Braves MiLB season is over and it was a rollercoaster of a season. It was awesome watching players who dominate getting promoted, even multiple times during the season. At other times, it was pain inducing watching entire lineups struggle to make contact. Where the system is at right now, there was more bad than good, imo. I probably missed a few players, but overall, if I didn’t include them, they were more or less in line with what I expected. Let’s get into who impressed and who disappointed.
I don’t know what the Braves are doing at the lower minors, but seeing how many players had K-rates over 30% was super disappointing. I know the system is poor, but I’m not sure that’s an excuse so many players not being able to make contact at the lower levels. Really hope they make some big changes, because I don’t want to watch that crap again.
Grab a snack and some juice, cause it's a long read.
AJ Smith-Shawver – For a guy that didn’t pitch much before he was drafted, he’s improved in many areas very quickly. Braves don’t exactly have a good history with pitchers debuting at age 20/21. It usually means a pitcher was rushed, but hopefully it’s different with AJSS. Command was certainly an issue last season, but showed so much improvement with command that he skyrocketed across multiple levels. He also added a splitter and curveball to his arsenal. Now, as the season wore on and as he moved up, he started to walk more. Still, what a successful season my AJSS. My main concern now is health. He was on the IL with shoulder discomfort, so that’s 2 years in a row that he’s dealt with shoulder issues where he didn’t even throw 100 innings.
2024 Outlook: Staying healthy is #1. While the curve had a solid whiff% of 25%, according to Savant, it was his worst pitch with a .636 SLG. I think it’s mainly due to placement and handing it more often than any other pitch. He started to use the splitter as his put away pitch, and the numbers back it up. However, I’d still like to see the splitter a bit more, and knock the fastball usage to 45-50%. I do think working on and adding new pitches did take away from the slider. It didn’t quite look like the double plus pitch in 2022, though it was still very good. Hopefully the slider gets back to the double plus range in 2024.
Jhancarlos Lara – Where did this kid come from? Not only does his fastball usually sit around 96 mph, it also has elite spin rates. He commanded it better than I would have thought, but elite velo can crush at lower levels. The real test will be once he gets to AA. His slider was also pretty good. I think it’s a pitch that flashed above avg to plus occasionally, which is pretty good for a 20-year-old. The change-up definitely needs work.
2024 Outlook: I truly hope the Braves slow it down for this guy. He should be back in High-A, and I’d keep him there for most of the season to work on his pitch arsenal. He has to improve his secondaries and work on better fastball command. With his velo, it might make sense to add an additional fastball like a cutter or 2 seamer.
David McCabe – He had a good season, but despite that, I really thought the Braves left him in Low-A way too long. He’s already 23, so he needs to move quickly. He was about the same at High-A as he was at Low-A, so it's good to not see much if any dropoff going up a level. His defense at 3B is atrocious though.
2024 Outlook: Start him off at AA and see how he does. Move him to 1B too so he can work on that.
Drake Baldwin – He’s now the #1 catcher in the system. Started off slow with the bat, but really turned it on and never looked back. Also, he looks real good behind the plate. 24% CS% and a .991 FLD%. Had 1 less passed ball (just 3!) than Tolve despite well over 40% more innings.
2024 Outlook: Should start the year off at AAA. We’ll have to see if he’s a notoriously slow starter or not, but it would be nice if he doesn’t take a month or so to get rolling. Should be the first catcher called up once d’Arnaud goes on the IL.
Ignacio Alvarez – Held his own as a 20 year old in High-A. As the season went along, he started to sacrifice contact rates for a bit more power. Not sure the tradeoff was worth it at this point. Known for defense, it was ok at SS. Probably a 3B long term. I’ll compare him to Grissom, who also didn’t show much power until he hit age 21/22. The power will come in another year or two, so he shouldn’t try to sell out in the interim.
Hurston Waldrep – Lived up to the expectations and then some. Despite wanting the Braves to draft a couple of HS SS, I wasstill pretty happy with the pick. It's not often you get a power pitcher with 3 potential plus or better pitches at the backend of the first round. It was only due to his wart of walking too many guys that he was likely available. Fastball was 94-98 and flashed a special cutter and slider. Another plus is his HR rate, which is much lower than you'd expect from a power pitcher. It'll be interesting if that carries over next year.
2024 Outlook: Improved fastball command and lower the walk rate.
JR Ritchie – He was pitching like he was a 1st round pick before he got hurt. A damn shame, cause his mid 90’s fastball paired with that plus slider were such a killer combo. Just hope he makes a full recovery.
Hayden Harris – Not sure anyone expected anything from Harris, who was an UDFA out of Georgia Southern, but he did impress. He is an older player, so the Braves did move him across 3 levels and he pitched well at each stop. Lots of strikeouts.
Ethan Workinger – It was a tale of 2 halves. First half was spent in Low-A and he was exceptional. However, it was a different story at High-A. I’m not sure what it was, but he really got away from why he was so successful on Low-A and that was showing more patience at the plate. It might be an issue with pitch recognition, so that could be a huge concern moving forward, but hopefully he figures it out.
2024 Outlook: A more patient approach at the plate, and less chasing.
Cedric DeGrandpre – Like Workinger, he pitched very well at Low-A, but struggled on the bump up to High-A. He especially struggled the 2nd time through the order. His mid 90’s sinker and slider should play out of the bullpen, but I’m sure he’ll stay a starter for now.
Luis Guanipa – Started off scorching hot, but really faded quickly and finished with a .745 OPS (129th in DSL)
Mario Baez – Posted an .815 OPS, tops in the 2023 IFA class. And that was only good enough for 79th in the DSL. Ouch!
Owen Murphy – I might be in the minority, but overall, I just didn’t think Murphy’s first full season was all that great. I guess I just expected a bit more out of a 1st round pick. His fastball sat 90/91, which was lower than the 93-95 he showed last year (though in short spurts). His fastball command was pretty poor as he threw the pitch down the middle or up in the zone way too much. I know he has elite spin rates, so maybe that’s why the pitch wasn’t hit more. However, I'm hitting the doubt button that it'll work at higher levels. I do think his curve/slider/change all flashed above average or better at times, but early in the season, he was afraid to throw them in the zone, which led to long pitch counts as batters would try and focus on the fastball in the zone. As a result, he gave up a lot of runs, but he also racked up a lot of strikeouts. He's undersized, so adding a few ticks on the fastball at this point is a long shot. So it'll come down to fastball command and his secondaries. Seems his max ceiling is Bryce Elder, but realistically more akin to Kolby Allard/Darius Vines type. Not very exciting for a 1st round pick.
Dylan Dodd – I’m still wondering if he was battling some nagging injuries most of the year. His velo was down until his final 5 or 6 starts. The change-up went from a plus/plus-plus pitch to avg/above avg. Maybe he was focusing on improving his breakers that he neglected everything else. Not sure, but glad the velo was back toward the end. Just have to hope he can recapture the change-up. I still like him over Shuster.
2024 Outlook: I’d honestly like to see him move into a long reliever role. But he has to recapture that change-up and improve his slider.
Jared Shuster – The Shuster and Shewmake picks remind me so much of the Braves mid 2000’s uninspired picks like Gilmartin, Gimore, DeVall, Minor, Sims. Lipka, Davidson and Hursh. Hopefully Muphy won’t be added to the list. What can you say, the Braves scouts were bamboozled by his junior season where he was throwing 93-96 mph. Now he sits around 91 mph, and while he has a good change-up, it’s not fooling as many hitters cause the fastball and slider are well below avg pitches.
2024 Outlook: I’d be surprised if he’s on the Braves 40 man roster come next season.
Braden Shewmake – Underperformed at the college level and nothing has changed. He’ll tinker with the swing, but always seems to go back to his original swing that just doesn’t work. He’ll tease for a few games, but it never lasts and there’s no consistency. His defense is good enough to likely keep him around as a defensive backup.
2024 Outlook – For the love of God, get a new swing and stick to it.
Adam Maier – This is looking more and more like a waste of $1.2M on bonus pool money. It’s gonna look even worse if he pitches and then goes down to injury needing TJS that they tried to avoid.
2024 Oulook: I can haz pitching, please?
Seth Keller – Stuff just doesn’t look good. Fastball sits around 90 mph and he’s way undersized. The change-up is probably his best pitch, but that barely flashes above avg at times.
Tyler Collins – I’m not a fan of speed only players and Collins is an example of why. Hitting is what takes you anywhere in the league, and Collin’s lacks hitting ability. 25% K-rate is simply too high for a slap hitter, though he does get some kudos for an 11% walk rate. At least he can get on base a little.
Cal Conley – 61 wRC+ in AA. He was barely average last year in Low-A/High-A. 0 power. Doesn’t walk at elite rates. There’s just not much to like outside the ability to steal bases, but he’s not an OB guy.
Tyler Tolve – Maybe he should get a pass for being on the IL for a good portion, so maybe he wasn’t fully 100% while playing. It certainly a let down in just about every way from a promising 2022 season. One positive is that he did lower his K-rate to under 30% at a higher level (AA), while keeping a solid 9% BB%. Just have to hope repeating AA will net better results, cause he’s fallen behind Baldwin now.
Adam Shoemaker – Showed flashes, but he struggled with command/control with his 6’6" frame. He just turned 21, so he’s got time. Which is good cause he has a lot to work on.
Kevin Kilpatrick – He makes me sad. He has one of the prettiest swings in the Braves minor leagues, but that don’t mean crap if you don’t make enough good contact. He did just turn 22, so he still has a couple of years to prove himself.
Noah Williams - Late round prep pick. He was not good in SSS. Turns 20 in April.
Christian Jackson – Late round prep pick. He was not good in SSS. Turns 20 this month.
Harrison Owen – I had some hopes when Owen was drafted. He’s a JUCO bat, and he put up some really big numbers. We’ve seen the Braves have success with JUCO players with Workinger and even Ceballos this year. However, Owen is a catcher and they are playing it slow with him. He wasn’t good at all when he did get playing time. I think he’ll start in Low-A next season. He also turns 22, so hopefully he’s learned a lot and it pays off.
Ambioris Tavarez – The first big signing since 2015. He’s not been good and hasn’t been worth the $1.5M they gave him. He did alter his swing to be somewhat close to Acuna, but there’s still too much movement and he holds the bat really far away from him. I’d like to see him bring the hands in and stop all the movement. Nothing matters unless he gets the K-rate down from 41%. He was supposed to be know for his defense, and while he can make some good plays, he was very error prone. I really don’t know what happens with Tavarez next year. Does he repeat or do they simply push him to High-A? Either way, unless he finds a way to make contact, he doesn’t have much of a future. 41% K-rate won’t play anywhere. I don’t see how anyone can keep him in their top 30 even in a weak system.
Elison Joseph – He was my breakout candidate for this season and he fizzled. I knew he’d start in the pen, but I was hoping his control would improve that he’d earn his way to a starter role. He did improve his K-rate and lowered his BB-rate from last year, but the walks are still just too high. He can pump 99 mph and has a pretty decent slider. If he can just improve his control, he'll be an elite closer/reliever type. He’ll be 23 in January and spent the entire season in Low-A, so time is starting to slip away.
Stephen Paolini – This was his 3rd full season and there’s been no improvement with the bat.
Brandon Parker – He’s shown flashes with the bat, but that’s honestly not saying much. He was 24 this season and squeaked his way to AA. This might be his max here.
Brandol Mezquita – He’s been living off such a fast start to 2022 that was heavily influenced by a high BABIP that he got quite the following. He did deal with injuries this season, but he repeated High-A and he put up a 34 wRC+. We are talking about 0 power, not even gap power. He was that bad. He is just 22 years old, but if he doesn’t learn to make consistent and hard contact, then it doesn’t bode well.
Kadon Morton – His defense and arm are legit elite. He just can’t hit.
Geraldo Quintero – Had an excellent 2022 with the bat, where he had over 40 XBH. He has great strike zone judgement, but for some reason he just wasn’t making very good contact. Lots of pop ups and dribblers this season, but oddly enough he wasn’t unlucky. Quintero is really a bat only type of player, so he needs to get back to 2022 levels with the bat again.
Jair Casanova – Posted a 117 wRC+ his debut year. Was pushed to Low-A this season and he didn’t make enough contact to stay in the regular lineup. He showed flashes, but he’s got to show more consistency in 2024 and reduce the K-rate.
Diego Benitez – Unlike Casanova, Benitez didn’t even make it to Low-A despite being their big international signing in 2022. Showed very little power. Was mostly just meh. Solid but not great BB/K rates. You expect more from someone that was given $2.5M. That’s 1st round domestic draft money.
Alan Rangel – Went from being such a consistent pitcher to a really inconsistent one. He’s got a strong repertoire of pitches, but struggles with control and command. Very prone to hanging breakers. It’s either he dominates or gets blasted. He’s turned into a very weird profile. I do wonder how the stuff would look out of the pen.
Jesse Franklin – A lot of swing/miss, but the power is real. Also prone to injuries. Would like to see more contact.
Douglas Glod – Got $1.3M and apparently showed up to ST overweight and out of shape. He also strikes out a lot, but does have a fair amount of pop and elite BB-rates. While he did post a 113 wRC+, the lack of consistent contact makes his long term outlook very sketchy so I cannot put him in the positive category. You want to see international players that get over $1M really dominate and that’s not happening.
Alexander Martinez – I’ll include him since they gave him $400K in 2022 (3rd highest behind Benitez/Glod) and didn’t do much of anything with the bat. His defensive numbers looked good though. Again, you kinda want more from a player that gets a lot of pool money.
Darius Vines – Injured most of the season. He’s not a velo guy, but his velo was down a little from last year where he was 92/93 in a lot of games to around 89/90 this season. His secondaries still look good.
Daysbel Hernandez – Came off the IL and went back on a couple of times. Puts up insanely good numbers when he’s out there pitching. Please stay healthy for 2024!
Brooks Wilson – Returned from TJS. Was good in SSS.
Cole Phillips – Thought we might see him near the end of the year, but probably a good call holding him back to work on things. Liked the report of him hitting 99 mph, so excited to see him next season. Only question is will he start at Low-A or will they hold him back a bit to keep his innings in check?