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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.