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.

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