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: 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.

Offseason prospect review: Greyson Jenista

Monday, November 15, 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)

#25. Greyson Jenista, OF/1B

24-years-old

2021 stats:  89 G, .216 AVG, 19 HR, 42 RBI, 124 wRC+

Trend:  Up

Back in August I wrote about Jenista’s strikeout issues, and now that the 2021 season is over, the concern is the same. The 24-year-old struck out 118 times in 329 PA this past year, which comes out to a 35.9% K rate – the highest rate of his pro career so far. Sure, the 19 home runs were nice, ranking second on the M-Braves (behind Shea Langeliers), BUT it’s going to be quite the challenge maintaining an above-average offensive profile with that many whiffs.

In the summer I had Jenista nearing a top-20 ranking, though even with the power explosion it’s going to be difficult for him to stay inside the top 30 in my new list considering the many talented outfielders in this Braves system. Although, I still like this guy as a platoon bat who only faces righties. Just consider his splits this past season…

vs. RHP:  197 PA, .256 AVG, .912 OPS, 13 HR

vs. LHP:  81 PA, .169 AVG, .752 OPS, 5 HR

2022 outlook

Cut back on the whiffs! That’s really the only thing holding back Jenista. Surprisingly, given his size (6-4, 210 lbs.), the guy is pretty athletic, and the times I’ve seen him in person he’s been solid with the glove. Jenista also has some decent speed, going 7 for 9 in stolen bases in 2021. Yeah, all-in-all, this is still a talented Braves prospect. It’s just that, given the depth of the position these days, Jenista is really going to have to step it up even more to keep up.

Obviously, with 163 games spanning two seasons worth of experience in Double-A, Jenista is ready to get his shot with Triple-A Gwinnett — either as a DH, a first baseman or an outfielder (all of which he’s spent of plenty of time playing). We’ll see if he can cut back on the swing and miss in 2022, because if he can, Jenista could finally be on the cusp of reaching his full potential.

Offseason Prospect Review: Tanner Gordon

Monday, November, 15, 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)

#26. Tanner Gordon, RHP

24-years-old

2021 stats (A / A+):  108.1 IP, 3.90 ERA, 9.1 K/9, 1.7 BB/9, 1.1 HR/9

Trend:  Up

The future looks extremely bright for Gordon, who, after struggling a bit at first in High-A Rome to begin 2021, wound up putting together an excellent campaign in his first taste of A-ball. After posting a 5.32 ERA in 22 innings with the R-Braves to begin the season, the righty was sent down to Single-A Augusta, and from there he flourished, averaging over 10 strikeouts per nine and posting a 3.43 ERA in 11 starts. By mid-August, Gordon was back in Rome and featured in my midseason Top 30.

At 6-foot-5 and 215 pounds, this is a kid that could have a very bright future once he puts it all together on the mound. The Indiana University product was a sixth-round pick by the Braves back in 2019, and with a mid-90s MPH fastball, to go with an above average breaking ball, Gordon could very well evolve into yet another top-tier arm in the system. At this point, with him just now breaking into full-season ball, the next season or two will be huge for his stock as a prospect.

2022 outlook

In 2021, Gordon really struggled when he had traffic on the base paths, posting dramatically worse numbers with runners on, compared to bases empty.

  • Bases empty:  288 PA, .211 AVG, .603 OPS
  • Runners on:  155 PA, .307 AVG, .844 OPS

A little bit of disparity between the two isn’t bad, but a whopping 239 points in OPS is a rather stark difference when it comes to performing with runners on. Gordon will definitely need to clean that up as he progresses within the Braves minor league system.

Speaking of progressing through the system: given Gordon needed a stint in Single-A to get settled in this past year, it would probably be more beneficial for him to spend at least a half-season in High-A again. The Braves still have quite a bit of depth when it comes to prospect starters, and there’s no need to rush anyone. However, with Gordon now entering his age-24 campaign, reaching Double-A in 2022 seems pretty dire. If starting is still in the cards, a continuation of what he provided last season will go a long way.

Either way, though, so far Gordon is progressing nicely. In 21 career minor league starts, to go with 14 relief appearances (or 132.2 total innings), the right-hander sports a 3.60 ERA, while also maintaining solid K/BB rates (9.8 K/9, 2.2 BB/9). It will certainly be interesting to see what his stock looks like this time next year, because another strong campaign as a starter (with perhaps some strong showings at the Double-A level), could push Gordon in the top-15 range.

Offseason Prospect Review: Drew Lugbauer

Sunday, November 14, 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)

#27. Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH

25-years-old

2021 stats: 86 G, .223 AVG, 18 HR, 117 wRC+

Trend: Up

One of the bigger surprises for the Braves minor league system in 2021, Lugbauer caught fire during the first-half of the season and wound up on my mid-season Top 30. However, a middling second-half stunted what could have been an even more spectacular year.

It’s like once the calendar hit August everything changed. For the first 58 games of his 2021 campaign (through July 31), Lugbauer was one of the better hitters in all of Double-A. But the 6-3, 220-pound first baseman couldn’t keep it going down the stretch:

  • May 7 – July 31:  58 G, .266 AVG, .890 OPS, 12 HR
  • Aug. 1 – EOS:  33 G, .145 AVG, .599 OPS, 7 HR

Though even with the rough finish, I’m still a big believer in Lugbauer. He not only increased his walk rate by nearly 5% compared to 2019, but for much of the season he maintained a high average, proving that he is in fact capable of being more than simply a left-handed power-bat.

2022 outlook

Even with the decline in his numbers since I ranked him 27th in the system back in August, I still believe there should be a place for Lugbauer in my upcoming Top 30. However, now about to enter his age-25 season, it’s now or never for the first baseman.

What will be critical is how well he adapts to Triple-A competition, which could be a challenge that presents itself as soon as the start of 2022 (although another short stint with the M-Braves wouldn’t be awful either). With the universal-DH on its way to the majors, consistent power from Lugbauer next season could continue to drastically improve his prospect stock and give the Braves an in-house option for a position it will no doubt need to fill from here on out.

Also helping Lugbauer’s stock is how well he’s hitting this fall in Arizona, where he’s teamed up with fellow Braves position-players Jesse Franklin and Luke Waddell. Playing with the AFL’s Peoria Javelinas, Lugbauer is 15 for 37 (.405 AVG) with five homers and 13 RBI in his first 11 games in the desert (through Saturday), easily leading the lineup. Given how well he hit during the regular season, a strong performance in fall ball will only help Lugbauer as he prepares to possibly open spring camp with the Braves and make his Triple-A Gwinnett debut this coming summer.