Middle infield prospects have produced big dividends for the Atlanta Braves over their recent history, as they’ve seen contributions at the major league level from Andrelton Simmons, Ozzie Albies, Dansby Swanson, and Johan Camargo. While once a major strength in their system, with players graduating to the major leagues or having their careers taper off and flame out there is a bit of a weakness in that part of the system. While they do have two solid prospects in Braden Shewmake and Vaughn Grissom listed at shortstop, neither are yet in the realm of some of the elite talent the Braves have come through and beyond there it tapers off into a handful of fringy prospects that may not have the longest future in the system. If the Braves choose to target up the middle players in the draft don’t be surprised, as that’s typically where you’ll find your strongest athletes and many of the young high school players coming out this year will fit that mold and there’s always talent to play with in every draft.
Shewmake is the consensus top middle infield prospect in this system, both for his natural hitting ability and the seeming surety that he can stick at the shortstop position at the major league level. Shewmake could be seen as an overdraft in being a first round pick, don’t don’t confuse that to mean that he wasn’t a talented player that the Braves should and do have high hope for. He took no time in getting placed in Double-A right in his first professional season, and while his numbers are far from what you want in a small sample he at the least wasn’t overmatched after a huge jump in competition. Shewmake is as sure a bet as you’ll find in a prospect to make it to the major leagues as a middle infielder who can put solid contact on the ball and play average or better defense will at least see himself find a bench role. The question for Shewmake will be how well he can develop power. If his frame can hold more muscle and he can develop into a 15-20 home run type player then you have a guy who is a solid starter, but there are concerns that he’s effectively maxed out and any attempts to add strength will either fail or push him off the middle infield where his offensive profile will be further tested. For the time being the Braves make look to push some mechanical tweaks to try to tap into what they hope is significant untapped power potential, and we’ll just have to give him time to see how any changes work out. He should be reasonably quick to major league ready, but may be one that takes a few years before we truly see what level he will be long term.
You would not have to do much convincing to get me to say that Vaughn Grissom is the most purely talented middle infielder in the system, but the biggest question is and will be whether he remains as a shortstop or slides over to third base. Grissom is a bigger guy at 6’3 and his frame could add significant weight and muscle so his chances to stick at shortstop seem low right now. There is internal belief that he could handle shortstop, but this is going to just be a development to follow rather than a prediction for the moment. Fortunately, regardless of where he ends up Grissom has the tools to be fantastic player. Grissom has raw power to spare now and could add more as he grows into his body giving him a high overall offensive potential. Grissom hit well in his first professional season and only struck out less than 15% of the time, but while these numbers are encouraging they aren’t nearly enough to dispel the concerns about his bat. Grissom’s future will depend on whether that bat can develop, and the Braves are actively working on cleaning up and simplifying his swing to allow his natural power to play up and to get the most out of his contact profile.
Graffanino is a wild card at best for the system as an injury kept him out of the entire 2019 season and he’s now potentially looking at two full seasons of development lost, but he’s also an interesting prospect that is worth being excited over. Graffanino will definitely stick at the shortstop position and plays it at an above average level which immediately gives him a leg up over others in the system. He has a high contact approach at the plate and will put the ball in play a lot, but that’s about where the positives about his profile end. He doesn’t walk as much as you want especially for a college player whose approach should be more refined at this stage. His swing is short and a bit stiff, which works great for putting the ball in play but will need tweaks for him to produce the power needed to be a starting shortstop at the major league level. Loosening up his lower body could allow him to tap into power, and at 6’2 170 lbs there is room for him to grow the only question is whether that will impact his defensive potential. Graff isn’t a natural burner, but he does have decent speed and makes use of it in the field with fantastic instincts and a strong arm. This should play regardless of whether he adds strength, though it is worth noting that he’s been a bit error prone and will have to clean it up a bit or else may start to draw ire as he reaches higher levels.
Greg Cullen is the best player in the system at getting on base, and his entire game revolves around that skill. His bat is a bit above average, and he makes use of that well with great plate discipline and an eye for the strike zone that allows him to consistently draw walks. His power is likely average at best and he will be challenged at higher levels so he may not always have elite walk rates, but his power is enough and he’ll always have a propensity for finding himself on the basepaths. While Cullen can’t play shortstop, he has enough speed and versatility to play in the outfield and with his overall profile that will be a valuable skill. Cullen is unlikely to ever be a starter at the major league level with all of his limitations, but he’s got the makings of a player who can be a valuable role player that can get on base and play solid defense.
Delgado is a bit confusing as a prospect and it’s a surprise he’s now spent about a season and a half at High-A, but if there’s one thing that’s clear about Delgado it’s that he can hit. He strikes out at well below 10% and there’s no reason to believe that will change any time soon. He doesn’t draw enough walks to get on base at an elite level and he produces minimal power and both of these things will limit his ceiling. Delgado is a very solid defender and many in the system have raved about how much they like him and believe in his potential. Delgado, like Graffanino and Cullen above him, fit the role of guys you can easily see in a major league uniform but the cards may never fall for them to be full time players.
We definitely have to touch on Beau Philip here, but truth is I have no idea what to think of him. Going for him in the second round was a significant stretch in this author’s opinion, and he doesn’t really seem to have one tool that makes him stand out enough. Philip is much more raw than most college players you see as a second round pick out of college, and the overall potential doesn’t seem to be high enough to justify such a high pick. Philip’s swing is noisy and can be inconsistent, so while his natural power and bat speed are good neither get much chance to show. He’s bat to ball skills are fringy, as is his approach and both need a lot of time to develop. His defense is good but not impact level at least not in a way to justify a high pick. The Braves really took a chance on him reaching his potential, and if they make swing tweaks he could get there, but that draft position puts a lot of pressure on him and it’s unlikely he will meet those expectations.
Alejandro Salazar, Kevin Josephina, Braulio Vasquez