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Six Braves prospects I’m most excited to watch in 2022

Six Braves prospects I’m most excited to watch in 2022

Tuesday, March 22, 2022

-Clint Manry

We’re roughly two weeks away from the start of the 2022 minor league season, and as we enter Week 2 of spring camp for the majors, the Braves farm system will soon begin filling up with its young prospects. I don’t know about you, but I haven’t looked forward to a new season like this in awhile. Maybe it’s because we’re the defending champs, or perhaps it’s from the uncertainty of a 2022 season in general, but meaningful baseball is finally just around the corner.

So with the offseason edition of my 2022 Braves Top 35 Prospect List set in stone, and the minor league regular season nearing its start, let’s examine a few Braves prospects I’m most excited about this year.

Drew Waters (OF)

#2 prospect in the ATL system

I recently wrote about just this, but with former minor league teammate Cristian Pache now out of the mix (involved in the Matt Olson trade with the A’s), all eyes are on Waters as he’s now within shouting distance of a potential opportunity in the majors. And more importantly, he’s the only one as the other Atlanta prospect outfielders are still a few years away from a realistic debut.

I’m mostly repeating myself from the write-up linked above, but it’s hard not to be excited about some of the strides Waters made while in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2021. The kid slugged the most home runs of his pro career (11), despite finishing the year with one of his lowest fly ball rates (19.6 FB%). He stole more bases than ever before (28 SB). And with a walk-rate just over 10% (10.2 BB%), he took the free pass more often than ever (save for his 14-game pro debut in rookie ball during his draft year). Waters’ standard numbers in the minors last season don’t exactly jump off the page (.240 AVG / 94 wRC+), but if you actually look a little deeper, it’s obvious that he’s been working on his plate discipline, which was a part of his game many evaluators felt was his biggest weakness.

My prediction for Waters in 2022: As I said above, this is the closest Waters has ever been to cracking the majors. Although as he competes for a spot on the roster this spring, it’s very likely he begins 2022 with another stint in Triple-A. However, the difference this time around is that it’s not entirely for his development, but also because the Braves may in fact need him down the stretch, especially if the team catches the injury bug. Also, Waters looks like a solid candidate to fill that ever-so-important speedy, bench/pinch-runner type role once rosters expand in September. I predict Waters will continue to make strides with the Stripers in 2022, but this fall he’ll make his long awaited MLB debut.

Michael Harris II (CF)

#3 prospect in the ATL system

The hype surrounding Harris was pretty crazy last offseason, and in my opinion, the kid did exactly what he needed to do to now become one of the most exciting prospects in the system. In his first taste of High-A ball in 2021, where he spent all year playing in 101 games, Harris put his talents on full display, hitting for contact (.294 AVG) and power (7 HR / 26 2B), while also showing off his speed (27 for 31 in SB attempts) and glove (.994 FLD% / 6 assists). As the Braves future center fielder, it looks like Harris has it all, and I can’t wait to see what he does this coming season.

My prediction for Harris in 2022: Harris should start the year in Double-A Mississippi, as I see no reason for him repeat a level he has already mastered in High-A. There may be some growing pains at first, for Double-A pitching can be a bit of a jump, but I expect the kid will quickly get accustomed to the higher competition. I predict Harris will be promoted to Triple-A Gwinnett at some point in 2022, perhaps by midseason if his numbers are where they need to be — setting himself up for a 2023/24 MLB debut in Atlanta .

Kyle Muller (LHP)

#1 prospect in ATL system

So there’s a reason I have Muller ranked as the top prospect in the Braves system, and excitement obviously goes a long way. But it’s also because I believe it’s Muller that will have the greatest impact in the majors this upcoming season, coming off a solid performance there in 2021.

For nearly two months last season (June 16 to August 12), Muller filled in admirably as a starter in Atlanta, going on to post a 4.17 ERA in 36 2/3 innings (8 starts / 1 relief appearance). Matter of fact, if you take out his eighth and final start from August 12 against the Reds (when he allowed six runs in 2 1/3 IP), Muller’s big league ERA from 2021 falls to 2.88, which is pretty damn impressive given it was his first taste of The Show. I expect him to grow from his experience last year with the Braves, and continue to make strides.

My prediction for Muller in 2022: As usual, the Braves have three or so locked-in starters, in Max Fried, Charlie Morton and Ian Anderson, and then following that trio the list is rather long in terms of viable options to fill the final two spots in the rotation. I may be alone in this, but I predict that Muller earns one of those spots, providing the staff with another much-needed lefty.

Spencer Strider (RHP)

#6 prospect in ATL system

Sure, there’s Muller and the fact that he’s coming off a strong showing in the majors from 2021, but then there’s Strider, the guy everyone was impressed with when he made a cup-of-coffee appearance with the Braves at the tail end of last season. You can just tell, great things are on there way for the former fourth-round pick.

Strider pitched for five (!) different levels in 2021, starting out at Single-A Augusta before ending his year in Atlanta. At each and every stop, the kid mostly dominated, spending much of his time at Double-A Mississippi where he managed a 4.71 ERA and 13.4 K/9 in 14 starts. On paper, it looks like Strider could be a potential mid-rotation type starter in the big leagues, but when watching him over-power opposing batters with his ultra high-spin fastball… he really leans towards a potential shutdown, high-leverage reliever. Right now Strider is just a two-pitch pitcher (fastball / breaking ball), but in a interview last June with FanGraphs David Laurila he talked about working heavily on a changeup. I suppose that third pitch will really determine which route the Braves go with him.

My prediction for Strider in 2022: Between all the promotions, Strider only totaled one inning in Triple-A Gwinnett in 2021, and still just 23-years-old, there’s really no need in rushing him. The Braves currently have a rather nice surplus of relievers, and on the starter front, I don’t believe the team is really looking at Strider as someone that could realistically crack the 2022 rotation. I predict that Strider starts the season with the Stripers, but if he can continue to generate the swing and miss he did from 2021, he’ll most likely contribute in Atlanta’s bullpen by season’s end.

Vaughn Grissom (SS/3B)

#11 prospect in ATL system

We’ve looked at plenty of what I call TIER 1 prospects in Waters, Harris, Muller and Strider. Now it’s time to go down the list a bit and talk about the excitement surrounding some of the Braves prospects that are a bit further away from the majors. In terms of the ones we probably won’t see until at least 2024, you can’t start the discussion without mentioning Grissom, who topped out at High-A Rome last season, thanks to .311 AVG, five home runs and 13 stolen bases in 75 games in Single-A Augusta.

Everything went right for Grissom in 2021 as he saw career-highs in not just his traditional counting stats but also things like line drive rate (25%) and fly ball rate (29.7%), suggesting that he could possess a bit more thump with the bat than the 25-grade Game Power FanGraphs gave him in the site’s prospect write-up last year.

My prediction for Grissom in 2022: As I mentioned above, Grissom is sill a ways away from making his MLB debut, having just mastered the Single-A level in 2021. However, his performance in Spring Training is inspiring as he’s currently 4 for 8 (.500 AVG) with two doubles and an RBI with the Braves so far. Given his break-out last season, and the fact he seems to be holding his own versus advanced pitching in camp, I predict a Double-A assignment for Grissom at some point in 2022, perhaps some time in the second-half.

Ambioris Tavarez (SS/3B)

#28 prospect in ATL system

All the prospects I’ve covered so far are guys we’ve actually seen play. But Tavarez is still an unknown player as he hasn’t logged any playing-time as a pro since he was signed by the Braves for $1.5 million back in January of 2021. However, for that very reason, plus given how highly ranked among international prospects, there’s plenty of excitement surrounding this kid.

Back in December I wrote about how MLB.com had Tavarez pegged as Atlanta’s youngest top prospect, coming off a winter in which Baseball America named him the 25th-best player in the 2020-21 international class. Scouts expect him to be a plus right-handed bat, and at 6-2, 175 pounds, he could be a advanced fielder at one of the most important positions on the field, shortstop.

My prediction for Tavarez in 2022: Evaluators think Tavarez could eventually become a top 100 prospect, and still just 18-years-old, the Braves have no reason to rush this kid. I predict most likely a rookie-level assignment for Tavarez to begin 2022, but if he’s able to hit, I don’t see any reason why he can’t spend at least some of the season with Single-A Augusta.

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