and average 12.2 strikeouts per nine in a short nine-start stretch. Overall for this past season, the 23-year-old logged a 3.44 ERA with a tremendous rate of 13+ K/9 in 14 starts and two relief appearances (73 1/3 innings). It wasn’t a full season showing, but it was solid nonetheless.

Tarnok has always been hard for me to peg down. If you read about his improvements from this past season, the added velocity and how he now has three viable offerings, you’d suspect that he’s on his way to becoming one of the top arms in the system. Although, as shown with the guys ranked ahead of him on my list, there are several other prospect pitchers in the Braves organization that are doing the same thing… and doing it even better.

Basically, I want to see Tarnok stay healthy for a full season AND put all of his improvements on display, which I’m hoping will happen as soon as next season. With 45 innings in Mississippi in 2021, I expect Tarnok’s first assignment in 2022 to be a return to the M-Braves, and then go from there depending on how he performs. Essentially, in terms of where they are on the prospect pitcher depth chart, I have him perhaps a rung behind guys like Strider and Elder, which means he’s two-ish rungs down from guys like Davidson and Muller (which is pretty much what I thought of Jasseel De La Cruz a year ago). However, a strong (and healthy) year in 2022 could help Tarnok dramatically.


Be sure to check back soon. Next, I’ll provide excerpts on Tier 2 of my 2022 Braves Prospect List, covering nos. 10-16.

Braves Farm 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The list of 35

Sunday, December 5, 2021

-Clint Manry

Below is my 2021-22 offseason prospect rankings for the Atlanta Braves organization, reflecting the recently-completed 2021 regular season. I’ve adjusted the list from 30 players to 35 this time as I feel this is a better number to work with, given the increased depth system-wide. This list is obviously subjective and my opinion only, and while specific rankings are very much debatable, I believe it’s useful to focus more on the tiers than the actual number beside each player. For example: many may feel that Kyle Muller and Michael Harris’ ranking could be swapped, however, considering I have both Muller and Harris within the same tier (Tier 1), I’m already conceding that the distinction between the pair is incredibly small, so there’s no need to worry with the actual ranking of the two players.

Over the course of the offseason I will be providing more insight into this list. Soon, Braves Journal editor Ryan Cothran and I will begin publishing prospect reviews on each of our top 35 players, one at a time. This offseason list will serve as my 2022 rankings, with an update scheduled for roughly the mid-season mark. Once the MLB lockout ends, I’ll of course make any changes that are needed in the event the Braves trade a prospect.

The list below is ordered nos. 1 thru 35, featuring five tiers as a way to show some context. Not all tiers are equal in size, though each one includes at least a group of five or so players. Obviously Tier 1 is the top talent in the organization, with the best chances at success in the majors. Tier 2, in my opinion, is the next wave of talent, and Tiers 3 thru 5 should be looked at as players that are further down the road, with the final group featuring several 2021 draft picks.

As you can probably see, I primarily weigh my rankings on performance, rather than projection. Following the Braves is not my full-time job and I am not FanGraphs, so I obviously don’t have as much free time to scout and watch video as someone who does this for a living, therefore, I’m more confident in some of these prospects than others. Those that I’m less knowledgeable about, I try to follow more closely with what the experts are saying, although for those that I’ve actually seen a great deal of in-person, I may be more apt to go out on a limb. Regardless, I in no way claim these rankings to be perfect. But check them out for yourself and let me know what you think.

2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List

RANKPLAYERHIGHEST LEVEL
TIER 1— TIER 1 —— TIER 1 —
1Kyle Muller (LHP)MLB
2Cristian Pache (OF)MLB
3Shea Langeliers (C)AAA
4Drew Waters (OF)AAA
5Michael Harris II (OF)A+
6Tucker Davidson (LHP)MLB
7Bryce Elder (RHP)AAA
8Spencer Strider (RHP)MLB
9Freddy Tarnok (RHP)AA
— TIER 2 — — TIER 2 —— TIER 2 —
10Joey Estes (RHP)A
11Braden Shewmake (SS)AA
12Ryan Cusick (RHP)A
13Jesse Franklin V (OF)A+
14Indigo Diaz (RHP)AA
15Vaughn Grissom (SS/3B)A+
16Jared Shuster (LHP)AA
— TIER 3 —— TIER 3 — — TIER 3 —
17Spencer Schwellenbach (RHP)N/A
18Victor Vodnik (RHP)AA
19Cal Conley (SS/2B)A
20Darius Vines (RHP)A+
21Luke Waddell (INF)AA
— TIER 4 —— TIER 4 —— TIER 4 —
22Dylan Dodd (LHP)A+
23Justyn-Henry Malloy (3B/OF)A
24William Woods (RHP)A+
25Drew Lugbauer (1B/DH)AA
26Daysbel Hernández (RHP)AAA
— TIER 5 —— TIER 5 —— TIER 5 —
27Tanner Gordon (LHP)A+
28Brandol Mezquita (OF)FCL
29Andrew Hoffmann (RHP)A
30Trey Harris (OF)AA
31Tyler Collins (OF)FCL
32AJ Smith-Shawver (RHP)FCL
33Kadon Morton (OF)FCL
34Greyson Jenista (OF/1B)AA
35Alan Rangel (RHP)AA

#1. Kyle muller, lhp

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2016 from Dallas Jesuit College Prep (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’7″ / 250 lbsR/L2nd

With Cristian Pache’s reign as the top prospect now over, someone had to take over the no. 1 spot, and for me, that guy had to be Muller. The lefty had an incredible 2021 season, not only getting his first taste of the big leagues but also dominating it for a bit; during his first six major league starts, the southpaw averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine, allowed just one home run and posted a 2.43 ERA – showing us that he’s definitely ready to begin contributing in Atlanta. Sure, the final two outings with the Braves wasn’t ideal. Muller got rocked a bit, allowing nine runs from seven hits combined versus the Nationals and Reds in August, but overall his performance this past year provided what we’d all been waiting for, and that’s that Muller had arrived.

The outlook for the Braves 2022 starting staff looks strong right now, and there’s no doubt that Muller will play a big role. With Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson as locks for the nos. 1-3 spots in the rotation, I’d be surprised if Muller doesn’t fit right in as the fourth or fifth starter by the time Spring Training is over. For me: even though his prospect title will most likely disappear early in 2022, this is the Braves top prospect as we enter a new campaign.

#2. cristian pache, of

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’2″ / 215 lbsR/R1st

I’ll admit, it feels odd not having Pache ranked first on this list, even though the difference from no. 1 and no. 2 is so small it really shouldn’t matter. And even though ineffectiveness and injuries derailed his 2021 season, it doesn’t mean his future has necessarily been negatively impacted. Pache struggled mightily in Atlanta last year, putting together a minus-8 wRC+ in 22 games with the Braves. And though he displayed some much-improved power with Triple-A Gwinnett, it’s not like he raked there either. Which begs the question: what kind of expectations should we have regarding Pache as a hitter?

After last season, I believe patience most important. Not every prospect comes up and takes the league by storm, and for Pache, he still has some time to figure things out (remember, he’s only 23).

Pache has played a whopping 24 games in the majors over parts of two seasons, so I highly doubt the Braves are going to open 2022 with him as the team’s starting center fielder. Although, solid numbers with the Stripers during the first few months of the campaign could perhaps go a long way in getting him back where he was at the start of last year. Sure, Pache’s poor performance humbled us a bit, but I’m in no way concerned about this kid. He’s the real deal and I believe he’ll turn this around. Patience. We must have patience.

#3. SHEA LANGELIERS, C

Draft by ATL: 1st Round, 2019 from Baylor University (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’0″ / 205 lbsR/R4th

It’s crazy, but during his draft year — when Langeliers debuted as a pro with what used to be Single-A Rome — I worried whether or not he’d be able to hit. All the scouts went on about his glove behind the plate, so I just assumed this was going to be a defense-first catcher. But boy did he prove me completely wrong in 2021.

With Double-A Mississippi this past season, Langeliers led the team in homers (22) and finished the year second in long balls in the South League. And it wasn’t as if he was just going up there trying to launch either – the kid posted a 9.7% walk-rate with the M-Braves and sported a solid .258 AVG. Perhaps even more impressive was Langeliers’ work behind the plate – you know the thing that got him drafted first by the Braves two years ago. Amazingly, would-be base stealers at the Double-A level were thrown out 42% of the time by Langeliers, which is ridiculous.

Because of his incredible performance for much of 2021, Langeliers was rightfully promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett towards the end of September, where the catcher only got in on five games. However, Gwinnett is where Langeliers will likely spend all of 2022. And with many believing that William Contreras is a potential trade candidate this winter, there’s a scenario where Langeliers works his way to becoming a back-up catcher in Atlanta this coming season. I wouldn’t simply expect that, but it’s not out of the cards. Me personally: I think we should see how he handles Triple-A pitching first.

#4. DREW WATERS, OF

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2017 from Etowah HS (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’2″ / 185 lbsB/R3rd

You may think because Pache had a bad showing in Atlanta that Waters deserves to jump ahead. And that’s probably a fair argument, but that would also mean that Pache’s future value has taken a hit… and I don’t believe that.

But to be fair to Waters, he had another great year in 2021, spending all season with Triple-A Gwinnett where he hit .240, slugged 11 homers and stole 28 bases in 103 games. The numbers are obvious: like Pache, this is a toolsy outfielder who still appears to have an ultra-bright future ahead of him. But with Waters (and Pache to an extent), I’m still worried about that approach at the plate. This past season makes two consecutive years in which the former has struck out over 30% of the time, and with his wheels on the basepaths, that high of K rate really holds him back. Waters did raise his walk-rate by 1% in 2021, which is good to see.

As far as Waters’ outlook in 2022, it’s hard for me to get a good read on what the Braves are thinking. I still believe that Pache is the next young outfielder on the cusp, and that Waters is directly behind him. But, I also wouldn’t be surprised to see the latter prospect given an opportunity instead. We saw what Pache could do – maybe it’s time to see what Waters can do? Regardless of the prospect depth chart, though, Waters still needs to cut down on the whiffs, for he doesn’t wield quite the same athleticism as his fellow outfield mate is so famously known for.

There’s also another notable storyline, though we won’t get into it here. But, given the two are essentially interchangeable talent-wise, wouldn’t it make sense to trade one of Pache or Waters? I don’t really have an opinion on that right now, but considering some of the other outfielders the Braves have drafted recently, you could make the argument that the organization has plenty of depth at the position to move one of its top players.

#5. MICHAEL HARRIS II, OF

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2019 from Stockbridge HS (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’0″ / 195 lbsB/L5th

Harris is no. 1 in the Braves system, according to Baseball America’s 2022 list. And I can certainly understand the reasoning, given Harris is both young and coming off a 2021 campaign in which he put literally every tool on display, hitting .294 with seven homers and 26 doubles, to go with 27 stolen bases – good for a 114 wRC+ — at the High-A level. And to top all of that off, he was the most-hyped Braves prospect heading into last season, so he did a great job of meeting and exceeding expectations.

There’s really nothing to critique here. Harris is developing almost perfectly, displaying an impressive approach at the plate that featured just a 18.1% K rate this past season. There’s no doubt that he has perhaps the highest ceiling of all the top-tier prospects in Atlanta’s system, as at only 20-years-old, he was three years younger than the average player in High-A last year (per Baseball Reference).

The only thing that’s really holding me back from ranking him higher is that he lacks any time in the high-minors, which isn’t his fault. However, it’s extremely likely that Harris begins 2022 in Double-A Mississippi, so if he’s able to continue his numbers there, he’ll once again start moving up the list. Just FYI: Harris finished last season with the third-highest line drive rate in the High-A East league, at 25.9%. That tells me his numbers should translate rather well in Pearl, Mississippi.

#6. TUCKER DAVIDSON, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 19th Round, 2016 from Midland College (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old6’2″ / 215 lbsL/L6th

It was an unfortunate season for Davidson in 2021 as he was shutdown in June because of a forearm injury, which came after a pretty solid performance in Atlanta, including a 3.60 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 20 innings (four starts). It was a nice showing by the lefty and had to of given him some confidence for next season.

I’m keeping Davidson right where I had him on my mid-season list from back in August. Despite only logging 43 total innings between the majors and minors this past season, I do believe he has a solid shot at earning a spot within Atlanta’s starting rotation this coming spring. The Braves desperately need another lefty on its staff and Tuck seems like the perfect candidate if he can stay healthy. He and Muller will have quite the competition in Florida this year.

#7. BRYCE ELDER, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 5th Round, 2020 from University of Texas (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’2″ / 220 lbsR/R8th

Elder pulled a Trey Harris from 2019 and totally dominated at three minor league levels in 2021, posting a 2.60 ERA in High-A Rome, a 3.21 ERA in Double-A Mississippi and a 2.21 ERA in Triple-A Gwinnett. Overall, the righty logged a stingy 2.75 ERA in 25 starts this past season, while averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine and just 3.7 walks per nine. Those are the numbers of a stud prospect pitcher, especially considering it was his first year pitching in the minors.

Given he only made seven starts for the Stripers in 2021, I expect Elder to spend much of his time in 2022 with Gwinnett. However, at his current rate of development, it’s not far fetched to expect him to crack the majors at some point next summer. Injuries happen all the time in the big leagues, and in my opinion, Elder is a just a few injuries away from getting his chance to show what he can do in Atlanta, which is crazy to say for a kid who’s tallied just 137 2/3 innings as a professional.

#8. SPENCER STRIDER, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 4th Round, 2020 from Clemson University (SC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’0″ / 195 lbsR/R7th

Armed with a grade-A mustache, Strider silenced all the critics that said on draft day he hadn’t posted impressive enough numbers as a college player at Clemson. The righty began his impressive campaign all the way down in Single-A Augusta, where he didn’t stay long after posting a 0.59 ERA in four starts. Then it was three starts in High-A Rome, where he managed a 2.45 ERA. And after that, Strider put together a 4.71 ERA in 14 starts with Double-A Mississippi. The Braves moved him up to Triple-A Gwinnett, and following one relief appearance there, they called him up to the big leagues, where Strider pitched out of the bullpen in two games and allowed a run from two hits in 2 1/3 innings. What a busy year.

The outlook is pretty simple for Strider: like Elder, the former will do all he can to try and crack the Braves starting rotation during spring camp, but if that’s not in the cards, he (along with Elder) will help make up probably one of the most dominant starting staffs in Triple-A. I’m not sure many realize this, but the Braves are absolutely loaded with fringe-type arms… and Strider is certainly one of them. The 2022 campaign will be a huge year for the Clemson product, and I believe we’ll see him in some sort of role in Atlanta before the regular season is over.

#9. FREDDY TARNOK, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2017 from Riverview HS (FL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 185 lbsR/R9th

Tarnok’s 2021 season didn’t get going until early June and he sort of struggled during that first month or so in High-A Rome. However, by the end of July the righty was in Double-A Mississippi, where he went on to post a 2.60 ERA and average 12.2 strikeouts per nine in a short nine-start stretch. Overall for this past season, the 23-year-old logged a 3.44 ERA with a tremendous rate of 13+ K/9 in 14 starts and two relief appearances (73 1/3 innings). It wasn’t a full season showing, but it was solid nonetheless.
Tarnok has always been hard for me to peg down. If you read about his improvements from this past season, the added velocity and how he now has three viable offerings, you’d suspect that he’s on his way to becoming one of the top arms in the system. Although, as shown with the guys ranked ahead of him on my list, there are several other prospect pitchers in the Braves organization that are doing the same thing… and doing it even better.
Basically, I want to see Tarnok stay healthy for a full season AND put all of his improvements on display, which I’m hoping will happen as soon as next season. With 45 innings in Mississippi in 2021, I expect Tarnok’s first assignment in 2022 to be a return to the M-Braves, and then go from there depending on how he performs. Essentially, in terms of where they are on the prospect pitcher depth chart, I have him perhaps a rung behind guys like Strider and Elder, which means he’s two-ish rungs down from guys like Davidson and Muller (which is pretty much what I thought of Jasseel De La Cruz a year ago). However, a strong (and healthy) year in 2022 could help Tarnok dramatically.

#10. JOEY ESTES, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 16th Round, 2019 from Paraclete HS (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’2″ / 190 lbsR/R15th

Moving up five places from where I had him in my mid-season rankings this past August (at no. 15), Estes is already a stud, coming off one of the best minor league performances by a starting pitcher this past season. As a teenager (19-years-old) in 2021, the righty led Single-A’s East League in strikeouts (127), ERA (2.91) and WHIP (0.960), while tallying 99 innings with Augusta – a huge improvement compared to his rookie-level campaign back in 2019, when he pitched to an 8.10 ERA in five starts with the Gulf Coast team.

Estes may have been one of my biggest risers on the list, but we must remember this kid is just now entering his age-20 season in 2022, so there’s no need to start chanting for his MLB debut. Reports indicate he’s improved his command and is working on honing in a third pitch, a changeup, to go with his overpowering fastball and wipeout slider. Estes just needs to keep racking up innings in the minors, and personally, I’d love to see the Braves approach his development as conservative as possible, giving him a hefty amount of time in High-A next year, before throwing him into the upper-minors. Although, if he keeps dominating, Estes could be knocking on the majors’ door before he’s even old enough to drink. Either way, this kid will soon be a household name in the Braves system.

#11. BRADEN SHEWMAKE, SS

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2019 from Texas A&M (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’4″ / 190 lbsL/R12th

We can’t talk about Shewmake without mentioning the crazy 2021 season he had. With Double-A Mississippi, the former first-rounder put together one of the worst starts I’ve seen in quite some time, going 8 for his first 85 (.094 AVG) during the first 22 games of the campaign, good for a minus-17 wRC+. That kind of performance from a college bat – that the Braves signed for over $3.1 million – is hard to make sense of. However, Shewmake went from one extreme to another. If you exclude those first 22 games of the 2021 season (from June 5 on), the guy had a pretty damn good year, hitting .276 with 11 homers, 13 doubles and a solid 19.7% K rate in 61 games, good for a much-better 120 wRC+.

Of course, those first 22 games still count, and because they do, Shewmake’s overall performance last year is a bit distorted. But imagine if during that first month of the season he had actually hit. I think it’s pretty impressive how Shewmake was able to pull himself out of such a hole, and hopefully he learned a lot from his struggles. The guy is a natural hitter, and when I watched him back in late July, he barreled up every ball he made contact with, featuring a 3 for 4 night on July 25 versus Double-A Biloxi. The 2022 season will be a nice opportunity for Shewmake to reset and start over with a fresh year. I think he’s ready for Triple-A Gwinnett, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves give him another month with the M-Braves.

#12. RYAN CUSICK, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2021 from Wake Forest (NC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’6″ / 235 lbsR/R14th

There are some real believers in Cusick, and I’m not just talking about folks in Braves Country. Hell, FanGraphs has the former Wake Forest star at no. 7 in the Braves system. And I may be a bit low on him here at 12 (up two spots from August), but as a college arm I’d still like to see more of him as a pro.

In 2021, Cusick was as advertised. His 70-grade fastball and two breaking balls helped him rack up a ridiculous K rate down in Single-A Augusta, where he struck out 34 batters in just 16 1/3 innings (folks, that’s 18.7 strikeouts per nine lol). It was only a sample of six starts by the then-21-year-old, but it was definitely enough to illustrate that he was head and shoulders above the competition.

The thing is, and this is nothing against Cusick, he was supposed to overpower Single-A last year. Most college arms from Power 5 schools do. So this coming season will be really interesting as Cusick advances to High-A and maybe even Double-A, where he’ll face much more advanced batters. According to the guys at Talking Chop, Cusick’s a three-pitch pitcher right now, but if he can continue to command his stuff and develop his changeup, he’s no doubt a big league starter. We’ll see if he can put it all together with a full year in the pros in 2022.

#13. JESSE FRANKLIN V, OF

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2020 from University of Michigan (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’1″ / 215 lbsL/L10th

The question with the lefty-hitting Franklin was whether or not he was going to be able to hit southpaw pitching in the pros, and I believe he passed that test with flying colors, posting a .926 OPS against lefties in 2021, compared to an .815 OPS versus righties. So that much has been settled: he’s not simply a platoon bat.

But while Frankin mashed a whopping 24 homers and 24 doubles with High-A Rome this past season, to go with a surprising 19 stolen bases, the kid went back and forth with a few concerning slumps and ultimately finished the season with just under a 30% K rate (28.3%). For instance, in May, Franklin hit only .200 with four XBH, but then hit .338 with 14 XBH in June, only to follow up with a July in which he struck out 31.6% of the time (although he walked 12.8% of the time). The back and forth continued in August and September as he hit .203 in the former month and .268 during the latter.

All in all, though, I believe Franklin has a bright future. The inconsistencies from month to month isn’t really ideal, but hell, it was his first year in the pros, so I’m not too worried. The competition in 2022 will be much tougher, though, as the pitching is quite different from High-A to Double-A. If Franklin can keep the whiffs down to a minimum, his power and athleticism could make him yet another up-and-coming outfield prospect in the Braves system.

#14. INDIGO DIAZ, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 27th Round, 2019 from Michigan State (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’5″ / 250 lbsR/R19th

Of the seven prospects I have in this second tier, it’s perhaps Diaz that has the best shot at reaching the majors in 2022. If you didn’t know of him coming into last season, by now I’m sure you’re plenty aware, after he absolutely dominated the minors.

Other than a rough showing in the AFL this fall (12.79 ERA), Diaz was in cruise control in 2021. He began the year in High-A Rome, where he struck out 54 batters in 27 innings – a K rate of 18 K/9. Moving up to Double-A Mississippi in mid-July didn’t appear to slow Diaz down a bit. With the M-Braves, the righty logged a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings, to go with another freakish display of power-pitching, averaging 14.5 strikeouts per nine. Overall, by season’s end, Diaz owned a 1.20 ERA in 45 combined innings between the two leagues, and only in his final appearance of the season did he allow a home run from the opposition.

The only thing really standing in Diaz’s way is a lack of innings. Over parts of two seasons as a pro, the 23-year-old has only 55 1/3 frames to his name, but so far the career numbers are video game-like: a 1.63 ERA, 1 homer allowed, 0.867 WHIP, 15.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9.

He may repeat Double-A for at least a month or so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Diaz is in Triple-A Gwinnett to start 2022, and if his dominance can continue there, than there’s no reason to believe he can’t earn an opportunity in Atlanta at some point. Given his increase in fastball velocity (now up to the high-90s MPH) and the fact that he seems to be ultra-consistent command-wise, Diaz has quickly evolved into the top relief prospect in the system. There’s a bright future for this kid.

#15. VAUGHN GRISSOM, SS

Drafted by ATL: 11th Round, 2019 from Paul J. Hagerty HS (FL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’3″ / 180 lbsR/R13th

It doesn’t feel right knocking Grissom back two spots on the list, especially considering he had a career year in 2021, but rankings cannot always be perfect, which is why the tiers are so important. In a perfect world, I’d have the kid closer to the top 10, but either way just know that the shortstop is definitely trending in the right direction.

Grissom started last season in Single-A Augusta and spent much of the campaign there, where he slashed .311/.402/.446 with five homers, 15 doubles and 13 stolen bases in 75 games – good enough for a 135 wRC+. The kid did it all down in Augusta, playing 35 games at shortstop, 23 at third and 10 at second, even getting a handful of games as a DH. By early September, Grissom received a well-deserved promotion to High-A Rome, where he hit even better, even if it was just a dozen games. With Rome, the 20-year-old hit .378 with four XBH, going 3 for 3 in stolen base attempts to post an impressive 196 wRC+. That performance should give him plenty of momentum going into 2022, where he’s basically guaranteed to begin the year as the R-Braves starting shortstop.

Like Shewmake ahead of him, for now at least Grissom appears to be a shortstop long-term. Also similar to the older Shewmake, Grissom is a pure hitter, sporting a career .308 AVG in two seasons as a pro. Impressively, the Florida native struck out just nine more times than he walked in 2021 (54 K / 45 BB), which is really promising for a kid his age. Basically, the 2022 season could be the year Grissom really puts himself on the map. If last year is any indication as to what’s coming next season, I could easily see him cracking the Braves top 10 and becoming a top 100 prospect by the midseason mark.

#16. JARED SHUSTER, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2020 from Wake Forest (NC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 210 lbsL/L11th

We finally got see a full season of the Braves top draft pick from a year ago, and for the most part, it was a great showing. The left-handed Shuster began his pro journey with High-A Rome in 2021, and with a solid 14-start stint there he managed to post a 3.70 ERA to go along with 11.2 strikeouts per nine. It wasn’t an otherworldly performance by any means, but it was good enough that the Braves promoted the then-22-year-old to Double-A Mississippi in early September.

In Pearl, Shuster ran into some adversity right off the bat. His first start with the M-Braves was his worst outing as a pro as he allowed eight runs from seven hits in four innings. However, starts nos. 2 and 3 were much better, and as he became more comfortable at a higher level, the southpaw concluded his 2021 campaign with a 3.38 ERA over his final 10 2/3 innings.

Signing a $2.2-million bonus back in 2020, this is a prospect the Braves are sure to be careful with, which means Shuster could likely spend a lot of time in Mississippi next season. The kid still needs to hone in a third pitch, his slider, which is sure to help compliment his bread and butter changeup. If you recall, coming into draft day, reports were that Shuster had drastically improved his fastball velocity, so he’s certainly not foreign to developing his repertoire. This is a future mid-rotation starter, but he may require a little more time than the Elders and the Striders of the organization.

#17. Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2021 from University of Nebraska (NE)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’1″ / 200 lbsR/R17th

The only prospect on my list that didn’t play at all in 2021, Schwellenbach underwent Tommy John surgery back shortly after signing with the Braves for $1 million back in July/August. Following the draft, it was reported that the righty was originally Atlanta’s first-round choice, but the need for elbow surgery dropped him down a round. Either way, Schwellenbach will be lucky to log a meaningful amount of innings in 2022 as he’ll likely require most of the season to recover and rehab.

But if you can get over the fact that it’ll probably be 2023 before we really see the kid in action, it’s important to know what Schwellenbach could provide to the organization. He’ll pitch as a pro, but the former Nebraska star was a touted two-way player in college, hitting .284 with 19 XBH and nine stolen bases in 48 games as a hitter during his final year in Lincoln, to go with a 0.57 ERA and an average of 9.7 strikeouts per nine in 31 2/3 innings as a high-leverage reliever. Put that together and you have a tremendously athletic prospect who won’t turn 22 until next summer.

Missing basically entire year is never a good start for a prospect. But given this kid’s tools, I’d say the wait may be worth it for Schwellenbach.

#18. Victor Vodnik, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 14th Round, 2018 from Rialto HS (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’0″ / 200 lbsR/R18th

Year 3 was more of a challenge for the right-handed Vodnik. The undersized pitcher met his first real taste of adversity in Double-A as part of the M-Braves starting rotation. The kid dealt with a pair of injuries that caused him to miss a good bit of time, but overall he logged a 5.35 ERA (4.06 xFIP) in 11 starts with Mississippi, while averaging just under 11 strikeouts per nine.

Unfortunately, Vodnik’s biggest struggle had to do with free passes this past season. With the M-Braves he walked 22 in 33 2/3 frames (5.9 BB/9) and then while in the Arizona Fall League he walked 14 in 23 2/3 (5.3 BB/9). However, to be fair, the California native did earn a Fall Stars invite with Peoria.

Personally, I’m not too concerned with Vodnik’s middling performance from 2021. He’s still fairly young, and given he only had roughly 70 innings of work above rookie-ball coming into last year, the jump to Double-A can humble any potential star. Although the bad health isn’t quite ideal, and I hope he’s able to do a better job of staying healthy in 2022. Vodnik has a real chance at becoming a top 10 prospect this coming season. He has the stuff. He just needs a full year to show it off.

#19. Cal Conley, SS/2B

Drafted by ATL: 4th Round, 2021 from Texas Tech (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old5’10” / 185 lbsB/R22nd

Conley came from Texas Tech this year, where he crushed it in college, slashing .329/.393/.587 with 15 homers, 13 doubles and seven stolen bases in 56 games. As a guy that played all of his games at shortstop for the Raiders, those are some impressive numbers in general, not to mention for a defensive position.

The fourth-round pick got his professional start with Single-A Augusta, and Conley had time to get in on 35 games with the GreenJackets – a healthy sample that resulted in a .214 AVG. The kid didn’t necessarily hit very well in the minors last year, but he held his own and his plate discipline indicates a player not out of his real; in 161 PA, Conley struck out only 20.5% of the time in Single-A.

As a college bat, and also a guy that plays a position the Braves are rather thin at organizationally, I expect the 22-year-old Conley to be moved rather quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if those 30-ish games in Single-A last year is all he gets as he begins 2022 with High-A Rome.

#20. Darius Vines, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 7th Round, 2019 from California State University (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’1″ / 190 lbsR/R23rd

The recent rise by Vines has been crazy. Coming into 2021, the former seventh-round pick’s latest performance was a rather underwhelming rookie-level campaign in which he allowed a horrid 6.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings combined with the GCL and Appy League teams in 2019. But in Year 2 (well Year 3 if you count the cancelled 2020 season), the 23-year-old Vines shined. First it was Single-A Augusta, where his 92-93 MPH fastball and “deceptive” slider (per Talking Chop) set down opposing batters with ease. With the GreenJackets, Vines averaged 12 strikeouts per nine and completed the level by posting a 2.25 ERA in eight starts (36 IP).

Towards the end of June, the Braves promoted Vines to High-A Rome, and this is where the kid starting really getting some attention. With just 30 or so innings above rookie ball under his belt, the California native was just as strong with Rome, putting together a 3.24 ERA in 14 starts with the team and becoming one of the staff’s more consistent starters. By August, I had Vines pegged as the no. 23 prospect in the Braves system, and throughout the second-half of 2021, he continued to trend in the right direction (featuring a 2.38 ERA in his final six outings of the campaign).

Last season’s Double-A South manager of the year, Dan Meyer, should really enjoy working with Vines in 2022, where the latter will likely join a more depleted M-Braves starting rotation this time around. As he turns 24-years-old just after the regular season begins, this coming year is a big one for Vines, who, because he lacks a ton of velocity, will need to continue to hone in his command and control. This could certainly be a much more well-known name by mid-season.

#21. Luke Waddell, INF

Drafted by ATL: 5th Round, 2021 from Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old5’9″ / 180 lbsL/RNR

As a four-year starter at Georgia Tech (and fifth-round pick in this past summer), Waddell was given a pretty aggressive assignment in Year 1, spending 21 games in High-A Rome before finishing out the 2021 campaign in Double-A Mississippi. As a 22-year-old, he played all over the infield on defense, and while with the R-Braves he got hot at the plate, slashing .304/.372/.580 with seven XBH (six HR) in just 78 PA, including a late-August stretch in which he went 10 for 18 (.556 AVG) with four long balls.

Waddell ran into a bit of a wall with the M-Braves, going just 5 for 31 (.161 AVG) during his short stint there to end the year, but even though he failed to produce much with the bat, he still managed to show a strong glove at second, short and third. Plus, despite only posting a 7 wRC+ in Mississippi, the kid only struck out four times (a 12.1% K rate), indicating he’s plenty able to put the ball in play versus high-minors pitching.

While his power display in High-A was impressive, Waddell isn’t the flashiest in terms of tools, and I don’t believe power is ever going to be his game. For a guy just now entering his first full season as a pro, he definitely has an advanced feel for hitting, though four years at a Power 5 school will help with that. Though he’s probably topped out in terms of prospect stock (and I didn’t even have him ranked back in August), to me, this is a solid future big league utility-infielder, and his strong performance this fall in Arizona makes me confident that he’s perhaps only a few seasons away from the majors. With Peoria this past fall, Waddell hit .311 with five doubles in 18 games as one of the only Braves to actually produce in the Arizona Fall League. If he can hit in Double-A in 2022, this could be a very interesting prospect going forward.

#22. Dylan Dodd, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2021 from Southeast Missouri State University (MO)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 210 lbsL/LNR

Coming out of a small school (Southeast Missouri State), I admit, it was a bit surprising when the Braves selected Dodd in the third round of this past summer’s MLB Draft. Although at only a $122,500 signing bonus, Atlanta got him waay under-slot (Pick 96 value was $604,800 in 2021).

Regardless, the lefty was fine in his pro debut this past season. Sure, he only managed a 4.91 ERA in three starts with Single-A Augusta, but Dodd didn’t allow a single home run during that stretch with the GreenJackets as he averaged 11.5 strikeouts per nine and only 2.5 walks. His one start with High-A Rome in September went very poorly (3 IP, 9 H, 8 ER, 4 HR, 6 K), but it was simply one horrid outing.

Given Dodd will turn 24 in early June and he’s coming off four years worth of college ball, I definitely expect him to begin 2022 in High-A Rome, where he’ll be shooting for a mid-season promotion to Double-A. Dodd isn’t a hard thrower, hanging around the low-90s MPH, but reports indicate he has four viable offerings, so as long as he can continue to maintain solid command he should fit in as a potential mid-rotation starter.

#23. Justyn-Henry Malloy, 3B/OF

Drafted by ATL: 6th Round, 2021 from Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’2″ / 212 lbsR/RNR

This could be an intriguing prospect at third base, and still only entering his age-22 season in 2022, Malloy appears to have a bright future ahead of him, after being selected by the Braves in the sixth round of this past year’s draft. Athleticism, some solid speed, above average contact and plus power are all in play here.

Coming off a three-year collegiate career at both Vanderbilt and Georgia Tech, that featured a career .279 AVG, .931 OPS and 11 homers in 82 games overall, the Braves assigned the kid to Single-A Augusta following the draft. Malloy was impressive with the GreenJackets in 2021, slashing .270/.388/.434 with 10 XBH in 37 games, likely earning himself an opportunity to jump the gun a bit and start 2022 in Mississippi.

#24. William Woods, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 23rd Round, 2018 from Dyersburg State Community College (TN)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’3″ / 190 lbsR/R24th

As I’m sure you know, Woods has a chance to be one of the better pitching prospects in the system. Unfortunately, he just hasn’t been able to log many innings yet as a pro, totaling 51 back in 2019 as primarily a reliever and then only 10 2/3 frames this season. The Tennessee native didn’t start his 2021 campaign until August 19 – a one-inning opener with the FCL team. The next four starts never surpassed 42 pitches at a time as the Braves eased him back on the mound during the final month of the season with High-A Rome.

The undisclosed injury that Woods dealt with all this past season is a bit concerning, but all indicators seem to point to him being 100% in 2022. The Braves have always been wowed by his high-90s MPH (sometimes 100-MPH) velocity, and evidently there’s a future regarding his secondaries given the organization decided to transition him to a starter. The missed time has surely hurt Woods, but nearing his 23rd birthday later this month, he’s still at a young enough age that his prospect stock shouldn’t necessarily be impacted. I’ve had him at no. 24 in the system essentially since this past June, but I think by this time next year he’ll be inside the top 15. Woods just needs a full, healthy season to show what he can do.

FYI: Woods had a nice showing in the Arizona Fall League this fall, posting a 4.21 ERA in five starts and one relief appearance (21 IP), to go with 8.6 strikeouts per nine and 4.3 walks.

#25. Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH

Drafted by ATL: 11th Round, 2017 from University of Michigan (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’3″ / 190 lbsR/R24th

Braves Farm may be the only site that lists Lugbauer as a ranked prospect. Most in the industry look at him as more of an honorable mention, and I did too until this past season. He’s always had power, but the big guy could never seem to make enough contact to provide much value as a hitter. That changed with Double-A Mississippi in 2021.

During the first month of this most-recent campaign, Lugbauer’s power-stroke was still getting warmed up but the University of Michigan product hit .308 with a .881 OPS in his first 16 games. Over the next two months (through June and July), Lugbauer would go on to become one of the M-Braves most dangerous bats, slashing .252/.362/.531 with 10 homers and 11 doubles in 42 games during that stint. The first-half performance earned him a spot in my midseason top 30, and even though he cooled off quite a bit during the second-half of the season (.145 AVG, 10 XBH, 33 games), I believe the former 11th round pick has turned a corner.

It’s not all sunshine and rainbows for Lugbauer, though. At 25, he’s getting old for a prospect, and he doesn’t really have a home on defense, only able to man first base or DH. Plus, despite huge offensive numbers in 2021, Lugbauer still struck out at a career-high rate (37.4 K%), which has been an issue for him his entire pro career.

A long stint in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022 could go a long way in truly determining what kind of player Lugbauer is. Right now I believe his ceiling is a potential bench bat in the majors, but if he can cut down on the whiffs going forward, and maintain his power, he could evolve into the Braves future homegrown designated-hitter when the universal-DH comes along.

#26. Daysbel Hernández, RHP

Signed by ATL: 2017, from Cuba

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old5’10” / 220 lbsR/R21st

I’ve been mostly alone on the Hernández hype train for a few years now, but I think more of Braves Country is beginning to come around. If you recall, the righty was absolutely incredible back in 2019 with High-A Florida, putting together a 2.76 ERA in 32 2/3 innings, which included an average of 12.6 strikeouts per nine and 4.4 walks. That performance must have really impressed the Braves. Though 2021 was his age-24 season, Hernández initially skipped Double-A and was given a Triple-A assignment to begin the year. However, unfortunately, it didn’t go very well.

Really it was just one bad appearance in Gwinnett that spoiled Hernández’s stint with the Stripers at the start of this past season. After posting a 3.86 ERA during his first three games with the team, on May 18 he allowed four runs in 2/3 innings, and a week later he found himself demoted to Double-A Mississippi.

But with the M-Braves, Hernández bounced back nicely and morphed into one of the team’s most dominant relievers. He didn’t allow a single run in his first three appearances with the team, and from July 29 through September 12 (10 1/3 innings worth of appearances), Hernández pitched to a 0.87 ERA and struck out 13 batters. Rightfully, the Cuban prospect earned another try with Gwinnett in mid-September, and remained there until the end of the season, posting a 5.40 ERA in five innings during his second stint with the team.

Now coming into his age-25 campaign, the time is now for Hernández. There’s no doubt he has the talent, it’s just a matter of putting it altogether and being more consistent. Given his age, the Braves really have no choice but to start him in Gwinnett in 2022 and see if he can get on a roll. To avoid just becoming minor league bullpen depth, Hernández needs to put up some strong numbers with the Stripers this coming season. We’ll see if he can match what he was able to do in Double-A.

#27. Tanner Gordon, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 6th Round, 2019 from Indiana University (IN)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’5″ / 215 lbsL/R26th

The big righty pitched well in his first full season in the Braves organization. As a former sixth round pick from back in 2019, I’m sure Gordon was chomping at the bit to get back on the mound; following a strong 2.22 ERA in the Appy League during his draft year, the Braves decided to move Gordon to a starter’s role full time, and it appears to have been the right decision.

Split equally between Single-A Augusta (11 starts) and High-A Rome (10 starts / 1 relief appearance), Gordon held his own as a pro in 2021. With the GreenJackets, the righty averaged 10.1 strikeouts per nine and just 1.6 walks on his way to a 3.43 ERA. He wasn’t as overpowering with the R-Braves, with his K rate falling to 7.8 K/9 there, but he still maintained a decent 4.44 ERA, and just as important, as he rose a level he continued to keep the free passes down (2 BB/9).

Despite being built like a power-pitcher, the guys at Talking Chop call Gordon more of a pitch-to-contact guy, and the drastic drop in K rate from Single-A to High-A sort of proved that this past season. The righty will pitch as a 24-year-old all year in 2022, so regardless, he’s on track to reach Mississippi at some point this coming season. I want to see how he handles the upper-minors before I get into invested, but so far I believe this could be a potential mid-rotation arm for the Braves.

#28. Brandol Mezquita, OF

Signed by ATL: 2017, from Dominican Republic

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’5″ / 215 lbsL/R26th

Mezquita is a kid I’ve already wrote about this offseason and he’s someone Braves Country really needs to start paying attention to. As part of the 13 prospects originally lost due to the actions of former GM John Coppolella, Mezquita re-signed with Atlanta prior to the 2018 season and has been developing at the rookie levels ever since.

Still just 20-years-old, Mezquita will finally get his opportunity to showcase his talent in full-season ball in 2022. After parts of three seasons in instructs, the outfielder slashed .255/.367/.357 with 25 XBH (eight HR) and 27 stolen bases in 129 combined games – good for an overall 110 wRC+ as a pro hitter. Coming off a career-year at the plate in 2021 (132 wRC+) with the FCL team, Mezquita could evolve into one of the most exciting young prospects in the system. We’ll have to wait and see as he’s yet to log any meaningful games at even the Single-A level, but I believe he — and one of his outfield mates from instructs that we’ll talk about later — is the real deal.

#29. Andrew Hoffmann, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 12th Round, 2021 from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (IL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’5″ / 210 lbsR/RNR

I’ve been interested in Hoffmann since he was selected in this past summer’s draft. At 6-foot-5, 210 pounds, and still only entering his age-22 season, the righty is both a two-year college arm AND young enough to still have a decent amount of projection left. The kid spent his first pro season with Single-A Augusta in 2021, where he made seven clean starts, logging a 2.73 ERA and averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine to with just 2.4 walks.

This kid has size, fastball velocity and a wicked secondary in his changeup. The only thing left for him to do is continue develop the rest of his repertoire. And eve if a third or fourth viable offering isn’t in the cards, the Braves will no doubt develop Hoffmann into an overpowering reliever. Like a lot of these guys on the back-end of this list, the righty just hasn’t logged enough time in the minors yet to get a good read. But I think it’s safe to believe in Hoffmann. How he handles a High-A challenge in 2022 will go a long way on determining what the Braves have in their 12th round pick.

#30. Trey Harris, OF

Drafted by ATL: 32nd Round, 2018 from University of Missouri (MO)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old5’11” / 220 lbsR/R20th

To be a former 32nd round pick, Harris has become quite the prospect, even if his stock has declined rather sharply over the last season. Coming off a MiLB Batter of the Year campaign from 2019 (in which he raked at three different levels), the Mizzu product spent all of 2021 with Double-A Mississippi, although unfortunately he wound up having his worst season as ever a pro (89 wRC+), and as a result, I have him barely in the top 30 anymore.

There are a few issues impacting Harris’ stock: for one, he’s now entering his age-26 season, which is really too old for a prospect. Secondly, he plays a position (outfield) that is pretty crowded in the Braves organization, making his path to the majors even more difficult. And lastly, though Harris is a mature hitter with some pop and athleticism, he’s an undersized player that doesn’t absolutely flourish at one single thing on the field. As the seasons go by, he’s looking more and more like a future fourth outfielder in the majors, though we’ll see how he does in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2022.

#31. Tyler Collins, OF

Drafted by ATL: 8th Round, 2021 from McKinney Boyd HS (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
18-years-old5’11” / 180 lbsL/RNR

The guys at Talking Chop give him a Michael Bourn comp as Collins is your prototypical lead-off hitter, wielding plus speed and an above average ability to get on base. The 18-year-old was impressive with the FCL team in 2021, getting with the organization in time to play in 23 games down in Florida. In instructs, Collins slashed .347/.424/.453 with six XBH and 12 stolen bases – good for a solid 140 wRC+.
The Braves have a couple of options with Collins – they could either leave him in extended spring training and let him get a few more PA at the rookie level, or they could start him out in Single-A Augusta in 2022. With him turning only 19 in March, the organization definitely doesn’t have to rush. This kid could be a future star in center field.

#32. AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 7th Round, 2021 from Colleyville Heritage HS (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
19-years-old6’3″ / 205 lbsR/RNR

Shawver is a raw prep arm the Braves took a chance on in this past summer’s draft. The team really likes his mid-to-high 90s MPH fastball and wicked slider, and with his ideal size/build, there’s a solid chance he can stick it as a prospect starting pitcher. At just 19-years-old, he has plenty of time to develop more secondary offerings.

Like Collins above, the Braves could give Shawver more time in rookie ball or start him in Augusta in 2022 – either choice is a viable one and wouldn’t be surprising. The righty struggled with the FCL team this past season, posting an 8.64 ERA in four starts. Although, he did show an ability to induce a ton of swing and miss as he struck out a whopping 16 batters in just 8 1/3 innings (17.3 K/9). I’m interested to see more of this kid.

#33. Kadon Morton, OF

Drafted by ATL: 19th Round, 2019 from Seguin HS (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’2″ / 195 lbsR/RNR

Morton is the outfield mate I mentioned in the above Mezquita excerpt. For a few seasons now, the two 21-year-olds have made quite the pair down in instructs. But now’s their chance to shine in full-season ball.

Mezquita and Morton seem fairly similar, though I’d say the latter is a little less raw as a prospect, with the former striking out 35% of the time with the FCL team in 2021. In fact, Morton — a former 19th round pick — really has yet to do much at all at the plate so far as a pro, with a lot of the expectations surrounding him being built from projection. Either way, the kid’s career is still in it’s beginning stages as all 77 games thus far coming in instructs. We’ll be able to tell much more about Morton this coming season when he likely joins Single-A Augusta.

#34. Greyson Jenista, OF/1B

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2018 from Wichita State University

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
25-years-old6’4″ / 210 lbsL/R25th

Other than an impressive 33-game stint in Single-A back in 2018, this past season was the best performance Jenista has put together so far, posting a 124 wRC+ with 19 homers, 42 RBI and seven stolen bases in 89 games with Double-A Mississippi. Sure, the former second round pick only hit .216 for the year, and he struck out at a 35.9% clip, but the production was still impressive as he also raised his walk-rate by 5% compared to his 74-game sample in Double-A back in 2019.

The evident issue with Jenista’s stock, other than the fact that he’ll enter his age-25 season in 2022, is that whiffs have been a problem essentially his entire career, and if it wasn’t for his breakout in the power department last year, his bat would’ve been nearly unplayable.

Given he’s logged 163 total games with the M-Braves over the last two seasons, it’s safe to say that Jenista will be in Triple-A Gwinnett this coming year, where he’ll need to show he can be more than simply a platoon hitter; in 2021, the left-batter hit just .147 versus southpaws, compared to a solid .242 AVG against righties. Jenista is running out of time, but if he can slug with the Stripers like he did with the M-Braves, I could definitely see some options opening for him.

#35. Alan Rangel, RHP

Signed by ATL: 2014 from Mexico

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’2″ / 170 lbsR/RNR

No one wants to be the last prospect on the list, but this year I wanted to find someone both different and deserving, and Rangel certainly fits that mold. The 24-year-old righty has been in the Braves farm system for going on eight seasons now as he joined the organization as a 17-year-old. The team must think a lot of him, too, because Atlanta protected him from the Rule 5 Draft this year, selecting his contract back in early November.

So why is his prospect stock so low? Well, it’s actually as high as its ever been for him. The Braves have always been really conservative with Rangel, letting him develop in instructs for two years before he spent parts of 3 seasons (or 327 2/3 innings) at the Single-A level, just earning his first taste of High-A in 2021. However, the promotion proved to be the right choice as Rangel averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine and just 2.7 walks, posting a 3.57 ERA with Rome this past season. By early August he was moved up to Mississippi, where he held his own there as well, managing a 4.50 ERA with 10.8 K/9 and 1.3 BB/9 in seven starts.

Because he started his pro career so young, Rangel is still only entering his age-24 season, so he’s pretty close to following a traditional track through Double-A in 2022. An uptick in fastball velocity, and solid secondaries that include a breaking ball and a changeup, has allowed Rangel to evolve from a pitch-to-contact guy to more of a power-pitcher lately, and the ability to induce strikeouts is giving him a nice trend heading into next season. We’ll see if he can keep it up. If he’s able to… I could see him moving up the list rather quickly.

MLB.com claims Ambioris Tavarez is the Braves youngest top position prospect

Friday, December 10, 2021

-Clint Manry

Organizational prospect lists may vary from site to site, but most can probably agree that the Braves big international free agent signing last year was one that’s destined to pay off. With still a 50-perecent reduction in international spending still hanging over Atlanta’s proverbial head, the team spent nearly all its pool on one kid. His name is Ambioris Tavarez, and according to MLB.com on Friday, right now he’s the organization’s youngest top position prospect.

Back in January of this year, the Braves signed Tavarez for $1.5 million, accounting for 96% of the team’s international pool, of which was already shrunken even further following the signing of Marcell Ozuna (who had declined a qualifying offer from the Cardinals). Per Baseball America’s 2020-21 international prospect rankings, Tavarez was the 25th best player in the class, and the writing was already on the wall: with the $10,000-spending limit now gone, Atlanta was going after the 6-2, 175-pound shortstop.

Now Tavarez hasn’t played pro ball as of yet, which admittedly makes it difficult to completely jump on board with BA’s best title. However, the evaluations are pretty amazing. According to scouts, the only aspect of Tavarez’s game that you could even remotely critique is his defense long-term, which many have already indicated will most likely feature him moving over to third. A potential top-100 prospect at shortstop is better than one at the hot corner, given the value of the position, but we’re splitting hairs here. I will say, though, his over-hand release does seem like it could cause a bit of a delay on his throws from short to first (though his arm speed could very well make up for that).

At the plate, from the video I’ve seen, Tavarez is an explosive right-handed swinger who incorporates a pretty big leg kick but is able to still remain consistent with his mechanics and stay in control. He takes some big hacks, but there doesn’t seem to be anything wild about it, and there’s definitely some power. All in all, this is a guy MLB.com and BA really like a lot; the former has Tavarez ranked 25th on its 2021 Braves Top 30 (which is a bit high in my opinion). I’m holding off on too much writing until he plays some pro games. But if the scouts are right, this 18-year-old kid could be a fast riser in the Braves system.

Braves select four players in MiLB Rule 5 Draft; one of them traded today

Friday, December 10, 2021

-Clint Manry

With the MLB portion of this year’s Rule 5 Draft currently on hold due to a lockout, the minor leagues went ahead with its draft on Wednesday as a total of 51 players came off the board, including four that were chosen by the Braves.

With the first pick in the draft, the Orioles selected righty Nolan Hoffman no. 1 – a 24-year-old, former fifth-round pick by Seattle in 2015. Hoffman, pitching for the Mariner’s Single-A and High-A clubs, posted a 3.74 ERA in 51 combined innings in the minors in 2021.

Later in the first-round, at pick no. 6, the Rockies selected lefty Gabriel Rodriguez – an unprotected Braves minor leaguer. In Atlanta’s system, Rodriguez – a 31st-round pick in 2018 – had just gotten a taste of full-season ball this past season, making 26 relief appearances and one start, on his way to an 8.44 ERA with Single-A Augusta. The southpaw will enter his age-23 season looking to rebound in 2022, though as a 19-year-old in 2019, Rodriguez posted strong numbers with the Braves GCL team (rookie ball) during his pro debut, maintaining a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings. Rodriguez is a solid player, but given the Braves incredible pitching depth, his departure isn’t too significant.

And to keep with the trend, the Braves picks on Wednesday mainly consisted of arms as three of the team’s four selections were right-handed pitchers:

RD 1, PICK 15 – John Nogowski, 1B (from SFG)

RD 2, PICK 9 – Luis De Avila, RHP (from KCR)

RD 3, PICK 4 – Allan Winans, RHP (from NYM)

RD 4, PICK 3 – Tanner Andrews, RHP (from MIA)

Nogowski is entering his age-29 season in 2022 and has played with four different organizations during his pro career, which began in 2014 when he was drafted in the 34th round by the Athletics. Back in 2020, Nogowski made his MLB debut with the Cardinals but only played in one game. The first baseman was on the move plenty in 2021, starting the year with St. Louis before moving to the Pirates and then to the Giants. Negowski’s year was nearly evenly split between the majors and minors this past season as he hit .233 in 52 games in the big leagues and .211 in 64 minor league contests. This is a guy that has had some big seasons in the minors, most notably in Triple-A in 2019 when he hit .295 with 15 homers in the Cardinals system. Overall, though, Negowski is a career .233 hitter in MLB, with one homer in 53 games.

Of the three pitchers the Braves selected on Wednesday, De Avila and Winans appear to be solely bullpen guys. The former was the youngest player chosen by Atlanta (20-years-old) and only has 52 1/3 innings above rookie ball, coming this past season when he posted a 5.16 ERA with Single-A Columbia. The latter, 26-years-old, topped out at Double-A in 2021 and put together strong numbers there, maintaining a 1.65 ERA and an average of 9.5 strikeouts per nine in 27 1/3 frames.

Andrews, perhaps the only arm that could’ve perhaps worked as a starter in the Braves system, was traded on Thursday to the Giants for cash considerations. Of all the picks Atlanta made on Wednesday, I would’ve probably pegged Andrews as the one with the best shot of ever contributing for the big league team, which I guess is why San Francisco was interested. At 26-years-old, the righty was coming off a pretty dismal performance in Double-A in 2021, but the kid was excellent in 2019, when he posted a 3.50 ERA in 18 starts and five relief appearances combined for the Marlins Single-A and High-A clubs.

After Andrews, I’d probably say De Avila is the next most-interesting player off the board for the Braves. He’s still young, and according to his numbers so far, he has some pretty overpowering stuff, averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine last year in Single-A, to go along with a history of low walk rates.

We’ll see how these guys perform in 2022, and hopefully one or two will surprise us.

Braves Farm 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: Cuts, honorable mentions and players that just missed the list

Friday, December 10, 2021

-Clint Manry

With the year 2021 nearing its conclusion, I’ve constructed a new Braves Prospect list here at Braves Farm. And like any updated rankings, there are some that didn’t make the cut. As sort a prelude to my 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List, here’s a look at my cuts from the previous rankings, as well as several notable players that maybe aren’t rank-worthy but should be discussed nonetheless.

CUTS FROM 2021

The following players were featured on my last Braves Prospect List (a top-30 I put out this past August), but are no longer ranked in my upcoming 2022 rankings.

Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP

Midseason ’21 rank – 16th

Earlier this month the Braves chose not to tender De La Cruz a contract, dropping the righty from the club’s 40-man and making him a free agent. The 24-year-old has had two short stints in the majors over the last couple of seasons, but never made an actual appearance, and in 2021 he struggled mightily with Triple-A Gwinnett, posting a 7.03 ERA in 56 1/3 innings. The Braves could still bring him back this offseason, but now that it’s clear he probably lacks the stuff to remain a starter, De La Cruz’s prospect stock has taken quite a dive.

Jefrey Ramos, OF

Midseason ’21 rank – 30th

Ramos went from a potential up-and-coming top-tier outfield prospect to a guy that lost his starting spot with Double-A Mississippi in 2021. After posting impressive numbers in High-A in 2019, the 22-year-old outfielder never could get going with the M-Braves this past year, beginning his first two months of the campaign by slashing just .158/.204/.274 with five XBH in 27 games. I kept thinking the kid would eventually turn things around, but a .696 OPS during the season’s final few months resulted in a middling 55 wRC+ overall at the plate – a far cry from the 97 wRC+ he managed in his last pair of minor league seasons combined. Ramos is still fairly young, so he has time to figure it out. But as of right now, he’s off my Top-35.

Cody Milligan, 2B

Midseason ’21 rank – 28th

During the first three months of 2021, Milligan improved his stock dramatically as he slashed .280/.357/.349 and slugged 12 XBH in 63 games with High-A Rome. As an up-the-middle player, his performance earned him a spot on my top-30 this past August. However, the 22-year-old finished the final two months of the campaign by hitting .153 in August and .104 in September, making him a one-hit wonder. As a second baseman, Milligan’s lack of power isn’t an issue, and he’s excellent at getting on base, but that second-half stumble resulted in a 77 wRC+, which isn’t quite going to cut it. Although we could see him back on the Braves list some time in 2022, especially if he hits well in Double-A.

HONERABLE MENTIONS

This list is Braves minor leaguers that are fringe-type guys, or players that were right on the cusp of making my upcoming 2022 list. I won’t discuss each and every one of them, but I’ll touch on the most notable ones below.

  • Beau  Philip,  SS
  • Roddery  Munoz, RHP
  • Justin  Yeager,  RHP
  • Tyler  Owens, RHP
  • Bryson  Horne,  1B
  • Landon  Stephens,  OF/1B
  • Christian  Robinson,  OF
  • Tyler  Tolve,  C
  • Caleb  Durbin,  SS/2B

Munoz was ranked 27th in my summer rankings from this past June as he came on the scene overpowering Single-A batters with his high-90s MPH fastball and wipeout slider. But the dominance was extremely short lived. The 21-year-old righty ended up only making six starts (and two relief appearances) all season, finishing the year with a 6.67 ERA in 29 2/3 innings with Augusta. I have a feeling he’ll be back in the spotlight very soon, though.

A 13th-round pick from 2019, Owens was instantly included on FanGraphs’ updated Braves prospect list, coming in at 27th and on the rise. Pitching for both rookie levels (GCL and Danville), the then-18-year-old averaged 10.5 strikeouts per nine and managed a 4.28 ERA in nine starts and one relief appearance during his draft year, setting himself up for a big campaign in full-season ball. But it appears the cancelled 2020 season stunted his growth a bit, and this past season Owens struggled to the tune of a 7.09 ERA with Augusta. Even worse, the kid hardly pitched at all in 2021, going on the 7-day IL on June 10 and remaining on the shelf until September 23. I don’t know what type of injury Tyler Owens suffered, but whatever it was must’ve either been serious or bad enough to shut him down for much of the season.

Robinson, Tolve and Durbin were all taken by the Braves in this past summer’s MLB Draft, and they all logged time in the minors this past season. The first of the three went straight to Single-A Augusta, where he primarily played right field and hit a decent .262 with seven XBH in 35 games. Tolve, a catcher, started out with the FCL team but after just one game he too wound up with the GreenJackets, where he slashed .294/.348/.477 with seven XBH in 23 games. Although, opposing baserunners in Single-A achieved 16 of 17 stolen bases on Tolve, which obviously isn’t ideal. Durbin spent his entire 2021 pro debut with the FCL Braves, logging a .268 AVG in 17 games, split exactly in half between second base and shortstop. The kid also stole 12 bases, so he’s evidently a speedy middle-infielder that appears to swing a solid bat. This trio of ’21 draftees will most likely find themselves on the Braves list at some point in 2022. We just didn’t get to see enough of them this past year.

GETTING TOO OLD

This list of Braves minor leaguers are guys that maybe could be ranked within the top-35, but because of their age (usually 25-years-old and up), perhaps are a bit too old to be called a prospect. You’ll notice that some of these players were once notable Braves prospects.

  • CJ Alexander,  3B
  • Nolan  Kingham,  RHP
  • Justin  Dean,  OF
  • Wendell  Rijo,  2B
  • Odalvi  Javier,  RHP
  • Hayden  Deal,  LHP
  • Matt  Withrow,  RHP
  • Brandon  White,  RHP
  • Troy  Bacon,  RHP
  • Corbin  Clouse,  LHP
  • Jake  McSteen,  LHP
  • Zach  Seipel,  RHP
  • Willie  Carter,  OF

I’ve seen a pretty good bit of Alexander in person, and I have to say, the kid does look like a naturally-born prospect. His athleticism, and the way he moves, just makes him look like a potential big leaguer. But now 25, and set to turn 26 in July, the third baseman just hasn’t been able to consistently hit in the minors, sporting a career .229 AVG and .684 OPS in parts of three seasons. Alexander’s power is coming along, shown by his 10 homers with Mississippi in 2021, but the 31.8% K rate is still a problem. This is a rather toolsy player, but he’s simply running out of time.

I was blessed to watch a Javier start for the M-Braves this past summer in Pearl, and let me tell ya, this guy hasn’t received enough attention during his career in the Braves organization. In 2021, the righty averaged 9.5 strikeouts per nine on his way to a 3.20 ERA in 76 innings in Double-A, split equally between starting and pitching out of the bullpen (12 starts / 12 relief appearances). The problem is, Javier is 25-years-old and nowhere on anyone’s radar in terms of becoming a potential major leaguer. I don’t know if it’s his lack of offerings or because he has just slipped through the cracks, but to most, this isn’t a prospect. And evidently the Braves agree, because Javier was mostly a reliever during the second-half of 2021.

Deal is now 27-years-old and entering Year 5 in the minors, though he’s had quite an impressive career in the Braves organization. He’s not a big strikeout guy, but he managed a solid 3.77 ERA with Mississippi in 2021, after posting a 3.24 ERA in High-A in 2019. Perhaps the Braves turn him into a reliever this coming season and see what he can do in Triple-A, but I’m afraid Deal is too old to be considered a prospect starter anymore.

Clouse, now entering his age-27 season, has been around awhile, and as a power-pitching lefty, I wouldn’t be surprised if we see him in Atlanta sometime in the near future. But the guy has struggled mightily with injuries lately, so there just hasn’t been enough production, especially considering even in 2019 he only managed 31 frames.

I jumped aboard the Carter train this past season as the 24-year-old outfielder started hot with Augusta in 2021, hitting .329 in May and .310 in June. However, he cooled off pretty dramatically in July and August, posting a .232 AVG during that stretch. Carter is explosive at the plate and seems to have plenty of power, and on top of that he stole 18 bases this past season. But with so much outfield depth currently in the Braves system, and given he’s entering his age-25 season without having even reached High-A, I believe it’s a bit too late in the game for Carter. This is still definitely a player to keep an eye on though, and I’m interested to see what he does with Rome or Mississippi in 2022.

And so it begins – Endeavor buys nine minor league clubs, including all of the Braves affiliates

Wednesday, December 8, 2021

-Clint Manry

We knew it was coming, but I’m not sure we knew this was on its way. According to Baseball America on Wednesday, Endeavor Group Holdings purchased all four of the Braves minor league affiliates (Triple-A Gwinnett, Double-A Mississippi, High-A Rome and Single-A Augusta). It’s the beginning of what’s slated to be a massive investment into minor league baseball by the company.

With its newly-formed subsidiary, named Diamond Baseball Holdings, Endeavor also bought five other minor league clubs on Wednesday, bringing its total to nine for the day:

  • AAA Gwinnett (ATL)
  • AA Mississippi (ATL)
  • A+ Rome (ATL)
  • A Augusta (ATL
  • AAA Iowa (CHC)
  • AAA Scranton/Wilkes-Barre (NYY)
  • AAA Memphis (STL)
  • A+ Hudson Valley (NYY)
  • A San Jose (SFG)

Evidently the initial reporting was accurate. Endeavor appears to be interested in the most storied franchises in baseball, given the Braves, Cubs, Yankees and Giants are all what you’d call “cornerstone” organizations. And, as we were told last week, the company isn’t close to being done. Per BA’s report today, Diamond Baseball is “in the late stages of negotiations to purchase a handful of other significant franchises that it expects to announce in due course” (which, according to Baseball Digest, feature both the Triple-A Oklahoma City Dodgers and the Double-A Springfield Cardinals).

Diamond Baseball is now the largest single owner of minor league teams, given just a year ago (before MLB took over) the rules prevented anyone from owning multiple clubs in a league. With MLB now running the show, things are, and will be, much different.

Which brings us to the future of minor league baseball: According to Baseball Digest’s reporting on the topic, the general belief is that there really isn’t any point for big league franchises to hold onto its minor league clubs. Given MLB now completely controls MiLB, the league can monetize its affiliates, just like any other asset. No more dealing with some type of minor league ownership, MLB franchises can literally make money off what it has, and there’s absolutely no risk considering the league literally runs the minors anyways.

The only thing I’m concerned about is what happens (affiliate-wise) to these teams as they’re purchased. Per BD, it appears all the clubs that were bought today will remain affiliated with its current MLB franchise. But will that continue to be the case? In terms of the overall layout of the minors as it is today, how much will ultimately change?

All-in-all, I believe this will be a good thing for minor league baseball in the long-term, if for no other reason that it certainly couldn’t get any worse and because things have began to improve (with pay increases and mandatory housing). But we’ll see what happens. I’m sure there’s plenty more to come.

Offseason Prospect Review: Joey Estes

Monday, December 6, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)
  • Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP (link)
  • Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP (link)

#15. JOEY ESTES, RHP

20-years-old

2021 stats (A):  99 IP, 2.91 ERA, 11.5 K/9, 2.6 BB/9, 7 HR

Trend:  Up

As a former 16th-round pick from 2019, Estes really showed out this past season, becoming one of the best starting pitchers in Single-A with a league-leading 127 strikeouts (a huge improvement from his first taste of pro ball during his draft year, when he allowed nine runs in 10 innings in rookie ball).

Pitching all year as a teenager (19-years-old), Estes tallied double-digit strikeouts in three outings in 2021, including a complete-game gem versus Kannapolis on August 14 in which he struck out 13. The kid punched out seven or more in a whopping nine starts and only allowed more than three hits in a single outing just three times. Estes was essentially bored in Augusta.

2022 outlook

Not only did Estes lead the Single-A East league in punchouts, but he also paced the crowd in ERA and WHIP, suggesting that he’s definitely ready for more of a challenge. And even though he’s still super young, he’ll likely get a tougher assignment in 2022. Although, the Braves have no reason to rush Estes, so I don’t envision him going any higher than Rome to begin next year.

According to evaluators – who by the way, love Estes’ mid-to-high 90s MPH fastball – the righty already wields a fairly advanced repertoire, especially for his age. To go with his heater, the California native also mixes in a “wipeout” slider to go with a serviceable combination of a curveball and changeup.

With my new 2022 list finalized as of this past weekend (yay!), I can already tell you that Estes was one of the bigger risers among my Braves prospect rankings from this past August to now. By this time next year (or even as early as mid-season of ’22), Estes could be a household name.

Big changes could come to the minors as Endeavor, Silver Lake prepare to purchase numerous affiliates

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry

In a detailed and interesting write-up by Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper on Friday, it has become known that Endeavor — a global sports and marketing company — is expected to announce the purchase of six or more minor league baseball teams.

The announcement could come as soon as next week, and it’s expected that, soon afterward, another six or more will be bought as well. According to Cooper, despite MLB having full power to approve or disapprove sales, Endeavor’s massive purchase is NOT expected to be an issue. In other words, this is very likely happening.

Endeavor Group Holdings is a publicly traded company that stretches across sports, entertainment and marketing. Silver Lake Partners (a private equity group) owns a significant portion of Endeaver, which includes a 50.1% stake in the UFC, a recent acquisition of Open Bet, as well as other entities including Professional Bull Riding (PBR) and Euroleague Basketball. In the third-quarter of 2021, Endeavor’s projections show roughly $5 billion in revenue, and according to BA’s report today, the purchase of numerous minor league teams will cost the company a “few hundred million dollars.” Silver Lake reportedly manages over $88 billion in assets, according to its website. 

Also, as a separate deal, Endeaver is expected to soon take over all marketing of the minor leagues for MLB.

This is huge news and could drastically impact minor league baseball and how we view it currently. The days of individual ownership groups running minor league affiliates could soon be over as under the present PDL (Professing Development License), there’s no limit on how many teams a single entity can own — only that no more nine teams in any one classification and no more than 24 teams total before the end of the 2022 season. For example, Mandalay Properties (a real estate agency) at one point owned five clubs. 

The general expectation is that, when all is said and done, Endeavor could own 30-40 of the 120 affiliated minor league teams, though obviously the process would take some time.

The good news is that minor league baseball, surprising to some, is still a profitable business. According to today’s BA article, franchise values are showing “solid resiliency”, even after the pandemic and MLB takeover. And given how well-funded a company like Endeaver is, such a massive amount of purchases should only help improve the industry. 

Details as to exactly which teams Endeaver plans to buy are not known yet, but the expectation is that most of them will be seen as cornerstone franchises that are affiliated with the biggest franchises in MLB, coming from both individually owned teams and clubs currently run by MLB. 

From what I’ve read, this is looked at as a positive development and one that, long-term, could dramatically help minor league baseball. With its ties to MLB already established, and the scale at which it’s able to operate, Endeavor could become an equal partner and finally make minor league baseball what so many of us feel it should already be. 

More details to come…

My reaction to released body cam footage of Marcell Ozuna’s arrest 

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry 

After months of people aimlessly speculating about what really happened on that unfortunate day in late May, the police body cam footage of Marcell Ozuna’s arrest was released to the public on Wednesday…

First off, obviously the video above doesn’t include EVERYTHING — it is simply what the police witnessed as they entered Ozuna’s home. Of course, more things could’ve took place before the cops showed up… and only Ozuna and his wife Genesis really know what those things were.

BUT, it’s incredibly evident that, at the very least, the Sandy Springs Police department did a horrible job with its initial reporting. If you recall, on the day of the arrest, the Sandy Springs cop that filled out the report stated that he “witnessed the suspect grabbing the victim by the neck and throwing her against a wall.” Sure, Ozuna definitely had his hand up at his wife’s throat in the video, but she was not up against any type of wall, nor was his hand held there long enough to “choke” or “strangle” her, let alone throw her up against anything. And it’s very important that this distinction is known, for the main premise of pursuing felony charges against Ozuna was the very aggressive nature of the police report.

Now don’t get the wrong idea here. I think what’s shown on the released video is absolutely horrible. Ozuna is a fully grown 6-foot-1, 225-pound man who’s putting his hands on his wife. I don’t condone what he did by any means, and just because he’s not physically hurting her in that moment doesn’t make any of it right. But some context should be given. Obviously Ozuna and his wife were having a disagreement, and she had her hands on him as well, so it’s also very plausible Ozuna was, in a way, defending himself or trying to keep her off of him. That’s not an excuse for him to put his hand at her throat, but I’m not entirely convinced he was actually trying to hurt her in any way. 

Regardless, Ozuna will have to deal with this for the rest of his life, not to mention his wife and the three children they have together. Whether or not Ozuna’s actions were right, wrong or a little bit of both, just the fact that he was involved in a domestic violence incident will forever be tied to his name.

I know there are a ton of folks that are absolutely crushing Ozuna, and they have every right to. But MLB obviously saw this video and the league made its decision. I wish it never happened, and as I alluded to above, I’m not necessarily ok with how Ozuna handled himself, but to me the Sandy Springs Police Department comes out of this as the bad guys. Without public evidence, they are the ones providing us with the story of what happened, and instead of being honest, they decided to create a shit storm of unnecessary drama… and that’s really pathetic. Just goes to show you, these high profile incidents aren’t always what they seem, and it’s probably wise to hold off on any type of judgment until you’re able to examine the evidence yourself. I know it’s not as exciting, but it’s the right thing to do.

Ozuna should be punished for what he did… and he was. But it’s clear now that what originally was reported was bullshit. And to me, that’s a real shame. 

Committee for minor leaguers has been formed to help ongoing labor battle

Friday, December 3, 2021

-Clint Manry 

MLB is currently in the middle of a lockout, and while the league has recently announced improved housing conditions across the minor leagues, many in the industry feel that not enough has been done. Therefore, on Thursday, Advocates for Minor Leaguers announced the formation of a player-steering committee, which, according to ESPN, “will provide strategic advice and leadership regarding the ongoing labor battle to provide better conditions across baseball’s development levels.”

Led by director Harry Marino, the committee met yesterday and decided to make its existence public in an attempt to voice support for the Major League Players Association. 

Marino believes the recent concession by MLB to help with out housing for minor leaguers just goes to show that the balance of power is indeed shifting:

“For decades, we Minor League players have been exploited by Major League Baseball’s owners, who have abused their unique antitrust exemption to pay us less than we are worth,” the steering committee said in a statement published by ESPN on Thursday. “This year, most of us will make less than $15,000. Many of us will work second and third jobs, struggling just to make ends meet and put food on the table. Without question, the mistreatment that we endure as Minor League players is the most urgent labor issue facing the sport.”

Unlike MLB players, the minors are without a union, so this committee appears to be its best shot at unifying the minor leagues and fighting for the interests of its players. Marino says the first course of action is to publicly support the MLBPA, which strategically, may help the minors with issues down the road. 

Marino had some strong opinions toward MLB, comparing the league’s recent lockout to its abuse of minor leaguers when it comes to wages:

“The owners who have voluntarily decided to shut down Major League Baseball are the same individuals who abuse a legal loophole to pay Minor Leaguers poverty-level wages. As in the past, they use restrictive contracts and collusion to pay the vast majority of professional baseball players less than their actual worth.”

ESPN’s write-up hinted at a specific issue that this newly-announced committee may intend to address: the uniform player contract for minor leaguers. As the contract currently stands, minor league players are tied to the same team for at least seven seasons, which prevents them from seeking competitive pay. Marino states that this arrangement is “fundamentally unfair”

There’s obviously a lot going on right now as both MLB and the player’s union continue to look for common ground on a new CBA. But it’s also a perfect time for the minor leagues to get in on the action. Hopefully when it’s all said and done, not only will MLB come up with a viable compromise, but so will the league that’s left out of these negotiations. As Marino stated on Thursday, “the minors now have a collective voice”… and rightfully they intend on using it.

Good luck Johan Camargo

Thursday, December 2, 2021

-Clint Manry

After 10 seasons in the organization, Johan Camargo is no longer a Brave. Late on Wednesday night it was reported that the switch-hitter had signed a one-year, $1.4-million contract with the Phillies. The deal comes just a day after the Braves chose not to tender Camargo a contract for the 2022 campaign, which wasn’t really a surprise given the utility player hasn’t contributed much for the big league team lately. He will turn 29 later this month.

While it was definitely time for Atlanta to move on from Camargo, it is sad to see it turn out this way. If you recall, Johan was once expected to become the team’s next homegrown star third baseman, following an impressive 82-game stint with the Braves in 2017 that featured a .299 AVG and 27 XBH in 256 PA. The solid showing the year prior resulted in Camargo winning the third base job for the 2018 season, and the then-24-year-old didn’t disappoint. As part of a breakout performance, Camargo slashed .272/.349/.457 with 19 homers, 27 doubles and 76 RBI in 134 games with Atlanta in ‘18 – good for a 115 wRC+ and 3.2 fWAR.  The future was looking incredibly bright at the hot corner.

However, in November of 2018, the Braves decided to bring more pop into the lineup. GM Alex Anthopoulos signed a player coming off an injury, inking third baseman Josh Donaldson to a one-year, $23 million deal. Instead of trading Camargo, the team chose to use the versatile infielder as a super utility-man. The plan went splendidly for Donaldson… but Camargo struggled mightily in the new role, and while playing in 98 games during the 2019 season, Johan hit just .233 with seven homers, ending the year with a below-average 66 wRC+ and just -0.5 WAR.

Since the Donaldson signing, Camargo just hasn’t been able to consistently contribute for the Braves. In 2020, Johan played in 35 games but only hit .200, and this past season he spent the majority of his time in Triple-A Gwinnett. Since the start of 2019, Camargo has been worth -1.1 WAR as a big leaguer and his 58 wRC+ has been essentially unplayable.

In 2021, I thought maybe Camargo was on his way to turning things around. The guy raked in the minors, slashing .326/.401/.557 with 19 homers in 104 games with the Stripers. But none of that could translate to success in the majors, and as a result, the Braves were unable to find a spot for him.

It’s not too late for Camargo to turn his career around in Philadelphia, and I’m sure we’ll be seeing plenty of him given he’s staying in the division. But last night’s news will always leave me wondering what could’ve been as I always believed Camargo was destined to become a solid major league player. But for whatever reason… it just didn’t happen.

Braves avoid arbitration with Orlando Arcia, sign outfielder to two-year deal

Wednesday, December 1, 2021

-Clint Manry

One of Triple-A Gwinnett’s top hitters in 2021 is staying in the organization as on Tuesday the Braves gave shortstop Orlando Arcia a two-year, $3 million contract, avoiding arbitration and locking up some solid depth for the major league team.

Coming over from Milwaukee back in April, in a trade that sent both pitchers Patrick Weigel and Chad Sobotka to the Brewers, Arcia had a huge year in the minors in 2021, finishing the campaign with a .282 AVG, 17 homers and 37 RBI in 74 games – good for a 129 wRC+. He didn’t perform quite as well while in the majors this past season (.198 AVG / 48 wRC+), playing in 36 games with the Braves, but he provided much-needed depth in the outfield nonetheless.

Per the above contract, Arcia will earn $1.6 million in 2022 and $1.3 million in 2023. The deal also features a $2-million club option for the 2024 season, which comes with a $100,000 buyout.

I have to say this deal is pretty surprising, but Arcia is a solid glove that can give the Braves depth at several positions. He’s also not too far removed from a pretty decent performance back in 2020, when he posted a 95 wRC+ in 59 games with the Brewers, so there’s always the chance his bat heats up in the majors again.

Along with the news regarding Arcia, the Braves also nontendered several players yesterday as they came up against the tender deadline. Atlanta declined to offer contracts to Johan Camargo, Richard Rodriguez, and they removed Jasseel De La Cruz from the 40-man.

Offseason Prospect Review: Jasseel De La Cruz

Sunday, November 28, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)
  • Spencer Schwellenbach (link)

#16. JASSEEL DE LA CRUZ, RHP

24-years-old

2021 stats (AAA):  56.1 IP, 7.03 ERA, 8.7 K/9, 5.2 BB/9, 8 HR

Trend:  Down

Calling De La Cruz’s 2021 performance a down year is probably putting it a bit too mildly. After entering the season as a top 10 prospect in the Braves system (according to me), the righty struggled mightily during his first Triple-A assignment, doing himself no favors when it comes to the argument of whether or not he’s a reliever in the long term. In fact, despite finishing the year with a 7.19 ERA in Gwinnett, there were moments when De La Cruz actually handled himself pretty well out of the bullpen, including the very first handful of games he pitched in 2021 when he allowed just one run in 8.2 innings (1.04 ERA) over four relief appearances. I was probably one of the only ones left that still believed De La Cruz could make it as a big league starter, however, after this past season, I’m not so sure.

I had the opportunity to watch one of De La Cruz’s starts in 2021, a late-July outing in Memphis. The righty struggled to get much swing and miss. And though it was an extremely muggy and uncomfortable evening, it seemed like De La Cruz was laboring more than normal as he allowed five runs in five innings of work. There’s no doubt his fastball/slider combination is sharp, but without a third pitch to really keep batters guessing, it’s as if De La Cruz is forced to work more than he probably should.

2022 outlook

Like in 2020, De La Cruz was called up to the majors this past season but never debuted. However, as part of several roster moves on Tuesday, the Braves removed the 24-year-old from the 40-man roster. De La Cruz will turn 25 next June so it’s imperative he makes some strides in Triple-A in 2022. Given it was his first assignment in Gwinnett, it’s likely he gets another chance to prove he can start, however, his leash is probably beginning to run out.

Although, whether he starts or pitches out of the bullpen, De La Cruz can still be an impactful player for the Braves. Homegrown, high-leverage relievers are needed as well, and his two-pitch approach could work well in Atlanta. But I’m sure, like any pitching prospect, De La Cruz would rather make it as a starter. There were some very high expectations for this kid after he broke out in 2019, and it does feel like he’s so close to putting it all together. But we’ll see how he handles another ride with the Stripers this coming season. For now, De La Cruz is minor league bullpen depth for the Braves. However that role could change with a strong showing to begin 2022.

Offseason Prospect Review: Spencer Schwellenbach

Saturday, November 27, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP (link)

#17. SPENCER SCHWELLENBACH, RHP

21-years-old

2021 stats:  Did not play

Trend:  N/A

The two-way player from Nebraska didn’t get to show his talents in 2021 as in August he underwent Tommy John surgery, just a month after the Braves drafted him in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft for a signing bonus of $1 million.

Schwellenbach was named 2021’s John Olerud Two-Way Player of the Year with the Cornhuskers, hitting .284 with 19 XBH (6 HR) and 40 RBI at the plate, to go with a 0.57 ERA and 9.7 strikeouts per nine on the mound. He also went a perfect 9 for 9 on stolen bases. Overall at the college level, the ultra-talented Schwellenbach played in 48 games as a position-player last season, all at shortstop, and made 18 relief appearances as a pitcher.

2022 outlook

Obviously Schwellenbach’s ranking within the Braves Top 30 is all about projection, given the 21-year-old hasn’t played as a pro just yet. However, considering the Braves grabbed him to be a pitcher, I think it’s fair to say he should reside somewhere in the top-20, being that he was an overpowering closer at a Power 5 school.

Schwellenbach’s prospect stock will depend heavily on whether or not the Braves view him as a starter or a reliever long term. Evaluators back on draft day this summer reported that the righty currently has two dominant pitches in a high-90s MPH fastball and a whiff-inducing slider. Schwellenbach’s third pitch – a changeup – reportedly still needs some work. Unfortunately, it’s unlikely the kid pitches in 2022, and if he somehow does, it will probably come more in the form of a rehab assignment. I think Schwellenbach is going to be a super exciting player, but it’s just going to take some time.

The newly-announced minor league housing plan is a long overdue step in the right direction

Thursday, November 25, 2021

-Clint Manry

It may have slipped through the cracks (it did for me), but baseball did a very good thing last week, announcing that all 30 MLB teams will be required to provide housing for all minor league players. ESPN.com’s Jeff Passan reported the news, along with Baseball America’s J.J. Cooper.

I don’t have to tell you how huge this is. For as long as I’ve been a baseball fan, many have cried out for MLB to do more to help its minor league players, including better pay, which was somewhat addressed last February when the league provided marginal raises (ranging between 38% and 72% depending on what minor league level). Housing has always been a major issue as well, and I’m sure you’ve read the numerous articles detailing the pitiful living situations that have become simply a normal thing in minor league baseball. Some players have been forced to live in their cars or a team’s clubhouse. As a professional player, no matter what level, that is simply unacceptable.

But all of that is thankfully going to change. Much of the details are still being worked out, but last week’s agreement will guarantee that minor league players will either directly receive housing — plain and simple — or each players’ current stipends will be increased to accommodate any kind of rent. Either way it works out, whether the team simply takes care of the cost on its own, or the players are given extra money to do so, housing will be taken care of.

We should already know the benefits of having appropriate housing, but for some reason it has taken this long to become, at the very least, a minimum requirement for minor league baseball. At this point, the only exceptions for this type of assistance are players on major league contracts and players that are scheduled to earn at least $100,000 in salary over a full season.

The New York Times offered a little more insight in its write-up

“According to M.L.B.’s announcement, the major league clubs will be responsible for providing the housing for the applicable players playing or practicing at every level of the minors or assigned to spring training complexes. The accommodations will have to be within a reasonable, commutable distance from the ballpark. They must also be furnished, and the major league clubs will be responsible for basic utility bills, M.L.B. said. Bedrooms must contain a single bed per player and no more than two players per bedroom. When apartments, rental homes or host families aren’t available, clubs must provide hotel rooms that meet the rules. Players can opt out of the team-provided housing if they choose to.”

If you recall, recently MLB officially took over the minors, and its first course of action was to completely overhaul the league, eliminating 40 affiliates across the nation to bring the total down to 120 teams. The idea was that less affiliates would mean better playing and living conditions for the players, and so far, when accounting for the pay raises and now the housing plan, it seems to be going as promised.

I know for me it was hard to understand why minor league players were forced to live so poorly. Back in 2018 it was announced that a neighboring city of my hometown – Madison, AL – would be getting a minor league team, formerly known as the Mobile BayBears, a Double-A affiliate of the Angels. The Rocket City Trash Pandas has become a big part of my community, as has its $46 million Toyota Stadium that’s surrounded by up-scale apartments and townhouses. But as we know, some Trash Pandas players couldn’t even have their own bed to sleep in.  I mean, I know theoretically it has nothing to do with the player’s wages or living conditions, but even during the cancelled 2020 campaign, Ballcorps (the company that owns the Trash Pandas) earned roughly $545,000 in revenue. MLB players live well, as do owners and executives. The least they can do is allow minor league players, oftentimes the future stars of the sport, to live a decent life too.

Of course, guaranteed housing doesn’t fix everything, as there are still issues that could be addressed in the minors. But it’s at least a start. And I know to some, minor league baseball may not be all that important. However, there are plenty of fans like me that often attend way more MiLB games in a given season than Braves games. Hell, in 2021, I attended every Braves affiliate (sometimes multiple times), plus I probably went to five or six Trash Pandas games. It’s still a great product to watch… and much cheaper than attending an MLB game. So for me, minor league baseball is huge, and I want it to be the best it can be.

We’ll see how this housing plan goes. Hopefully it does what it’s supposed to do for the players and gives them a better life while playing the game they love. These guys are just trying to make it, and that may mean making sacrifices. But it shouldn’t mean they must live in poverty.

Offseason Prospect Review: Victor Vodnik

Thursday, November 25, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)
  • Indigo Diaz, RHP (link)

#18. VICTOR VODNIK, RHP

22-years-old

2021 stats (AA):  33.2 IP, 5.35 ERA, 10.9 K/9, 5.8 BB/9, 5 HR

Trend:  Down

It’s been a rough year for Vodnik, who, in his first real opportunity to be a starter as a pro, only managed 11 starts in 2021, due to two separate IL stints (one in June and one in September).

Entering the year, I had the righty ranked 13th on my Braves Top 30, and during the season’s first month it looked as if he was headed for a top 10 spot as he put together a strong May, pitching to a 2.51 ERA in four starts. But unfortunately, that was as good as it would get for Vodnik. He would go on to post a 9.00 ERA in July and a 6.10 ERA in August. The kid not only struggled mightily versus opposite-handed batters (lefties), but he also routinely failed to get off the mound when base runners began to pile up; his OPS allowed raised by nearly 200 points, compared to bases empty and runners on in 2021 (.709 to .904). And these righty-lefty splits… ouch…

vs. RHB:  70 PA, .159 AVG, 38.5 K%, .486 OPS

vs. LHB:  59 PA, .326 AVG, 16.9 K%, .996 OPS

2022 outlook

It’s a shame, because it appeared Vodnik was headed for a strong performance in the Arizona Fall League this fall. The righty was included on the Fall Stars team, and up to the last month of the season out in the desert, he was one of the league’s best pitchers, sporting a 2.77 ERA with 9.7 strikeouts per nine. However, that final month or so of play must have been rough on Vodnik, because he wound up finishing his AFL stint this year with a 5.70 ERA across four starts overall and two relief appearances.

I’m certainly not giving up on Vodnik. This is still a kid with a 65 FV fastball (reaches upper-90s MPH) and two solid secondaries in a changeup and slider. He definitely has the stuff to stick it as a starter, it’s just his command (currently a 30-grade, per FanGraphs) and consistency that’s holding him back. I look for the Braves to continue allowing him to work on his command and secondary offerings in Double-A in 2022, and simply go from there. As a former 14th rounder, Vodnik has already worked out as a draft pick. But I do still think there’s more to unlock.

The case for signing a familiar friend, Kevin Gausman

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

I realize it’s hard to think about anything other than re-signing Freddie Freeman. He and the Braves are supposedly in the midst of contract negotiations. And at this point, retaining the franchise player is the top priority among Braves Country. I still think a deal gets done. As long as the years stay within reason, I don’t believe there’s any way the team lets its first baseman of the last decade plus walk. But, as long as nothing is set in stone, we’ll just have to wait and see.

And in terms of adding other pieces to the team, it’s difficult to get too carried away with that bit of fun as well. With the CBA deadline coming on December 1, and a possible lockout pretty imminent, who knows what the rest of the offseason will look like. Last winter it was COVID and the negative financial impacts of just finishing a shortened season. This time it’s an overdue collective bargaining agreement. It feels like ages since we had a normal offseason in baseball.

But be that as it may, let’s discuss Kevin Gausman. You remember him, right? He was the headline piece in a six-player trade between the Braves and Orioles back at the trade deadline in 2018. You know… the deal that also brought us reliever Darren O’Day (who seemingly remained sidelined for two whole years before finally making an impact with the team). Yeah, at the time, that particular trade appeared to be a steal for the Braves. Gausman went on to pitch to a sub-3.00 ERA in those ten second-half starts in ’18. And as Atlanta entered the 2019 season, we were excited about what the righty could possibly do in a full year with the team. But, we were wrong. Gausman didn’t deliver. And after battling roughly a month-long absence due to plantar fasciitis in his right foot in June and July of that year, the Braves were forced to DFA Gausman and his 6.19 ERA. The fit just didn’t last.

But Gausman has worked hard to rebound his career over the last two seasons. Thanks to a successful stint out of the bullpen during the second-half of 2019, the righty has now put together back-to-back top-of-the-rotation performances for the Giants, tallying 6.4 fWAR since 2020, thanks to a career-high 4.8 WAR this past season. And now the soon-to-be 31-year-old is a free agent.

Over at FanGraphs, Gausman is the 14th ranked free agent on the site’s 2022 Top 50 Free Agents list, surprisingly in front of both Noah Syndergaard and Chris Taylor. Among available starters this winter, this is pretty close to as good as it gets, only behind guys like Marcus Stroman, Robbie Ray and of course Max Scherzer.

And what’s great for a team like the Braves (who very rarely like to invest too much in one single player, especially a free agent) is that the expected contract commanded by Gausman isn’t even all that high. He wants a multi-year deal, and rightfully so, but we’re talking something like three years and $54 million, according to FG’s Ben Clemens. Hell, that’s an AAV less than what Charlie Morton re-signed for this past September, when Atlanta re-upped with the 37-year-old (now 38-year-old, by the way) veteran for another year. In case you just forgot… Gausman is entering only his age-31 season, meaning a potential three-year commitment gets him off the Braves books before he’s 34.

Of course, there’s some risk that would be involved. For one, this is actually the first offseason in some time that the Braves starting rotation (at least on paper) already appears pretty well stocked. With Morton coming back, along with Max Fried and Ian Anderson, the top-half of the staff features a trio of strong arms, not to mention two young guys that are now battle-tested in the postseason, in both Fried and Anderson. And as back-end starters, as well as depth pieces, Huascar Ynoa, Kyle Muller, Kyle Wright, and even prospect Tucker Davidson seem like as good of a backup plan as any in the event the Braves rotation suffer some pretty unfortunate luck in the injury department in 2022. And hell, I didn’t even mention Mike Soroka, who, ideally will be back to at least contribute during the final few months of the year. The Braves need bats, a starting center fielder, perhaps a left fielder and more bullpen help. Investing over $50 million in a starting pitcher probably doesn’t feel like the appropriate use of whatever the hell the team has to spend this offseason.

But there’s also the reward of lengthening an already damn-good looking starting staff. I mean, could you imagine? Perhaps push Morton down a bit in the rotation to prevent so many innings and allow him to remain fresh next year, but either way you slice it the Braves would be absolutely stacked in the starting pitching department in 2022.

A Braves starting rotation (with Kevin Gausman)

Max Fried, LHP

Kevin Gausman, RHP

Ian Anderson, RHP

Charlie Morton, RHP

Huascar Ynoa, RHP

It’s a righty-heavy staff for sure, but who cares, right? Plus, Gausman’s unique, mostly two-pitch mix, featuring a fastball to go with a splitfinger he leans on roughly 35% of the time, makes him much more than just any other right-hander on the mound. In case you’ve never heard of Gausman’s famous split, the guy induced a 45.9% whiff-rate with the offering in 2021, while allowing a measly .133 AVG from opposing batters. Yeah… it’s filthy.

So what do you say? Why don’t we quit obsessing over Freeman for just a few minutes and look at a pitcher who would no doubt help make the Braves pitching even stronger, and just so happens to be an old familiar friend? Gausman is looking for a nice payday, and he definitely deserves it. And even better, his potential payday shouldn’t really impact the Braves ability to also fill its other needs this winter.

The team will have to make some tough decisions this offseason, and several of those decisions will come next Tuesday when the deadline to tender arbitration-eligible players comes. But signing Gausman just feels like a great move. It checks a lot of boxes: He’s one of the top starters available on the market and is still young, he’s a player familiar with the team AND his expected contract shouldn’t wreck the Braves chances at re-signing its franchise player or fulfilling its other needs to prepare for another season. So let’s get it done!

Daily Notes: Tender deadline moved up as Braves must decide on 14 arb-eligible players

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

On Tuesday it was announced that MLB and the player’s union has agreed to move the upcoming deadline for teams to offer contracts. With the CBA deadline looming, and a lockout very possible, the new tender deadline was moved from December 2 to November 30 at 8 PM (ET). This deadline to tender a contract goes for any player with fewer than six years of major league service, including those who’re eligible for salary arbitration. The Braves have 14 such players…

  • Adam Duvall
  • Orlando Arcia
  • Johan Camargo
  • Grant Dayton
  • Max Fried
  • Guillermo Heredia
  • Luke Jackson
  • Tyler Matzek
  • A.J. Minter
  • Sean Newcomb
  • Austin Riley
  • Richard Rodriguez
  • Mike Soroka
  • Dansby Swanson

At $9.25 million, Swanson’s projected salary for his final year of arbitration is the highest among the list of Braves above. Adam Duvall ($9 million), who declined his mutual option earlier this month, is a close second. For more details on projected arbitration salaries, as well as who’s likely to be nontendered, I highly recommend checking out Ryan Cothran’s write-up from a few weeks ago over at SportsTalkATL.

I think most of these are pretty straight-forward. Duvall’s salary will be a bit expensive, but given he provided some much-needed power for the Braves lineup during the second-half of 2021 and the fact that Marcell Ozuna likely doesn’t return, I believe retaining him is pretty crucial.

  • As far as Soroka: Sure, you could say he’s a candidate to be nontendered, but at roughly $3 million, I don’t see the Braves doing that. It may be late in the season before he’s able to actually contribute at the big league level, as I’m sure the team will be even more carful then before, but this is still the guy that made a run at the Cy Young in 2019 and posted a 2.68 ERA over 174.2 innings. Hopefully he can get back to 100%.
  • I think we’ve seen the last of Camargo, who in his second year of arbitration is expected to get just under $1.3 million. Over the last three seasons, spanning 148 games, Camargo has been worth -1.1 fWAR with the Braves, and now entering his age-28 season, I don’t see him turning this around. And frankly, I’ve grown a little tired of his lack of effort when he has been given an opportunity. The guy can hit Triple-A pitching – that’s for sure (shown by his 155 wRC+ with Gwinnett this past year). But as far as a major league player, I just don’t see it anymore.
  • Richard Rodriguez is another interesting one, and Cothran made a nice point in his piece regarding the reliever’s case, pointing out that arbitration salaries are not guaranteed. Testing him out in Spring Training seems like a solid plan.

Anyways, we’ll find out who’s tendered soon enough as the deadline is now less than a week away.

Offseason Prospect Review: Indigo Diaz

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)
  • Trey Harris, OF (link)

#19. INDIGO DIAZ, RHP

23-years-old

2021 stats (A+ / AA):  45 IP, 1.20 ERA, 16.6 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, HR

Trend:  Up

Maybe you hadn’t heard of Diaz prior to the 2021 season. As a 27th round pick out of Michigan State in 2019, the kid only pitched 10.1 pro innings in the Braves system during his draft year and his 3.48 ERA with the GCL Braves wasn’t anything extraordinary. However, after the season he just had, I’m sure you’ve heard of him now.

Diaz did more than dominate in 2021 – the kid almost looked bored out there. First it was High-A Rome, where he averaged a ridiculous 18 strikeouts per nine and pitched to a 1.00 ERA over a 27-inning stretch. Then, it was Double-A Mississippi, where he not only continued with the incredibly-stingy numbers but also finished up the campaign by holding opposing left-handed batters to a .372 OPS. Platoon advantage or disadvantage, bases empty or runners on, Diaz was the same overpowering guy on the mound, which is why in the span of a few months he went from nowhere on my radar to the 19th ranked prospect in the organization. This kid put together one of the most impressive minor league pitching seasons I’ve seen in a while, and the attention will certainly be pointed his way heading into 2022.

2022 outlook

With all that said above, though, I hate to report that Diaz actually struggled mightily in the Arizona Fall League. Over the last couple of months in the desert, the 23-year-old righty pitched to a 12.79 ERA in 6.1 innings as he walked more than he struck out. And I know it’s a bit disappointing, and the rough AFL performance may be a cause for concern for some, but honestly, I wouldn’t look into it too much. For one, the sample-size is incredibly small, and though Diaz has had some control problems throughout his career, I don’t think his middling numbers with the Peoria Javelinas this fall should spoil what he accomplished during the regular season.

In fact, I’d say Diaz is a Braves prospect that’s perhaps on the cusp of contributing at the big league level – maybe even one of the closest among the system’s prospects. The kid has flown through the organization, skipping Single-A altogether, but even with only 45 innings of full-season ball under his belt, I could easily see him getting the call to Atlanta at some point in 2022.

Which means… I expect Diaz to begin the season in Triple-A Gwinnett, where he’ll not only be tested for perhaps the first time but where he can also continue to work on his control and his still-developing breaking ball. The kid already wields a spin-heavy, high-90s MPH fastball, but being able to also use his curveball will be huge in his quest to becoming a late-innings reliever in the majors. I certainly think he has what it takes. Let’s see if he can keep it up.

The Wander Franco extension is another example of just how incredible locking up Acuña and Albies was

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

-Clint Manry

Just a few hours ago, it was announced that Wander Franco and the Rays had agreed to an 11-year, $182 million extension, which includes a $25-million club option for a 12th season. As the latest incredibly young player to become locked up by his team, Franco (20-years-old) should be a Ray on into his early-30s, and at just an AAV of $16.5 million, Tampa Bay gets a future MVP at basically a 50% discount. Even though I’m sure the narrative among national writers will be that Franco was somehow taken advantage of, these types of deals are beneficial to both the player and the team. Franco has a guaranteed salary for much of the rest of his MLB career (which is definitely a valuable thing), while the Rays can relax knowing it has locked up its generational talent.

But just like when Fernando Tatis Jr. signed his massive 14-year, $340 million extension with the Padres this past February, following the announcement regarding Franco, I can’t help but appreciate even more the pair of deals put together by Alex Anthopoulos and the Braves back in April of 2019.

I’m sure I don’t have to break down the math, but at eight years and $100 million for Ronald Acuña Jr., and seven years and $35 million for Ozzie Albies — in terms of average annual salary, the Braves are paying both Acuna and Albies combined what the Rays will pay Franco. And though he’s the type of talent that will most likely go on to appear in several All-Star games and probably even win an MVP, you can’t pretend that 11 years of Franco is a better haul than a decade of Acuña and Albies. Not only is two better than one, but it’s also two of the best players at their respective positions!

Then there’s the timing of the Franco extension, which for the Rays, obviously needed to come as early in his career as possible, hence the team-friendliness of it all. At this juncture, Franco has played in just 70 MLB games, hitting .288 with 30 XBH (7 HR) and 39 RBI, good for a 127 wRC+ and 2.5 fWAR in 2021. Those are some strong numbers for a first-year player, and you could argue that, if he’d received an earlier promotion and hadn’t suffered a hamstring injury late in the year, Franco could’ve posted even better stats in 2021.

But Franco’s impressive rookie campaign still doesn’t come close to how established Acuna and Albies were prior to their extensions. Consider what each player had accomplished leading up to their April of 2019 deals…

Acuña – coming off an NL Rookie of the Year campaign in 2018, which featured a .293 AVG, 26 homers, 64 RBI and 16 stolen bases (142 wRC+) in 111 games – good for 3.7 WAR.

Albies – in the midst of his third year in the majors, having hit .268 with 30 homers and 22 stolen bases over the past seasons spanning 215 games (102 wRC+) – good for 5.5 WAR overall.

Sure, Tampa Bay is extending Franco at just the right time as the sport’s top prospect will enter his age-21 season in 2022. But both Acuña (entering age-24 season) and Albies (age-25) are still in their early-to-mid 20s AND they’re two of the most prolific players in baseball right now.

We probably won’t ever see another extension like the ones given to Acuña and Albies, and I’m beginning to realize that each and every year. But even nearly two years later, it’s still amazing to me. Honestly, if Anthopoulos never makes another savvy deal in his tenure with the Braves, we should all forever appreciate what he was able to do back in April of 2019.

Offseason Prospect Review: Trey Harris

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP (link)

#20. TREY HARRIS, OF

25-years-old

2021 stats (AA):  96 G, .247 AVG, 8 HR, 89 wRC+

Trend:  Down

Coming off one of the best single-seasons in some time by a Braves minor league position-player two years ago (earning him Minor League Batter of the Year in 2019), Harris’ prospect stock has begun to decline now that he’s reached the upper-minors and coming up on his age-26 season. In case you forgot, the outfielder hit .323 with 14 homers and 73 RBI, to go with eight stolen bases, in 131 games combined between Single-A, High-A and Double-A in 2019. That impressive performance earned him a no. 11 ranking in my first set of rankings this past season.

However, leading up to my midseason Top 30 in 2021 (where I ranked him 20th), Harris only managed a .653 OPS in 84 games through Aug. 31 as he struggled to provide much power versus lefty-pitching. Overall this past season, even though is AVG versus both flavors of pitching remained fairly consistent, 16 of his 19 XBH came against righties. By far, Harris’ best stretch of play came in the final month as he hit .309 with a monthly-best seven doubles in 17 September games. It wasn’t a bad year for Harris, but given his incredible 2019 campaign, it was quite a step back.

2022 outlook

As you may know, Harris was not protected from this year’s Rule 5 Draft, which will come on December 8. Although, according to Braves Journal’s Ryan Cothran — who has written extensively on the subject — the chances that Harris is taken in the draft is fairly unlikely. In fact, Cothran gives it only a 10% chance.

So moving along with the expectation that Harris remains in the Braves system, it’s fair to say that 2022 is a big year for the soon-to-be 26-year-old (his birthday is in January). The organization is pretty flush when it comes to talented and up-and-coming outfielders, so it’s crucial to his stock that Harris returns more to his 2019 self. Before the 2021 season, it appeared he was on his way to potentially becoming a solid fourth outfielder for the Braves, though now I’m not so sure.

However, there’s also another route for Harris (which I’ve brought up before). Back in his college summer days (2016), he played some infield, totaling a combined nine games at both second and third. Obviously, he’s never done so as a pro, and nine games is basically nothing, but going more towards a utility-type role could improve Harris’ chances at breaking through. The Braves haven’t mentioned any such changes, and I highly doubt they do, but it is an idea.

Either way, given his age and the fact that he’s at nearly 140 career games at the Double-A level, I expect Harris to start 2022 with Triple-A Gwinnett, where he’ll join what’ll no doubt be a crowded outfield. This is still a fairly toolsy prospect, with speed, defense and solid bat, but at this point I’m afraid he’s beginning to run out of time. I’m anxious to see how he handles Triple-A pitching.

Daily Notes: This year’s Rule 5 outlook

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

­-Clint Manry

MLB’s Rule 5 Draft is slated to take place Wednesday, December 8, which means the following players are eligible to be taken, as long they aren’t added to their respective team’s 40-man roster:

  • Players acquired on the international market in 2017 or earlier
  • High school draft picks who were 18 or younger as of June 8, 2017
  • College players selected in the MLB Draft in 2018 or earlier

For the Braves, this year they have 14 players that fit the above description, although several days ago the team protected four of them by adding them to the 40-man. I’ve also included each player’s ranking in my 2021Midseason Braves Top 30.     

Eligible Braves for 2021 Rule 5 Draft

  • #3, Drew Waters, OF (protected)
  • Brooks Wilson, RHP (protected)
  • #24, William Woods, RHP (protected)
  • #9, Freddy Tarnok, RHP (protected)
  • #21, Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
  • #20, Trey Harris, OF
  • Justin Dean, OF
  • Thomas Burrows, LHP
  • Troy Bacon, RHP
  • Corbin Clouse, LHP
  • Jake Higginbotham, LHP
  • #25, Greyson Jenista, OF/1B
  • #27, Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH
  • Brandon White, RHP

It’s probably unlikely the Braves lose many of its unprotected players this year. In fact, Braves Journal’s Ryan Cothran, who recently wrote about this very topic, believes only two could be taken: lefty Corbin Clouse and speedy outfielder Justin Dean. Hopefully that’s the case, because several of these guys still have bright futures. We’ll find out in a few weeks.

Offseason Prospect Review: Daysbel Hernández

Monday, November 22, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)
  • Cal Conley, SS/2B (link)

#21. DAYSBEL HERNANDEZ, RHP

25-years-old

2021 stats (AA/AAA):  42.1 IP, 3.83 ERA, 12.3 K/9, 4.9 BB/9, 4 HR

Trend:  Up

The Braves got a helluva deal when they signed Hernández for $190,000 back in September of 2017 as the 25-year-old continues to perform well in the minors. The righty got his first taste of Triple-A ball in 2021, and though it didn’t go as well as he probably would’ve liked (7.45 ERA), Hernández no doubt gained some much-needed experience. As one of the top prospect relievers in the system, it’s likely he’s called upon by the Braves at some point in 2022, IF he isn’t taken by another team in the Rule 5 Draft.

The problem for Hernández has always been control, shown by his career average of 4.4 walks per nine in the minors. In fact, this past season was perhaps one of his worst regarding free passes as the Cuban pitcher finished with 6.5 walks per nine with Gwinnett (along with 4.4 per nine with the M-Braves). A fastball/slider guy — who consistently reaches the high-90s MPH with the former offering — how far Hernández goes will most likely depend on his ability to remain in control on the mound. There’s no doubt, when this kid is on, he’s one of the best young relievers in the organization.

2022 outlook

Given Hernández’s poor showing with the Stripers this past year, I’m sure he’s looking to rebound in 2022. And it’s likely, given he dominated the level and because of his age, that he gets his chance right out of the gate as I don’t see the Braves making him repeat Double-A. Hopefully Hernández learned something from his brief ten-game stint with Gwinnett in 2021.

I still believe this is a top-25 prospect in the Braves system, and over at FanGraphs, Hernández is right there in that range at no. 19. Even though it’s inevitable that many of the current prospect starters don’t work out, Atlanta doesn’t have too many traditional relievers in its system, which bodes well for Hernández’s chances at one day pitching out of the Braves bullpen. If he can get a bit better at consistently being in control, the sky’s the limit for him.

Offseason Prospect Review: Cal Conley

Sunday, November 21, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)
  • Darius Vines, RHP (link)

#22. CAL CONLEY, SS/2B

22-years-old

2021 stats (A):  35 G, .214 AVG, 8 XBH, 8 SB, 73 wRC+

Trend:  Up

As the Braves fourth round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft, Conley has the potential to become one of the system’s rising middle-infielders. Coming off a huge season with Texas Tech (featuring a .329 AVG and 15 homers), the 22-year-old got hit first taste of pro ball this past season, playing in 35 games with Single-A Augusta. The early results were strong, but through the end of August and into September, Conley eventually cooled.

First 17 games (Aug. 4-27):  .261 AVG, .725 OPS, 4 XBH, 14 K, 5 BB

Last 18 games (Aug. 29 – Sept. 19):  .169 AVG, .502 OPS, 4 XBH, 19 K, 9 BB

Conley’s top-25 ranking came thanks to that strong start in August, although even with his poor finish I still believe this is a prospect to keep an eye on, especially given how shallow the Braves organization is in terms of viable up-the-middle bats. Over at FanGraphs, Conley is ranked 20th in the system, while sporting 55-grade raw power (which is quite evident considering he slugged 18 homers in 74 career games as a college player).

2022 outlook

Conley’s 35-game sample size in 2021 is obviously very little to work with, and as far as him moving up to Rome in 2022, you would’ve liked to see him finish the year a little better in Single-A. However, the 5-10, 185-pound switch-hitter will turn 23 in July, so it’s not like he’s some teenager the Braves can ease in (perhaps like they did with Vaughn Grissom, who will enter his age-21 campaign in ‘22).

Ideally, Conley begins next season repeating Augusta, with a fluid plan to reach High-A by midseason, setting him up for a possible upper-minors assignment by 2023. Of course, that all depends on how well Conley adapts to the competition. From my very short look at him, though, I believe once he finds his groove, this is a bat that can move up the system rather quickly. Because of his position, and the solid grades regarding his power, I expect Conley to remain a top 30 prospect once my new list comes out.

Prioritizing the Charlie Morton extension is looking more beneficial as the offseason progresses

Thursday, November 18, 2021

-Clint Manry

Though I believed he could be another potential savvy one-year signing for Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos (even if in reality it was probably doubtful), 38-year-old and future Hall of Famer Justin Verlander re-signed with the Astros recently for one year and $25 million, with a player option for the 2023 season. At the time of JV’s signing, I was literally in the middle of a post on the positives of possibly adding the seasoned right-hander, but now that we know what it cost Houston to retain him, I’m obviously less interested.

But the Verlander deal did provide me with another notable takeaway, and that’s that the Charlie Morton extension from back in early September was a really smart move, perhaps even more now.

If you recall, Atlanta locked up Morton for at least another season as the team gave him a new contract worth $20 million back on Sept. 3, with a $20 million option for the 2023 season. Given how well Morton pitched in 2021, the deal not only made sense from a talent and value standpoint, but it also gives the Braves young starting rotation some much-needed stability for yet another year, which as we’ve seen with the Mike Soroka and Huascar Ynoa injuries, is an incredibly significant thing to have.

In fact, retaining Morton may be all the Braves really needed to do regarding its starting staff. You could argue that another viable arm would help, but considering literally every starter from last year is returning, save for lefty Drew Smyly, Atlanta’s rotation should be pretty well set at this point.

Of course, counting on a full season of Soroka is no longer a smart thing to do anymore, but the Braves will again wield Morton, Max Fried, Ian Anderson and Ynoa, to go along with a surging Kyle Muller and an improved Kyle Wright, as its key contributors. And that’s not even counting depth options like Touki Toussaint and Tucker Davidson – two pitchers that, at times, have shown plenty of talent to pick up a start here and there during a long 162-game season. Hell, that’s seven guys that have proven they can perform in the big leagues (with Wright’s notable moments coming in the postseason), to go with two others (in Touki and Davidson) plenty capable of spot starts. When’s the last time the Braves have headed into a new campaign with this many competent starters? I don’t know if I recall such a time.

But the Morton deal is what really makes Atlanta’s rotation outlook feel ready for the 2022 season. The Braves starting staff may have finished outside the top-ten, compared to other MLB units this past year, but it wasn’t for a lack of effort by the veteran righty, who in 2021 comprised of nearly 30% of the group’s combined 15.9 fWAR, with a rotation-leading 4.6 WAR (nearly a full 1 WAR more than the next-best Atlanta starter).

It’s not all roses, though, as Morton recently underwent surgery to repair the right fibula he fractured during the playoffs. But 2021 makes four-straight full seasons now that the veteran has delivered. Just consider how great Morton has been when looking at his numbers since 2017 (excluding the shortened 2020 campaign).

Morton from 2017-21 (excluding ’20)

694 IP, 3.29 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 2.9 BB/9, 16.5 WAR

Diving deeper into his last four full seasons: Morton has been a 4-WAR pitcher who’s averaged 174.2 innings per season, to go with 205 strikeouts. The Braves of course have some extremely talented young arms in the majors now (in Soroka, Fried, Anderson and Ynoa), but they don’t have anyone with the kind of consistent track record that Morton has put together over the last several years. And trying to bring in someone off the FA market with those numbers would probably cost the team at least $100 million, not to mention several seasons worth of a commitment.

Although, to be fair, even though Morton’s very short-term extension comes with minimal risk, there are some hazards involved. With the New Jersey native entering his age-38 season 2022, you could argue that that $20 million could’ve not only went to someone younger, but also been thrown into the Freddie Freeman pot or perhaps allowed the Braves to retain one or two of the July additions (Adam Duvall, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario or Jorge Soler). I mean, it does look a little suspicious that, now with 14 years in the majors, Morton decides to post his two best seasons during the last three campaigns (6 WAR in 2019 and 4.6 WAR in ’21). Other than his third-place finish in the AL Cy Young race two years ago and last season’s big year, Morton’s next best performance was as a 33-year-old with Houston in 2017, when he put up 3.1 WAR thanks to a decent 3.62 ERA in 146.2 innings. Critics of Morton could very easily call his most-recent surge more of an outlier than anything else (even though his velocity has risen over the last three seasons, an indication that he’s simply gotten stronger).

But I’d rather give credit where credit is due and surmise that Morton’s recent ascent has much more to do with plain good luck. I believe, along with the help of the Braves pitching department, the MLB veteran has reached a point in his career that he’s essentially mastered his craft. If you’ve ever listened to Morton talk pitching, he explains his job almost like an artist. He’s just that good.

So who knows what kind of moves Anthopoulos has up his sleeve this winter, or if there are even plans to add to the starting rotation. As I mentioned above, the Braves have quite the foundation already put together.

But regardless, the Braves GM may have made his best pitching move during the 2021 regular season, when he decided to hold on to Morton.

Offseason Prospect Review: Darius Vines

Thursday, November 18, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)
  • William Woods, RHP (link)

#23. Darius Vines, RHP

23-years-old

2021 stats (A / A+):  111 IP, 2.92 ERA, 10.5 K/9, 2.4 BB/9, 15 HR

Trend:  Up

It’s not as if Vines was some unheard-of player in Atlanta’s system, though his struggles in 2019 has perhaps kept him on the outside looking in. But in 2021, the kid sort of came out of nowhere, going from unranked this past summer to 23rd on my Midseason Braves Top 30. Posting a 2.25 ERA in 36 innings with Single-A Augusta before logging a 3.24 ERA in 75 frames with High-A Rome, Vines not only put himself on the map in Braves Country but also among national evaluators.

The 23-year-old won Pitcher of the Week back in early August, thanks to a seven-inning no-hitter with Rome that featured nine strikeouts, and the righty just continued to mow down the opposition on into September, posting a season-best 1.80 ERA during the final month of the campaign. As a 7th-round pick from 2019, Vines has developed into a potential mid-rotation starter for the Braves, who already has multiple offerings at his disposal; even on draft day, he had a low-90s MPH fastball to go with a power curveball, a changeup AND a slider. Vines is a sneaky prospect in the Braves system, and one that could really rise up the ranks in 2022.

2022 outlook

I have no doubt that at some point in 2022 we’ll see Vines with Double-A Mississippi. It may not come at the start of the season (though it very well could), but given he performed so well in over 70 innings of work with Rome in 2020, I’m pretty confident the Braves will give him an opportunity next year to showcase his skills in the upper-minors.

My rough draft for the new Braves Top 30 is still rather rough, but I can already almost guarantee that Vines will move into the top 20 as he could even become the system’s top pitcher, in terms of lower-level arms currently on the cusp of gaining more attention (such as guys like Victor Vodnik and Indigo Diaz). There must be something said for how well Vines pitched in 2021, and even if there’s a bit of regression as he moves up through Double-A and even Triple-A, he’s improved his stock tremendously by practically cruising through his first taste of High-A.

As long as those secondary pitches continue to improve, Vines will no doubt remain a legit prospect starter in the organization.

Offseason Prospect Review: William Woods

Thursday, November 18, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)
  • Greyson Jenista, OF/1B (link)

#24. William Woods, RHP

22-years-old

2021 stats (Rk / A+):  10.2 IP, 4.22 ERA, 8 K, 4 BB, 3 HR

Trend:  Up

Entering 2021, the hype surrounding Woods was crazy. Following a strong 2019 campaign with then-Single-A Rome as a 20-year-old, many in Braves Country believed this was perhaps the biggest mover in the organization. However, due to an undisclosed injury, Woods didn’t make his debut this past season until Aug. 19 with the FCL team, and it was Aug. 26 until he reached High-A Rome. His 2021 campaign had essentially been wasted. But due to his track record, I kept him right where he was in my prospect rankings, just inside the top 25.

Now that it appears Woods is healthy; the excitement should return. An entire year off may have even helped the right-handed pitcher, and many of the major prospect outlets still believe he’s a top-20 prospect in the Braves organization, thanks to a dominant upper-90s MPH fastball and wicked upper-80s slider.

2022 outlook

Until he develops a viable third pitch, there’s still a ton of reliever risk with Woods, although that could perhaps be a good thing in terms of his ETA to the majors. I think the Braves should move him up to Double-A to start 2022, and stick him in the M-Braves bullpen, where he can continue to develop as a high-leverage weapon. Atlanta can always use up-and-coming relief options, and though the organization may continue to give him a look as a starter, I believe ultimately his best shot at contributing in the majors is as a reliever.

Per reports, Woods is still working on a changeup (that third pitch), so maybe his future role is dependent on how well he can throw his offspeed. Plus, set to turn 23 in late December, the kid is still plenty young enough to be patient with. Regardless, though, 2022 could be a big year for Woods as it could help determine which route is best for him on the mound. I still think he could be a damn good late-innings reliever, but we’ll see how the Braves use him. He has mainly started in the Arizona Fall League this year, making four starts and one relief appearance while sporting a 4.24 ERA. This past week in the AFL, Woods made a start and went four innings of two-hit ball to go with a walk and seven strikeouts.

Notable excerpts from Monday’s Braves prospects chat at Baseball America

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

-Clint Manry

Following the site’s release of its latest Braves Top 10 prospect rankings on Monday, Baseball America provided even more insight into the organization’s farm system by holding a chat with Carlos Collazo. After reading through the Q&A, here are the excerpts that peaked my interest the most…

Joey Estes and “reliever risk”

The very first question asked during yesterday’s chat was regarding right-handed prospect Joey Estes, who I ranked 15th on my midseason list back in August. In his second pro season with the Braves, pitching the entire year as a 19-year-old, Estes killed it in 2021, logging 99 innings with Single-A Augusta and posting a 2.91 ERA to go with 11.5 strikeouts per nine. After struggling a bit in rookie ball in 2019, it appeared, at least to me, that Estes had found his groove and was on his way to becoming a top 10 prospect in the system. But Collazo thinks differently…

I can’t say he was seriously considered for the top 10. There were three names I really debated on for the No. 10 spot specifically (we’ll probably get into those names for future questions) but he was not among them. What holds him back from that range right now for me are proximity, reliever risk expressed by a number of external sources and a lack of legit wipeout stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did continue to improve and his stuff continued to tick up in the future, but I would want to see him continue doing this at more advanced levels, and while the strike throwing is quite good, at times he showed a tendency to throw too many strikes. Getting ahead in the count and doing a better job with his finishing pitches will be something to watch for him moving forward. Still, what a year for him and he’s certainly trending up.”

I have to say, it’s pretty surprising that Collazo believes Estes is at risk at becoming a reliever. I know the kid is still super young, and I’m sure the Braves will take their time with him, but regardless of where he ranks within the organization’s prospect list, it’s too early to already be giving up on him as a starter. Perhaps once Estes starts putting up big numbers in High-A or Double-A he’ll solidify his place among the great prospect pitchers.

Brandol Mezquita and Kadon Morton

It’s good to know that Collazo is also excited about both Mezquita and Morton – two young Braves that have now mastered the rookie levels. Both were drawing attention in instructs back in 2020, and with the FCL team this past season each of them showcased their skills again. These are two 20-year-olds with some pop in their bat and speed on the base paths, and they could really become household names in 2022 as they make their full-season debuts in the minors.  

Braves farm rank

Baseball America ranked the Braves minor league system at 14th following the most-recent trade deadline, and Collazo believes that ranking has maybe fallen a bit…

“The Braves are certainly trending down in the organization rankings, but for all the right reasons! A number of their highly-regarded prospects just powered the Braves to a World Series championship and that is certainly the goal. However, you can see the impact of those graduations (and to a lesser degree the impact of the international sanctions) on the quality of the system. The depth that Atlanta had previously isn’t quite there, although I will say a number of lower-level players did have strong seasons this year and the Braves continue to make savvy late-round draft picks.”

I agree that the system isn’t what it once was, and of course the ultimate goal is for the major league team to win a championship (which they obviously did in 2021). But I also believe national sites are overlooking a lot of the lower-level talent that’s coming up through this Braves system. Guys like infielders Luke Waddell and Vaughn Grissom, as well as Victor Vodnik and Indigo Diaz. Plus, I think the Braves have one of the better fringy-type prospects in the league, headlined by former prospects and up-and-comers like outfielders Trey Harris and Justin Dean, and pitcher Darius Vines. I guess, more than anything, I feel as if this version of the Braves farm is much deeper than before. That may not mean it’s as great, but I definitely don’t believe it’s just an average system compared to the rest of the sport.

On the cusp of cracking the top 10

Collazo listed Grissom and Freddy Tarnok as just-outside-the-top-ten prospects, and said he even had the latter player ranked tenth before swapping him with Jesse Franklin V at the last minute…

“If this list was strictly based on my own opinion I might go with Tarnok—I really like his stuff and think his ceiling as a player is quite high. He’s got a power fastball, has improved his curveball and has a real four-pitch mix. For Grissom, you could make a case that he had the best offensive season of any of the team’s hitting prospects. He puts the barrel on the ball an awful lot, but I would like to see how he performs against upper-level pitching before I get too carried away. He also will need to tap into more power in the future to get to an everyday sort of role, considering his defensive limitation. If he were a better athlete or had a clear everyday defensive position or just was able to get to his power a bit more freely now I think I would be more excited about him. However, it would not be surprising at all for that in-game power to be one of the last steps for him in his development. We’ve seen that enough that it shouldn’t be surprising when it happens now.”

Is Michael Harris the next RAJ?

This was an excellent question, and I believe Collazo answered it perfectly. A lot of Braves fans are unfairly comparing Harris to Acuna, so I’ll just provide you the entire excerpt from Collazo…

“We’ve talked a bit about some of the guys towards the back of the top 10 but how about the top player on the list?? Thanks, Brian, for asking this one so we can get into Harris a bit. I would not compare the two players. I don’t think they’re very similar at all outside of the fact that both can claim to be Braves top prospects and outfielders. Acuña’s toolset across the board was better. He had three 70 grade tools on his card after all and when he was 20 years old (the same age Harris was this year in High-A) he was in the majors getting MVP votes and earning the Rookie of the Year Award. I think Harris is a really good prospect. I think it’s a disservice to him to compare him to Acuña, who is one of the elite players in the game. I have a 60/High grade on Harris in these rankings, which is great! That’s an occasional All-Star sort of player and it would be a massive win for the Braves to get him to that level after drafting him in the third round (when many teams preferred him as a pitcher). Still, Acuña is quite obviously a franchise player and that’s an entirely different sort of phylum we’re talking about. It shouldn’t be a knock on Harris to say he’s not that.”

Later in the chat, Collazo goes on to say that Jason Heyward is a more accurate comp for Harris (at least profile-wise), though that the former was much more passive as a hitter in the minors. He also goes on to list some things that Harris could work on to become better at the plate…

“Harris showed a tendency to expand the zone and hit pitches that weren’t necessarily ‘good pitches to hit’ because his plate coverage and barrel skills are just that good. I would like to see him be more selective at the next level and look for balls to drive and he showed enough adjustments later in the year that I think that’s certainly in his wheelhouse if he’s making a concerted effort to do that. I’ll be curious to see his walk rates in Double-A/Triple-A.”

Don’t worry about Pache, Waters or Shewmake

Even though their regression varied a bit, the trio of Pache, Drew Waters and Braden Shewmake struggled at different times during the 2021 season. Pache hit pretty well with Triple-A Gwinnett (.265 AVG / 100 wRC+), but with Atlanta he put together a dreadful -8 wRC+ in 22 games before getting hurt and later demoted. Waters, perhaps the best performer of the three, declined a bit contact-wise (.240 AVG) but still managed 11 homers, 28 stolen bases and a 94 wRC+ overall in 103 Triple-A games. And then Shewmake. Wow. He started off 2021 with such a horrid stretch in Double-A that I thought he might get moved down to Rome. However, luckily, the shortstop recovered, and though his numbers weren’t great, his .228 AVG, 12 homers and 84 wRC+ was way better than I could’ve ever imagined considering how bad he was hitting during the first-half of the campaign.

Collazo says there’s nothing to worry about, though…

“Additionally, I think the lost 2020 season is still looming in the background for a great many players throughout the minors and it’s almost impossible to know how much those lost at-bats slowed down development for hitters—particularly those with flaws that can only improve in big ways by logging ABs. Not everyone is Ronald Acuña or Jason Heyward. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. I’d still be patient and trust the Braves PD system. They’ve been quite good IMO.”


There was a lot more included in the chat, like velo questions regarding Jared Shuster, details on Spencer Schwellenbach, and even some insight on a guy many Braves fans aren’t even aware of in Alan Rangel. So I highly recommend checking it out. But the above excerpts were most interesting to me. As usual… lots of good content at Baseball America.

Tuesday, November 16, 2021 – Daily Notes: A precursor or not, signing Manny Piña makes sense for the Braves

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

-Clint Manry

Braves GM Alex Anthopoulos doesn’t want a repeat of last season, when the team’s production at catcher suffered dramatically. Thanks to a nagging thumb injury, starter Travis d’Arnaud played in only 60 games in 2021, and in turn, Atlanta finished the campaign ranked 29th in catcher WAR, per FanGraphs. A 162-game season takes depth, and Anthopoulos added just that on Monday, signing catcher Manny Piña to a two-year deal worth $8 million.

As surprising as the signing may be, given the fact rookie William Contreras has obviously made strides, and prospect Shea Langeliers is certainly on his way, the Pina deal does make a ton of sense. First off (perhaps the most popular expectation), is that with the added surplus at the position the Braves could now move Contreras in exchange for reinforcements in other areas of need (such as an outfielder, starting pitcher or bullpen help). His stock may not be as high as it was when he was a teenager coming up through the minors, but the 23-year-old Venezuelan would no doubt help bring in a star major leaguer, which could free up some cash for other areas of the team (or for re-signing Freddie Freeman!).

Although, trading the former prospect catcher doesn’t have to be a requirement. With the universal-DH likely coming next season, there’s a scenario where both d’Arnaud and Piña play at the same time, with Contreras remaining as the primary back-up on the big league roster. If you’re not aware of Pina’s offensive profile, the guy has some serious pop as he belted 13 homers in just 75 games this past season with the Brewers.

Which brings us back to Piña: this isn’t a bad player at all. Sure, he’ll likely handle the small end of a rotation with d’Arnaud, but not only is he a good framer behind the plate, and as many have already mentioned across Twitter, the guy has been a pretty notable xwOBA underperformer (by over 30 points combined since 2020), which suggests his recent numbers could’ve been much better. Essentially, Atlanta is getting a league-average player at a position that’s incredibly difficult to find talent, and it’s only costing them a few million dollars per season.

Regardless, though, the fact that Anthopoulos is making moves this early is a great sign, and if you’re one that tends to read too much into things (like me), than it’s fair to wonder if this could be a prerequisite to perhaps the biggest trade of Anthopoulos’ tenure as Braves GM as moving Contrereas would be quite the headliner. Though as mentioned above, signing Piña could be as simple as shoring up a hole from this past season. As usual, we’ll just have to wait and see.

Offseason prospect review: Greyson Jenista

Monday, November 15, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)
  • Tanner Gordon, RHP (link)

#25. Greyson Jenista, OF/1B

24-years-old

2021 stats:  89 G, .216 AVG, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 124 wRC+

Trend:  Up

Back in August I wrote about Jenista’s strikeout issues, and now that the 2021 season is over, the concern is the same. The 24-year-old struck out 118 times in 329 PA this past year, which comes out to a 35.9% K rate – the highest rate of his pro career so far. Sure, the 19 home runs were nice, ranking second on the M-Braves (behind Shea Langeliers), BUT it’s going to be quite the challenge maintaining an above-average offensive profile with that many whiffs.

In the summer I had Jenista nearing a top-20 ranking, though even with the power explosion it’s going to be difficult for him to stay inside the top 30 in my new list considering the many talented outfielders in this Braves system. Although, I still like this guy as a platoon bat who only faces righties. Just consider his splits this past season…

vs. RHP:  197 PA, .256 AVG, .912 OPS, 13 HR

vs. LHP:  81 PA, .169 AVG, .752 OPS, 5 HR

2022 outlook

Cut back on the whiffs! That’s really the only thing holding back Jenista. Surprisingly, given his size (6-4, 210 lbs.), the guy is pretty athletic, and the times I’ve seen him in person he’s been solid with the glove. Jenista also has some decent speed, going 7 for 9 in stolen bases in 2021. Yeah, all-in-all, this is still a talented Braves prospect. It’s just that, given the depth of the position these days, Jenista is really going to have to step it up even more to keep up.

Obviously, with 163 games spanning two seasons worth of experience in Double-A, Jenista is ready to get his shot with Triple-A Gwinnett — either as a DH, a first baseman or an outfielder (all of which he’s spent of plenty of time playing). We’ll see if he can cut back on the swing and miss in 2022, because if he can, Jenista could finally be on the cusp of reaching his full potential.

Monday, November 15, 2021 – Daily Notes: Baseball America releases Braves Top 10 prospects for 2022 season, along with a projected starting lineup for 2025

-Clint Manry

I’m in the middle of my offseason prospect review series, but I just had to take a moment to check out Baseball America’s latest Braves list – a top 10 ranking published on Monday.

Boy have the times changed. Not only is outfielder Cristian Pache no longer the top prospect in the organization, but he drops all the way to third, behind both Michael Harris II and Shea Langeliers…

  1. Michael Harris II, OF
  2. Shea Langeliers, C
  3. Cristian Pache, OF
  4. Kyle Muller, LHP
  5. Spencer Strider, RHP
  6. Drew Waters, OF
  7. Braden Shewmake, SS
  8. Bryce Elder, RHP
  9. Ryan Cusick, RHP
  10. Jesse Franklin V, OF

That’s one helluva top 10, and honestly, save for Harris at no. 1, I could probably get on board with the entire list (I think, if not Pache, than Muller should be the top dog).

Speaking of Harris: though I’m not completely sold on him carrying the title as top prospect, he most certainly lived up to the pre-season hype from this past spring. At just 20-years-old, he slapped 26 doubles and totaled 27 stolen bases in 101 games with Rome, all while sporting a strong .294/.362/.436 slash-line (good for a 114 wRC+). Also, his 25.9% line drive rate was the fifth-highest mark in all of High-A, which is pretty good indication that he was absolutely locked in at the plate. Similar numbers in Double-A in 2022… and yeah, I’ll be ready to call him the best prospect in the Braves system.

BA also provided a look at what the Braves 2025 starting lineup could look like (in a perfect world where no prospect is ever traded), and let me tell ya, it looks awesome.

Catcher: Shea Langeliers (27)
First Base: Freddie Freeman (35)
Second Base: Ozzie Albies (28)
Third Base: Austin Riley (28)
Shortstop: Dansby Swanson (31)
Left Field: Michael Harris (24)
Center Field: Cristian Pache (26)
Right FieldRonald Acuna Jr. (27)
Designated HitterDrew Waters (26)

No. 1 Starter: Max Fried (31)
No. 2 Starter: Mike Soroka (26)
No. 3 Starter: Ian Anderson (27)
No. 4 Starter: Kyle Muller (27)
No. 5 Starter: Huascar Ynoa (27)
Closer: Spencer Strider (26)

I don’t know about Waters being the DH, but other than that, Freddie Freeman leading the charge as a 35-year-old sure looks nice. And what’s crazy, the starting rotation above is still a young group, even with Max Fried, Mike Soroka, Ian Anderson and Huascar Ynoa all several years into their big league careers. Oh, and Spencer Strider as the closer needs to happen ASAP. That could be one of the best pitching groups in decades.

Anyways… cool stuff.

Offseason Prospect Review: Tanner Gordon

Monday, November, 15, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)
  • Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH (link)

#26. Tanner Gordon, RHP

24-years-old

2021 stats (A / A+):  108.1 IP, 3.90 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9

Trend:  Up

The future looks extremely bright for Gordon, who, after struggling a bit at first in High-A Rome to begin 2021, wound up putting together an excellent campaign in his first taste of A-ball. After posting a 5.32 ERA in 22 innings with the R-Braves to begin the season, the righty was sent down to Single-A Augusta, and from there he flourished, averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine and posting a 3.43 ERA in 11 starts. By mid-August, Gordon was back in Rome and featured in my midseason Top 30.

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, this is a kid that could have a very bright future once he puts it all together on the mound. The Indiana University product was a sixth-round pick by the Braves back in 2019, and with a mid-90s MPH fastball, to go with an above average breaking ball, Gordon could very well evolve into yet another top-tier arm in the system. At this point, with him just now breaking into full-season ball, the next season or two will be huge for his stock as a prospect.

2022 outlook

In 2021, Gordon really struggled when he had traffic on the base paths, posting dramatically worse numbers with runners on, compared to bases empty.

  • Bases empty:  288 PA, .211 AVG, .603 OPS
  • Runners on:  155 PA, .307 AVG, .844 OPS

A little bit of disparity between the two isn’t bad, but a whopping 239 points in OPS is a rather stark difference when it comes to performing with runners on. Gordon will definitely need to clean that up as he progresses within the Braves minor league system.

Speaking of progressing through the system: given Gordon needed a stint in Single-A to get settled in this past year, it would probably be more beneficial for him to spend at least a half-season in High-A again. The Braves still have quite a bit of depth when it comes to prospect starters, and there’s no need to rush anyone. However, with Gordon now entering his age-24 campaign, reaching Double-A in 2022 seems pretty dire. If starting is still in the cards, a continuation of what he provided last season will go a long way.

Either way, though, so far Gordon is progressing nicely. In 21 career minor league starts, to go with 14 relief appearances (or 132.2 total innings), the right-hander sports a 3.60 ERA, while also maintaining solid K/BB rates (9.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9). It will certainly be interesting to see what his stock looks like this time next year, because another strong campaign as a starter (with perhaps some strong showings at the Double-A level), could push Gordon in the top-15 range.

Sunday, November 14, 2021 – Daily Notes: Re-signing Freddie Freeman may take a while, Victor Vodnik doesn’t appear in Fall Star game

Sunday, November 14, 2021

-Clint Manry

Imagine, the Braves pass on re-signing Freddie Freeman. And for perhaps one more guaranteed year, or $20 million in total money, he lands with the Red Sox. The guy that’s been here through it all – the ups and the downs – gone with another team. And it’s THE RED SOX for crying out loud! Unfortunately… it could very well happen, even if it very much shouldn’t.

Per the rumor mill, Freddie and the Braves are one year and $65 million apart – not exactly the one and 20 I listed above, but also not incredibly far either. And remember, this is the very beginning of negotiations. These are starting figures. Both sides will undoubtedly inch closer together. The only question is… how close and how long will it take?

Although, for a mid-market franchise like the Braves (even though it’s on pace to bring in record revenues this year), a six-year, $200 million contract is quite a bit more than a five-year, $135 million one, especially when the team could use another marquee outfielder, perhaps another starter, and like always, plenty of depth all the way around. A World Series ring may constitute more spending in Atlanta, but we mustn’t forget who we’re dealing with here. This is still Liberty Media — a holding company that lists the Braves behind both SiriusXM and Formula 1 as its largest revenue streams.

But I have to admit, I am a bit surprised at how far off Freeman and the Braves really are. Just a few weeks ago, in its annual Top 50 Free Agent rankings, FanGraphs projected a five-year, $135 million deal for the former MVP, and MLB Trade Rumors pegged the contract at six years and $180 million. That’s the kind of separation I expected, and at a difference of only $3 million per season in salary (or $45 million overall) between the two sites, that’s the sort of disparity that seemed doable, or at least a gap the two sides could overcome in a somewhat quick manner. But where they are at right now?… that could take some time.

I know I don’t have to remind you, but Freeman has spent his entire career in Atlanta, including a dozen major league seasons that’s featured a second-place finish in 2011’s NL Rookie of the Year race, five All-Star appearances, an MVP in 2020 (to go with four other top-10 finishes) and 42.2 fWAR worth of value overall. Critics may say his best years are behind him, and there may be a little bit of truth to that. But it’s also true that, now in his 30s, Freeman has achieved both his best wRC+ in a single season (a 186 in ’20) AND beat his career average in home runs (with 31 this past year), not to mention he finally won his first MVP. I know we only have two seasons worth of data regarding Freddie in his 30s, and it will almost assuredly get worse, but that’s a helluva start and something that shouldn’t get overlooked. It’s impossible to predict whether or not Freeman will break the cycle of the father time decline, but if anyone were capable, I’d certainly put my money on him.

But back to the contract talks. As usual, the Braves will most likely remain incredibly quiet about its dealings with Freeman, and we won’t know anything until it happens. However, I’m afraid GM Alex Anthopoulos is looking at this as a situation best handled after the CBA deadline. And that my fellow Braves fans is a scary thought. All the experts are leaning towards a lockout, considering the players appear to have far less leverage at this point (not to mention a strike is essentially useless during the offseason). And though a favorable resolution for the owners this winter probably benefits Anthopoulos and the Braves when it comes to re-signing a superstar player, there are still all kinds of possible variables that throw a wrench in things. In a nutshell, for his sake I think it’s safe to say that it would be much more ideal for Freeman to be a free agent in literally any other offseason than this one. Although, and I’m being really selfish here, the uncertainty created by the war between the owners and the MLBPA could really water down the market, and in turn, eventually lower Freeman’s asking price. A lot of these players that know they’re in for a big pay day will want to hurry up and cash in before it’s too late, as most of us would.

But in the end, in a perfect world, I want Freddie to get the money he has earned AND the Braves to retain its franchise player. I believe that’s basically what we all want. And there’s still a scenario where that happens, even though it probably needs to occur before the end of the month. Although, given what we know now in regards to how far apart the two sides are, and the fact that the days are counting down before things really get tense within the league, this all may take a lot longer than it should.

Vodnik sits in AFL All-Star game

Given he had just started on Friday, Braves prospect Victor Vodnik wasn’t able to showcase his stuff on the mound last night in the Arizona Fall League’s Fall Stars game between the West and the East. In what wound up a close game, the East beat the West 6-5 on Saturday, as Vodnik was the lone representative from the Braves organization. With this week being the final week of the 2021 AFL season, before the championship starts Saturday, Nov. 20, here’s a look at how the seven Braves prospects have performed so far in Arizona…

Victor Vodnik, RHP16 IP, 5.63 ERA, 18 K, 7 BB, 4 HR
Indigo Diaz, RHP5.1 IP, 15.19 ERA, 7 K, 8 BB, 2 HR
Jake Higginbotham, LHP4.2 IP, 15.43 ERA, K, 7 BB, 3 HR
William Woods, RHP17 IP, 4.24 ERA, 17 K, 10 BB, 4 HR
Drew Lugbauer, C11 G, .405 AVG, 1.313 OPS, 5 HR, 13 RBI
Luke Waddell, INF13 G, .250 AVG, .664 OPS, 3 2B, 2 SB
Jesse Franklin V, OF12 G, .095 AVG, HR, 2B, 4 RBI

Offseason Prospect Review: Drew Lugbauer

Sunday, November 14, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)
  • Cody Milligan, 2B (link)

#27. Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH

25-years-old

2021 stats: 86 G, .223 AVG, 18 HR, 117 wRC+

Trend: Up

One of the bigger surprises for the Braves minor league system in 2021, Lugbauer caught fire during the first-half of the season and wound up on my mid-season Top 30. However, a middling second-half stunted what could have been an even more spectacular year.

It’s like once the calendar hit August everything changed. For the first 58 games of his 2021 campaign (through July 31), Lugbauer was one of the better hitters in all of Double-A. But the 6-3, 220-pound first baseman couldn’t keep it going down the stretch:

  • May 7 – July 31:  58 G, .266 AVG, .890 OPS, 12 HR
  • Aug. 1 – EOS:  33 G, .145 AVG, .599 OPS, 7 HR

Though even with the rough finish, I’m still a big believer in Lugbauer. He not only increased his walk rate by nearly 5% compared to 2019, but for much of the season he maintained a high average, proving that he is in fact capable of being more than simply a left-handed power-bat.

2022 outlook

Even with the decline in his numbers since I ranked him 27th in the system back in August, I still believe there should be a place for Lugbauer in my upcoming Top 30. However, now about to enter his age-25 season, it’s now or never for the first baseman.

What will be critical is how well he adapts to Triple-A competition, which could be a challenge that presents itself as soon as the start of 2022 (although another short stint with the M-Braves wouldn’t be awful either). With the universal-DH on its way to the majors, consistent power from Lugbauer next season could continue to drastically improve his prospect stock and give the Braves an in-house option for a position it will no doubt need to fill from here on out.

Also helping Lugbauer’s stock is how well he’s hitting this fall in Arizona, where he’s teamed up with fellow Braves position-players Jesse Franklin and Luke Waddell. Playing with the AFL’s Peoria Javelinas, Lugbauer is 15 for 37 (.405 AVG) with five homers and 13 RBI in his first 11 games in the desert (through Saturday), easily leading the lineup. Given how well he hit during the regular season, a strong performance in fall ball will only help Lugbauer as he prepares to possibly open spring camp with the Braves and make his Triple-A Gwinnett debut this coming summer.

Saturday, November 13, 2021 – Daily Notes: With record revenue almost guaranteed, could the Braves finally become big spenders?

Saturday, November 13, 2021

-Clint Manry

I feel like the Braves have a responsibility to retain former MVP and first baseman Freddie Freeman. Although, recent reports indicate that Freeman declined a rather substantial contract (5-year, $135 million) from the team, and that the Braves lifer is looking for something closer to six years and $200 million. That’s a lot of money to tie up for one player, but, unlike in previous years, it really shouldn’t be out of the question.

You see, the world champion Atlanta Braves franchise is headed for record revenues this year, with the third-quarter numbers coming out last week. From July to September of 2021, Atlanta brought in $234 million in total revenue, an increase of $22 million (or 10.4%) compared to 2019’s third quarter (and a jump of over $120 million relative to 2020’s shortened season).

From Liberty Media this past Thursday – the ownership group of the Braves: “Revenue growth more than offset increased operating costs as player salaries and facility and game-day expenses returned to more normalized levels in the current year.”

Altogether, once the fourth-quarter numbers come in, the Braves are headed for over a half-billion dollars in revenue for the 2021 season, which will easily top the franchise’s 2019 record of $476 million.

Braves 2021 revenue (by quarter)

Q1 – $16 million

Q2 – $216 million

Q3 – $234 million

Total so far – $466 million

Logically, those figures above created a much better profit margin this year. For the third-quarter in particular, in 2020 the Braves reportedly took a loss of $15 million after accounting for depreciation, amortization and stock-based compensation. In 2021, the franchise returned to the black, bringing in roughly $35 million in profits.

Of course, there’s still plenty of overhead. Per the Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent write-up, Liberty Media disclosed last week that the Braves overall debt increased to $721 million — a jump from the $694 million in debt reported back in June. The company states that borrowing associated with the second phase of construction regarding The Battery contributed to the nearly $30-million increase in debt. The old saying, it takes spending money to make money, never could be truer for a team still developing a new stadium and the many things around it.

But do all of these profits matter? Could the Braves begin opening it’s pockets up a bit more?

We already know this year the team was seriously in on All-Star outfielder Bryan Reynolds, and according to The Athletic’s David O’Brien (a rumor that Chase Irle wrote about on Friday at SportsTalkATL.com), at the trade deadline the Braves were also trying to make a move that would’ve brought in Max Scherzer and Starling Marte – two superstars that come with big salaries. To me, it already seems like the franchise is trying to operate at a higher level, which bodes well for the Freeman sweepstakes.

Although, if you’ve been a Braves fan for any length of time, the reports of higher revenues and profits could end up as simply noise. Any time a cooperation controls a team, money can disappear for a number of reasons. But hopefully, considering the Braves literally won it all in 2021, Liberty Media will begin investing a bit more money in the team. All we can do, though, is hope.

Offseason Prospect Review: Cody Milligan

Friday, November 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

Previous reviews

  • Jefrey Ramos, OF (link)
  • Brandol Mezquita, OF (link)

#28. Cody Milligan, 2B

22-years-old

2021 stats:  96 G, .230 AVG, 17 XBH, 15 SB, 77 wRC+

Trend:  Down

A hot month of July put Milligan on the map this past season, as he hit .281 in 24 games with High-A Rome, which complimented his even-better May rather well (.323 AVG / 19 G), earning him a top 30 rank in my mid-season rankings. But the second baseman’s prospect title didn’t last too long. From Aug 1. to the end of the year (33 games), the 22-year-old hit a lowly .133, spoiling what was beginning to look like a career-best performance as a pro.

The problem for Milligan is his evident inability to hit same-handed pitching. As a lefty-batter, the kid hit just .143 with three XBH versus southpaws in 2021 (equaling a .427 OPS), compared to a .263 AVG and 13 XBH against righties (.698 OPS). A roughly 250-point difference in OPS is an issue he’ll certainly need to fix.  Fortunately, though, Milligan also provides speed, and as a second baseman, he won’t be required to post huge numbers on offense. In fact, his 2019 rookie-level campaign is a pretty solid threshold he should strive for. During that season, Milligan hit .252 with eight XBH and tallied a dozen stolen bases in 59 games with the GCL (now FCL) team – good for a respectable-for-his-position 104 wRC+.

2022 outlook

Milligan was a one-hit wonder in 2021, going unranked in my summer Top 30 but cracking the mid-season list due to the hot July mentioned above. His second-half decline will almost assuredly push him off the next set of rankings, though he’ll continue to remain as a relevant prospect given how thin the Braves system is when it comes to middle-infielders (especially true second baseman).

What’s really hurting Milligan right now is that come the end of December he’ll be a 23-year-old with not even 100 games of full-season ball under his belt, of which aren’t very inspiring to begin with. I don’t necessarily believe he’ll go down a step, but there’s no question that Milligan should probably spend at least another half-season in Rome, or at least a period of time long enough to show he can consistently hit lower-minors pitching.

But it’s not all bad for Milligan. Though his numbers this past season weren’t ideal, the kid appears to have a solid approach at the plate. He doesn’t strikeout a ton (23.7 K% in 2021) and for the second year in a row he posted a double-digit walk rate (11.5 BB%). It’s obvious that there’s not much power in his swing (2 career homers), but if he can perhaps develop some doubles-power, his speed (along with what seems to be at least average defense) could still make him a top 30ish prospect in the organization. The Braves don’t exactly have a surplus of second basemen hanging around in the minors right now, so Milligan doesn’t have much competition.

Offseason Prospect Review: Brandol Mezquita

Friday, November 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

The offseason is here and it’s a perfect time to recap the 2021 season of each of the Braves top 30 prospects. In this series, I’ll discuss each player’s performance from this past year, as well as what’s needed for them to continue to rise in the organization. All rankings are derived from my most-recent 2021 Braves Top 30 Prospect List, which came out this past August. Following this series, a fresh top 30 will be constructed, primarily based on the notes I’ll provide in this column.

#29. BRANDOL MEZQUITA, OF

20-years-old

2021 stats (Rk):  43 G, .308 AVG, 13 XBH, 15 SB, 132 wRC+

Trending:  Up

Starting 2021 as more of a top 50-type player in the organization, Mezquita made huge strides with the FCL team, winding up inside my Top 30 this past August and most likely headed for an even higher ranking once I redo the list this offseason. Still just 20-years-old, this will be yet another talented outfielder in Atlanta’s system.

Mezquita had already impressed during his first two pro seasons, posting right under a 100 wRC+ in 2018 and ’19 combined with both the DSL team and the FCL club (formerly the GCL). As a teenager, the kid tallied 12 XBH and stole 12 bases in 86 total games during those pair of seasons, and it looked like, if he could just make a bit more contact, he’d become the real deal.

Well, he did that in 2021. The Dominican outfielder hit over .300, and his eight doubles is a career best (to go along with his 15 stolen bases, which was fifth in the league). Another Cristian Pache… or Drew Waters? Who knows, but at this point, there’s very little doubt that Mezquita is the real deal.

2022 outlook

Even though it was only rookie ball, Mezquita’s strong 2021 numbers — and the fact that he met expectations as an all-around player – should allow him to move up within the Braves Top 30. With a career .255 AVG and .724 OPS so far, the kid hasn’t been other-worldly with the bat, but given his other tools (speed and defense), if he continues to develop, Mezquita could become an outfielder that moves rather quickly in the Braves system.

I’ve seen no official word, but I’d imagine that Mezquita starts 2022 in Single-A Augusta. With nearly 130 games under his belt within the rookie ranks, it’s time to see what he can do in full-season ball. And hey, if Mezquita can post strong numbers with the GreenJackets during the first-half of next year, a High-A Rome assignment could come with a lot more attention next summer. As of right now, Mezquita is on the cusp of becoming a top-tier prospect in the organization. We’ll know more by next July or August.