Drew Lugbauer has long been a fan favorite, wowing onlookers with his impressive raw power. 2023 saw him put himself in the Mississippi Braves record books, but could also have been his last in the Atlanta Braves system.
Drew Lugbauer was drafted in the 11th round of the 2017 First Year Player Draft. He spent three years playing baseball at Michigan, where he hit 12 home runs as a junior.
Preseason Report Card
Lugbauer came into this season having spent consecutive season at Double-A, and the hope was that the 26-year-old would have the opportunity to prove himself in Triple-A. In 2022, Lugbauer set the Mississippi Braves single season record with 28 home runs, but despite his absurd power, he hadn’t ever separated himself in any area. With his age and impending minor league free agency, Lugbauer needed to prove he had any semblance of a hit tool in order to be seen as a piece of potential major league quality.
What we saw in 2023
Lugbauer once again started out his season at Double-A, and while he continued to put up incredible offensive numbers, he showed little in the way of improvement with his contact. Lugbauer struck out 34 percent of the time, a slight improvement from prior seasons but still far from what it would take to have any confidence in his development. With his lack of defensive ability, he had a narrow profile to succeed. Still, at a bare minimum, he showed that he could take his power production to even greater heights heights. Lugbauer hit 22 home runs in just 69 games, a notable feat in a league and a park known for suppressing power output. He set the Mississippi Braves all-time mark with 68 career home runs before finally receiving his Triple-A promotion in mid-August.
Lugbauer got off to a roaring start with a home run in his second Gwinnett plate appearance, but his time in Gwinnett was nothing sort of disastrous. He struck out 45 percent of the time in his 25 games, and his ability to coax walks from lower-level pitchers to boost his on base percentage wasn’t there as he had just a 6.1 percent walk rate. Overall, Lugbauer posted a 51 wRC+ in 98 PAs for Gwinnett, a disappointing but not altogether surprising end-of-season line for a player who had never made contact at any level.
Drew Lugbauer now finds himself a minor league free agent, and while his power will likely land him a job somewhere, it’s also likely his time with the Braves has come to an end. For all of his Double-A heroics, perhaps his most memorable stretch as a Brave was his 2021 Arizona Fall League campaign during which he hit six home runs in just 16 games and put up a 1.145 OPS. Certainly, his power gives a team reason to feel he is worth a flyer at the cost of a minor league contract, but for his own sake it doesn’t seem that his best chance will ever come in Atlanta. Hopefully Lugbauer can find greener pastures and a team with the answers he needs to develop his hit tool enough to make it to the major leagues. He was a fun player to watch in the system over the past few years, but as is the case with most prospects, it is unlikely he will ever meet his potential.