Checking in on the Braves prospects for June: Top 10

Friday, July 9, 2021

-Clint Manry

It’s time to wrap this monthly series up, so today I’ll look at the top 10 prospects from my Summer Braves Top 30 and examine how each one performed during the month of June. Here are the links if you interested in getting caught up with the first two installments:

10. Bryce Elder, RHP ↑

AA — Mississippi

Elder’s stint so far in Double-A hasn’t been as dominant as say Spencer Strider’s (who struck out 11 on Tuesday), but following a rough first-start, the 22-year-old turned in a strong two-hitter back on Independence Day, striking out five in five innings. In fact, there really hasn’t been a whole lot of separation between Elder and Strider this season, which is a good thing considering both righties were drafted just last year. It’s so great to see these guys flourish right out of the gate, and I can’t wait to see where their numbers end up by season’s end. 

9. Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP ↓

AAA — Gwinnett

After trending as perhaps one of the next top prospect pitchers to come out of the Braves system, thanks to a 2019 campaign in which he posted a 3.25 ERA in 133 innings across Single-A, High-A and Double-A, JDLC has taken quite a step back in his first season at the Triple-A level. After a pretty decent month of May (3.65 ERA), Cruz has really struggled to get lefty-batters out and as a result his run-prevention took a massive hit in June (7.85 ERA). The 24-year-old has also been getting crushed with runners on base as seven of the 10 XBH Cruz has allowed this season have come when base runners were present. It’s all just a mess right now, and because of his ineffectiveness, Cruz hasn’t surpassed the fourth inning in a start since back on June 6, when he lasted 4.1 innings in an outing he allowed four runs in. I’ve always been a bit higher on Cruz as a potential big league starter, but he’ll have to turn this around before he receives any opportunities in the major league rotation. 

8. Braden Shewmake, SS ↑

AA — Mississippi

Just like we went on and on about how bad Shewmake was to start the 2021 season, all the buzz of late is about how great he’s been… and rightfully so. Shewmake has essentially done a complete 180 performance-wise.

First 22 games – 90 PA, .094 AVG, .309 OPS, 3 XBH, 5 BB, 25 K

*Last 23 games – 96 PA, .322 AVG, .931 OPS, 12 XBH, 6 BB, 16 K

*through Wednesday 

In practically the same amount of PA, Shewmake has raised his OPS by 622 points since the first week of June. That’s insane. I’m excited to see just how far he’ll go with this, because if he keeps it up he could be in line for a Triple-A assignment this season (which is crazy given just a month ago some of us were wondering if he needed to go to Rome and regroup). 

7. Kyle Muller, LHP ↑

AAA — Gwinnett

Muller began 2021 by allowing 13 runs in his first 15 ⅓ innings with Gwinnett, and I’ll admit… I was concerned. However, he quickly turned it around, and over his next three outings he allowed only three runs in a combined 16 innings, earning himself a call-up to the majors. That success transitioned beautifully with Atlanta, and following a relief appearance, Muller pitched well in three MLB starts, posting a 2.45 ERA as a starter, including 19 strikeouts in 14 ⅔ innings, thanks to a slider he used to generate a 47.8% whiff-rate. Unfortunately, the burly southpaw was optioned back to Gwinnett on Independence Day, so his stint in the majors is done for now. Muller is listed to start for the Stripers on Friday, and I expect him to continue his impressive run of strong pitching.

6. Michael Harris, OF ↑

A+ — Rome

As of Friday morning, Harris currently ranks within the top-five in just about every offensive category in High-A’s East League, including fourth in both AVG (.310) and hits (61). He’ll probably wind up in Double-A soon, but his performance so far has earned him not only a place among some of the hottest prospects in the system, but also a chance to play in Monday’s Futures Game at Coors Field (along with Drew Waters). This weekend is my first time seeing Harris play in-person, and I have to say, his athleticism is exactly as advertised. He’s looking like a lock to one day become an everyday contributor for the Braves. 

5. Shea Langeliers, C ↑

AA — Mississippi 

If I could give him two “up” symbols, or hell, three or four, I would. Langeliers has surpassed any kind of expectations we could’ve had following his first-round selection in the 2019 MLB Draft as he’s evolved into not only a beast at the plate but also a dangerous sniper behind it. Base runners can’t steal against Langeliers and pitchers can’t get him out. The Baylor product has thrown out 51% of would-be stealers, while sporting an .898 OPS with the bat, including a Double-A South leading 14 home runs. Go ahead and write it down… this IS the Braves next homegrown starting catcher. 

4. Tucker Davidson, LHP ↑

MLB — Atlanta (60-day IL)

I’m sure there were many in Braves Country that sort of lost some love for Davidson following his poor MLB debut versus Boston late last season, and even if that’s not necessarily the case, the lefty did a nice job to redeem himself during his four major league starts in 2021. In outings versus the Mets, Nationals and Phillies, Davidson pitched to a 1.53 ERA and struck out 14 in 17 ⅔ innings, allowing just one home run. However, in his final start, against the Red Sox on June 15, it was obvious something wasn’t right, and Tucker got roughed up to the tune of five earned runs in 2 ⅓ innings. A forearm injury during that Boston performance put him on the injured list, and in late June the Braves transferred him to the 60-day IL, meaning he’ll be out until at least mid-August. Regardless, a 0.90 ERA in 20 minor league innings, to go with a 3.60 ERA in 20 MLB frames, is enough to show that Davidson is trending in the right direction. 

3. William Contreras, C ⇔

AAA — Gwinnett

After spending over two months as the Braves primary starting catcher and playing in 44 big league games, Contreras was optioned to Gwinnett on July 7. On the one hand, it’s really difficult to critique too much of his play, given at just 23-years-old he was thrown into the fire after just 60 games of experience above the High-A level. However, on the other hand, Contreras struck out over 30% of the time with Atlanta, and though he slugged seven homers during that stint, he finished with just a .666 OPS in 158 PA. Contreras’ 36% caught-stealing rate as a major leaguer is strong, but he did make numerous mistakes in other aspects of his game on defense. We’ll see how he does in Triple-A, but right now I’m neither “up” or “down” on Contreras. 

2. Drew Waters, OF ↑

AAA — Gwinnett

Waters is still striking out roughly 30% of the time, but what’s critical is that he’s also walking at a higher clip than he ever has, at least in any of his full-seasons. So far in 2021, Waters started out hitting fairly well and even got hot for a short stretch, ending the month of May hitting .253 with seven XBH in 20 games. However, a badly-timed thumb injury in early June put him on the sidelines and zapped his momentum, and Waters scuffled once returning, going just 1 for 36 (.028 AVG) from June 20 to July 1 (10 games). But since then… the young outfielder has been on a tear. In his last seven games, Waters is hitting .357 with seven XBH, including a homer, a triple and a double during Thursday’s doubleheader. Waters will be with Michael Harris in Denver representing the Braves by playing in the Futures Game on Monday. 

1. Cristian Pache, OF ↓

AAA — Gwinnett

Although he has shown some signs of improvement over the last few days, this just hasn’t been Pache’s year so far. The 22-game stint in the majors didn’t go too well as he hit just .111 before going on the injured list with a hamstring injury, however, I felt like a stretch in Triple-A would actually benefit him. Since returning to play on June 1 with Gwinnett, Pache started hot by going 5 for 14 (.357 AVG) with three doubles at the plate during his first three games. But that was followed up with a .200 AVG for the rest of the month of June as Pache struck out at a 30% clip. So far July has been better, and during Thursday’s doubleheader Pache went 4 for 6 with a homer and three RBI — his first long ball since he hit two back on June 10. Hopefully he and Waters can get on a consistent run at the plate during the season’s final few months. 

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