June 18, 2021
Soon major league teams will become labeled within two categories: buyer or seller. And at four games under .500 with just 14.2% odds of making the postseason (per FanGraphs), the Braves are in an aggravating position, because right now it’s difficult to determine which label is theirs.
From a realistic standpoint, no, this has NOT looked like a playoff baseball team… at least on a halfway consistent basis. Injuries, bad luck, regression, poor management — basically ALL of the negative attributes of a team in the process of missing the postseason — have plagued the Braves so far in 2021. And as a result, many of us have been forced to adjust our expectations as to what is actually attainable at this point. However, a 6 ½ game deficit from first-place, with still roughly 60% of the regular season still to go, just doesn’t seem like an insurmountable hole to crawl out of. And unless the Braves suffer a chronic injury problem over the next 3 ½ months, you would think something’s bound to give.
But the buy or sell debate is probably better left for another day. We’ll find out soon enough as MLB’s July 30 trade deadline is now just over a month away. Although in the event the Braves wind up labeled as the former and are in need of major league talent to push the team down the stretch, we should probably distinguish what kind of value the organization has to offer. Big league ready talent costs something at the trade deadline… and that something is of course prospects. A follower of Braves prospects such as myself really doesn’t care for this aspect of the season, but I prefer to look at this as an opportunity to come to grips with reality; for better or for worse, a few of the system’s most talented and exciting players may be traded away.
So with the understanding that to gain talent you must trade away talent, today let’s look at the most valuable Braves prospects right now. Finding the “value” of a prospect can be a tricky exercise, because simply judging a player by prospect rank or recent stats really doesn’t correlate with industry opinion as much as we think it does. It’s just not that simple. So to me the best source for an objective-like illustration for “value”, the players below are listed in the order in which they are valued at Baseball Trade Values. Using that site works well here too because in a later post I plan to build off of this exercise and look at some potential prospect trade packages for the Braves, and right now BTV is probably the most-used tool in the industry for that very purpose.
To gain perspective regarding the method of their madness at BTV, I highly recommend spending some time on the site as there’s tons of informative content there.
I’m obviously not going to cover every single prospect in the Braves system. According to BTV, there are 16 with an MTV of 2.5 or higher, which to me seems like a pretty broad list in terms of distinguishing the different tiers of value, which in turn, can allow us to imagine differing levels of trade packages from the Braves. I’ve separated the 16 prospects in three groups: the higher-value, mid-value and lower-value. And I’ve added commentary of my own for the higher- and mid-value player groups.
|10||Jasseel De La Cruz||RHP||AAA||2.9|
Top 16 most valuable Braves prospects / MTV is “median estimate of trade value” per Baseball Trade Series
Drew Waters (OF)
Logically, BTV loves the top-tier position-player prospect more than anything else. In fact, consider an excerpt from the site’s “Valuing Minor-Leaguers” page…
“What you may notice is that the prospect pool follows a long-tail model. Because the blue-chip prospects at the top of a team’s farm system have both a much higher probability of making the majors and becoming productive at that level, they carry a disproportionately higher trade value. Further, position players have higher valuations than pitchers due to the difference in injury risk.”
So, sure, Waters checks all of those boxes listed in the paragraph above. But more importantly, the outfielder not only possesses incredible talent… he also comes with a ton of hype from being one of the Braves top prospects over the last several seasons.
I don’t have to describe just how valuable Waters is and how much other teams would love to have him in their organization. His track record speaks for itself. However, there are some plate discipline concerns that still need to be considered, and as of Thursday he has now missed six consecutive games with Triple-A Gwinnett due to what’s been scarcely reported as a sore thumb. Either way, though, BTV claims Waters is the most valuable prospect in the organization right now… and I agree.
Shea Langeliers (C)
Even though it’s roughly half the value rating of Waters, it’s incredibly satisfying to see Langeliers listed as the second-most valuable Braves prospect by BTV. Obviously some of this is propped up because of the position he plays, but I also want to believe that Langeliers is rightfully being appreciated for having been a top pick two years ago AN now playing to his true talent level.
I know we are oftentimes guilty of taking small sample-sizes too seriously, but Langeliers did not look like a complete player in his first taste of pro ball in 2019. And now with Double-A Mississippi he’s flourishing both at the plate and behind it. I couldn’t imagine the Braves would trade Langeliers now, but if they do he will certainly help fetch a big time MLB player.
Michael Harris (OF)
I don’t know if there’s a way to look back at previous year’s data at BTV, but I think it’s safe to say that Harris is probably the biggest riser in terms of prospect value for the Braves, and we saw some of the cause of that with all the hype aimed his way entering the 2021 campaign.
I thought all the Acuna references were a little over the top before the season started, but now I’m all aboard the Harris Train given what he’s managed to do at the plate in High-A Rome so far. For those that have a bit of Drew Waters prospect fatigue, I could even see a scenario in which teams are more willing to give up big league pieces in exchange for Harris at this point.
Mid- value pROSPECTS
Kyle Muller (LHP)
Muller, who I have ranked seventh in my updated Top 30 Prospect List — probably wields the best body-type in the Braves system, and add the fact that he’s a lefty-pitcher who sits 95-96 MPH and you’ve got a guy whose trade value is immense. As you can see, there’s huge drop off from Harris in the Higher-value group to Muller here, and that’s pretty surprising given the aforementioned quote I pulled from BTV shown above. But I presume that’s more illustrating how valuable Harris truly is and less of a knock on the southpaw hurler.
As far as the potential for Atlanta to trade Muller, I could very well see such a scenario. We’ll get into actual mock trades later on, but Muller just seems like the perfect candidate for a big deadline day deal. And when you add in the fact that the system already has a potential top-end southpaw prospect, I do wonder if GM Alex Anthopoulos has considered perhaps shopping the 23-year-old Muller.
Braden Shewmake (SS)
I of course don’t know for sure, but I seriously doubt that Shewmake’s trade value is impacted too much from his poor 2021 season, especially given he’s still below the 100-game mark in the pros and the fact that he was a first-round selection coming out of a Power 5 college. That above-average ability to make contact for Shewmake is legit, and it’s going to take a bit more than a poor 30- to 50-game stretch at the plate for the industry to give up on the shortstop.
I couldn’t imagine the Braves would be willing to move Shewmake, who I have eighth on my Top 30 List. Other than Vaughn Grissom way down in Single-A right now, the system is essentially barren when it comes to potential major league talent at the shortstop position. And if there is any negative impact from Shewmake’s sub-.500 OPS performance so far this season, Atlanta would be selling low on one of their top picks from two years ago. Nope, not happening.
Jared Shuster (LHP)
Shuster is another guy that’s practically the perfect build for his craft (6-3, 210lb). Mix in the fact that he’s a lefty and you have yourself a very valuable pitcher, and that’s even before you consider he was the 25th overall pick in the 2020 MLB Draft out of Wake Forest.
I’ve never like the idea of trading a guy right after drafting him, and entering Friday, Shuster was at just 15 innings as a pro with High-A Rome. Sure, the Braves could use the 22-year-old in a trade package, but I don’t see that as realistic possibility at this point… at least not this season.
Tucker Davidson (LHP)
The recent IL stint is unfortunate for Davidson as he has been having a helluva 2021 season so far, posting a 0.90 ERA in Triple-A Gwinnett and a 3.60 ERA with Atlanta in the majors. Given the elbow ailment was reported as an elbow strain and not serious, I don’t think his value is really impacted much.
Before the graduations (and basically busts) of both Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson, I would’ve been very open to headlining Davidson in a big trade. His value has always been there and already wielding two high-upside starters in Wright and Wilson sort of gave the Braves a bit of surplus. But at this point, cashing in on Davidson seems like a mistake. Not only has Wright/Wilson failed to really progress but Touki Toussaint hasn’t become what was expected either (albeit he has been dealing with an injury). Atlanta’s better off holding onto Davidson.
Bryce Ball (1B/DH)
Ball has been an organization favorite in the Braves system ever since he came on the scene and posted a 1.023 OPS with 17 home runs and 52 RBI in just 62 games during his pro debut back in 2019. The immediate display of power had Braves Country already claiming that Ball was Atlanta’s future DH, and the fact that he does what he does on the left side of the plate makes it even better.
However, the reality is that Ball’s value in the trade market is much different. Sure, at 6-foot-6, 240 pounds, the 22-year-old is a beast out there on the field. But as a corner-player with essentially no position other than first base, the potential options are limited with Ball. That’s not to say that this isn’t a valuable baseball player. It’s just that the Braves would have a rather hard time getting an appropriate return using Ball, unless the interested party is specifically in need of a power-bat… and even then, you have to take into account that Ball hasn’t played a game above High-A.
Even though Anthopoulos is usually very quiet about these things, as we get closer to the trade deadline we should start learning more about what other teams are needing as well as what the Braves strategy ultimately is. The big decision of course is whether or not this team is going to try and go for it, but right now that’s just impossible to determine. Anyways, hopefully in the coming days I can get started on a post regarding potential trade packages.