We return to our minor league coverage soon (I cannot tell you how much we have missed actual minor league baseball), but for the moment, it is important to note that the ultimate goal of minor league development is to actually, you know, produce major league players and the Braves have been quite adept at doing so in recent years. Sure, we could quibble about how many guys have reached their ceiling so far, but by and large the Braves rebuild has been a success story built around a lot of youth from their minor league ranks.
In that spirit, we look to the 2021 season and the position player prospects that we could see in the major leagues this season. This is roughly in order from most likely to least likely although there is a lot of variance especially amongst the last few guys I mention. Also, I wouldn’t be surprised if someone came out of nowhere and made the big leagues, so brace yourselves.
Cristian Pache - Easiest pick by a mile here as he is the likely favorite to be the Braves’ centerfielder on Opening Day 2021. It isn’t a given because Ender Inciarte is owed real money and his “veteran presents” or something, but if you are picking one guy that you think is going to play this season, betting on the guy who already beat his main competition for a postseason roster spot is a good bet to make.
Alex Jackson - This seems closer than I originally thought between Jackson and William Contreras for the backup catcher spot. With Tyler Flowers, at least we think, no longer in the fold, there does seem to be a real opportunity for some new blood at catcher to get some real time in the big leagues. Jackson’s hit tool is legitimately atrocious and if it were me, I would be playing Contreras, but folks do seem to like how AJax has looked behind the plate and calling games and in a backup catcher, that is really what you need most. Plus, he has some serious raw power, so there is some upside even if some of his at-bats will absolutely make you cringe.
William Contreras - The other half of the backup catcher debate, Contreras gets the nod here over Shea Langeliers almost entirely because he is already on the 40 man roster like Jackson. Langeliers will get his shot soon as well, but there are only so many catchers one can put on the 40-man roster without giving them at least some semblance of a shot. Contreras is the better offensive player than Jackson right now and he has impressed behind the plate as well, but there is the whole “playing everyday vs. being in the big leagues as a backup” question that needs answering. I wouldn’t be surprised either way here.
Drew Waters - Waters is a polarizing prospect amongst, well, virtually everyone. Ultimately, his success is going to come down to whether or not his approach/hit tool plays enough, but he has physical tools for days and a lot of talent for the game. Switch hitting outfielders who can play all three positions well, run, and hit for power are tough to come by even with some imperfections. Pache will get a shot before him, but if something were to happen to Acuna or Ozuna OR if the DH were put in place at the last minute, don’t be surprised if Waters gets a look at some point.
Braden Shewmake - Shewmake has seemingly put on some weight over the last year or so and, at least according to him, it hasn’t hurt his mobility which is good news for those of us that wondered if his frame would eventually hold some additional muscle. He does a lot of things well and, given that he was a college draftee in 2019, if he is performing well in the minors and the Braves find themselves in need of an infielder during the 2021 season...Shewmake may be the guy.
Trey Harris - We are getting into the more speculative picks here. Harris has both Pache and Waters likely ahead of him on the depth chart, but he raked back in 2019 and could force the Braves into making a decision on his role with a strong first half of the 2021 season given his age.
Justin Dean - See Harris’ entry above because it all applies to Dean, as well. One note on Dean that isn’t for Trey, while Justin may not hit as much as Trey likely would, Dean can absolutely fly and with the pitcher’s spot back in the lineup, those sorts of substitutions matter more this season. The Braves bringing in Terrance Gore didn’t help Dean’s candidacy for that job, though.
Bryce Ball - Again, this is unlikely but worth mentioning nonetheless. Given Ball’s age, if he crushes a bunch of baseballs, he could ascend the minor league ladder very quickly with no one ahead of him on the prospect depth chart there currently at first base. If he were to do that AND either some weird DH stuff were to happen or god forbid Freddie Freeman got hurt during the season, it could happen.