2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List: The second tier (nos. 10-16)

Sunday, December 12, 2021

-Clint Manry

This weekend has been a busy one for my little blog as I’ve been releasing my latest Braves prospect list. On Friday it was all about the honorable mentions and the guys that just missed my 2022 rankings. Saturday was the actual list and a breakdown of the first tier of players. And today… well today I’m keeping it going with Tier #2, covering nos. 10-16.

What is Tier #2… and how does it differ from the first one? Well, for me, the main difference between the first and second tier of my list is each group’s current proximity to the majors. When you look at those 1-9 guys on my list, these are primarily players that are on their way to cracking the big leagues — some of them as soon as this coming season. Most of my Tier #2 prospects aren’t quite at that level yet, even if some are perhaps just as talented. Now my list isn’t based solely on each prospect’s ETA to the big leagues – that wouldn’t be a prospect list, but simply a ranking of who makes it to the majors the quickest. However, I will say that a player’s path to making it to The Show is significant. I mean, that is the whole point for these young guys. But it also shouldn’t be the only variable included when trying to justify each player’s ranking.

Regardless, the second tier is exactly what it sounds like: it’s the next group of prospects, and regarding the actual rankings, it’s mostly the guys just outside the top-10. Here’s the list.

#10. JOEY ESTES, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 16th Round, 2019 from Paraclete HS (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’2″ / 190 lbsR/R15th

Moving up five places from where I had him in my mid-season rankings this past August (at no. 15), Estes is already a stud, coming off one of the best minor league performances by a starting pitcher this past season. As a teenager (19-years-old) in 2021, the righty led Single-A’s East League in strikeouts (127), ERA (2.91) and WHIP (0.960), while tallying 99 innings with Augusta – a huge improvement compared to his rookie-level campaign back in 2019, when he pitched to an 8.10 ERA in five starts with the Gulf Coast team.

Estes may have been one of my biggest risers on the list, but we must remember this kid is just now entering his age-20 season in 2022, so there’s no need to start chanting for his MLB debut. Reports indicate he has improved his command and is working on honing in a third pitch, a changeup, to go with his overpowering fastball and wipeout slider. Estes just needs to keep racking up innings in the minors, and personally, I’d love to see the Braves approach his development as conservative as possible, giving him a hefty amount of time in High-A next year, before throwing him into the upper-minors. Although, if he keeps dominating, Estes could be knocking on the majors’ door before he’s even old enough to legally drink a beer. Either way, this kid will soon be a household name in the Braves system.

#11. BRADEN SHEWMAKE, SS

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2019 from Texas A&M (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
24-years-old6’4″ / 190 lbsL/R12th

We can’t talk about Shewmake without mentioning the crazy 2021 season he had. With Double-A Mississippi, the former first-rounder put together one of the worst starts I’ve seen in quite some time, going 8 for his first 85 (.094 AVG) during the first 22 games of the campaign, good for a minus-17 wRC+. That kind of performance from a college bat – that the Braves signed for over $3.1 million (!) – is hard to make sense of. However, Shewmake went from one extreme to another. If you exclude those first 22 games of the 2021 season (from June 5 on), the guy had a pretty damn good year, hitting .276 with 11 homers, 13 doubles and a solid 19.7% K rate in 61 games, good for a much-better 120 wRC+.

Of course, those first 22 games still count, and because they do, Shewmake’s overall performance last year is a bit distorted. But imagine if during that first month of the season he had actually hit. I think it’s pretty impressive how Shewmake was able to pull himself out of such a hole, and hopefully he learned a lot from his struggles. The guy is a natural hitter, and when I watched him back in late July, he barreled up every ball he made contact with, featuring a 3 for 4 night on July 25 versus Double-A Biloxi. The 2022 season will be a nice opportunity for Shewmake to reset and start over with a fresh year. I think he’s ready for Triple-A Gwinnett, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if the Braves give him another month with the M-Braves. Given his age… it’s hard to tell.

#12. RYAN CUSICK, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2021 from Wake Forest (NC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’6″ / 235 lbsR/R14th

There are some real believers in Cusick, and I’m not just talking about folks in Braves Country. Hell, FanGraphs has the former Wake Forest star at no. 7 in the Braves system. And I may be a bit low on him here at 12 (up two spots from August), but as a college arm I’d still like to see more of him as a pro.

In 2021, Cusick was as advertised. His 70-grade fastball and two breaking balls helped him rack up a ridiculous K rate down in Single-A Augusta, where he struck out 34 batters in just 16 1/3 innings (folks, that’s 18.7 strikeouts per nine lol). It was only a sample of six starts by the then-21-year-old, but it was definitely enough to illustrate that he was head and shoulders above the competition.

The thing is, and this is nothing against Cusick, he was supposed to overpower Single-A last year. Most college arms from Power 5 schools do. So this coming season will be really interesting as Cusick advances to High-A and maybe even Double-A, where he’ll face much more advanced batters. According to the guys at Talking Chop, Cusick’s a three-pitch pitcher right now, but if he can continue to command his stuff and develop his changeup, he’s no doubt a big league starter. We’ll see if he can put it all together with a full year in the pros in 2022.

#13. JESSE FRANKLIN V, OF

Drafted by ATL: 3rd Round, 2020 from University of Michigan (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’1″ / 215 lbsL/L10th

The question with the lefty-hitting Franklin was whether or not he was going to be able to hit southpaw pitching in the pros, and I believe he passed that test with flying colors, posting a .926 OPS against lefties in 2021, compared to an .815 OPS versus righties. So that much has been settled: he’s not simply a platoon bat.

But while Frankin mashed a whopping 24 homers and 24 doubles with High-A Rome this past season (to go with a surprising 19 stolen bases), the kid went back and forth with a few concerning slumps and ultimately finished the season with just under a 30% K rate (28.3%). For instance, in May, Franklin hit only .200 with four XBH, but then hit .338 with 14 XBH in June, only to follow up with a July in which he struck out 31.6% of the time (although he also walked 12.8% of the time). The back and forth continued in August and September as he hit .203 in the former month and .268 during the latter.

All in all, though, I believe Franklin has a bright future. The inconsistencies from month to month isn’t really ideal, but hell, it was his first year in the pros, so I’m not too worried. The competition in 2022 will be much tougher, though, as the pitching is quite different from High-A to Double-A. If Franklin can keep the whiffs down to a minimum, his power and athleticism could make him yet another up-and-coming outfield prospect in the Braves system.

#14. INDIGO DIAZ, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 27th Round, 2019 from Michigan State (MI)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’5″ / 250 lbsR/R19th

Of the seven prospects I have in this second tier, it’s perhaps Diaz that has the best shot at reaching the majors in 2022. If you didn’t know of him coming into last season, by now I’m sure you’re plenty aware, after he absolutely dominated the minors.

Other than a rough showing in the AFL this fall (12.79 ERA), Diaz was in cruise control in 2021. He began the year in High-A Rome, where he struck out 54 batters in 27 innings – a K rate of 18 K/9. Moving up to Double-A Mississippi in mid-July didn’t appear to slow Diaz down a bit. With the M-Braves, the righty logged a 1.50 ERA in 18 innings, to go with another freakish display of power-pitching, averaging 14.5 strikeouts per nine. Overall, by season’s end, Diaz owned a 1.20 ERA in 45 combined innings between the two leagues, and only in his final appearance of the season did he allow a home run from the opposition.

The only thing really standing in Diaz’s way is a lack of innings. Over parts of two seasons as a pro, the 23-year-old has only 55 1/3 frames to his name, but so far the career numbers are video game-like: a 1.63 ERA, 1 homer allowed, 0.867 WHIP, 15.9 K/9, 2.9 BB/9.

He may repeat Double-A for at least a month or so, but I wouldn’t be surprised if Diaz is in Triple-A Gwinnett to start 2022, and if his dominance can continue there, than there’s no reason to believe he can’t earn an opportunity in Atlanta at some point. Given his increase in fastball velocity (now up to the high-90s MPH) and the fact that he seems to be ultra-consistent command-wise, Diaz has quickly evolved into the top relief prospect in the system. There’s a bright future for this kid.

#15. VAUGHN GRISSOM, SS

Drafted by ATL: 11th Round, 2019 from Paul J. Hagerty HS (FL)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
20-years-old6’3″ / 180 lbsR/R13th

It doesn’t feel right knocking Grissom back two spots on the list, especially considering he had a career year in 2021, but rankings cannot always be perfect, which is why the tiers are so important. In a perfect world, I’d have the kid closer to the top 10, but either way, just know that the shortstop is definitely trending in the right direction.

Grissom started last season in Single-A Augusta and spent much of the campaign there, where he slashed .311/.402/.446 with five homers, 15 doubles and 13 stolen bases in 75 games – good enough for a 135 wRC+. The kid did it all down in Augusta, playing 35 games at shortstop, 23 at third and 10 at second, even getting a handful of games as a DH. By early September, Grissom received a well-deserved promotion to High-A Rome, where he hit even better, even if it was just a dozen games. With Rome, the 20-year-old hit .378 with four XBH, going 3 for 3 in stolen base attempts to post an impressive 196 wRC+. That performance should give him plenty of momentum going into 2022, where he’s basically guaranteed to begin the year as the R-Braves starting shortstop.

Like Shewmake ahead of him, for now at least Grissom appears to be a shortstop long-term. Also similar to the older Shewmake, Grissom is a pure hitter, sporting a career .308 AVG in two seasons as a pro. Impressively, the Florida native struck out just nine more times than he walked in 2021 (54 K / 45 BB), which is really promising for a kid his age. Basically, the 2022 season could be the year Grissom really puts himself on the map. If last year is any indication as to what’s coming next season, I could easily see him cracking the Braves top 10 and becoming a top 100 prospect by the midseason mark.

#16. JARED SHUSTER, LHP

Drafted by ATL: 1st Round, 2020 from Wake Forest (NC)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’3″ / 210 lbsL/L11th

We finally got see a full season of the Braves top draft pick from a year ago, and for the most part, it was a great showing. The left-handed Shuster began his pro journey with High-A Rome in 2021, and with a solid 14-start stint there he managed to post a 3.70 ERA to go along with 11.2 strikeouts per nine. It wasn’t an otherworldly performance by any means, but it was good enough that the Braves promoted the then-22-year-old to Double-A Mississippi in early September.

In Pearl, Shuster ran into some adversity right off the bat. His first start with the M-Braves was his worst outing as a pro as he allowed eight runs from seven hits in four innings. However, starts nos. 2 and 3 were much better, and as he became more comfortable at a higher level, the southpaw concluded his 2021 campaign with a 3.38 ERA over his final 10 2/3 innings.

Signing a $2.2-million bonus back in 2020, this is a prospect the Braves are sure to be careful with, which means Shuster could likely spend a lot of time in Mississippi next season. The kid still needs to hone in a third pitch, his slider, which is sure to help compliment his bread and butter changeup. If you recall, coming into draft day, reports were that Shuster had drastically improved his fastball velocity, so he’s certainly not foreign to developing his repertoire. This is a future mid-rotation starter, but he may require a little more time than the Elders and the Striders of the organization.


Be sure to check back at Braves Farm soon. Next, I’ll look at Tier #3 of my 2022 list, covering nos. 17-21.