Spencer Schwellenbach finally made his long-awaited professional debut this year, nearly two full years after being drafted.
The Atlanta Braves drafted Schwellenbach in the second round of the 2021 MLB Draft out of Nebraska. Schwellenbach had been heavily linked to the team as their potential first round pick, but due to some injury concerns, he slid to the Braves in the second round. Schwellenbach signed for a $1 million bonus, but went down with an injury requiring surgery prior to making his debut.
Preseason Report Card
Schwellenbach came in ranked sixth in our Preseason Top 25 list of prospects despite the fact he hadn’t appeared in a pro game yet due to Tommy John Surgery in 2021 and a recovery process where the Braves brought him along slowly in 2022. He was a bit of a mystery considering he was a two-way player at Nebraska making the move from reliever to starter, but the 6’1”, 200-pound right-hander had the arsenal to make the transition one to watch.
What we saw in 2023
Schwellenbach started in Low-A Augusta and pitched reasonably well. He made 13 starts, though strict limits on his pitch counts, due to TJS, limited him to 51 1⁄3 innings in those 13 starts. He pitched to a 2.63 ERA, 3.86 FIP, and 4.03 xFIP with 41 strikeouts to 15 walks at Augusta, and was selected to appear in the Futures Game.
When you consider the facts that he was not only shaking off the rust from nearly two full years off, but also making the conversion to starter and making his professional debut, it is hard to really judge what we saw this year from Schwellenbach. The overall stat line looked solid, though he didn’t quite miss bats at a rate you’d expect for a guy who can hit 99 MPH and has two other potentially above-average pitches with the slider and change.
He spent a bit of time on the injured list this year, which is hardly uncommon for a guy in his return from TJS, before making his final three starts in High-A Rome. Schwellenbach pitched very well in Rome, posting 14 strikeouts in 13 2⁄3 innings, with a 1.98 ERA, 2.12 FIP, and 3.46 xFIP — though a small sample size warning is obviously something to keep anyone from getting too excited.
After making his pro debut and being another year out from his surgery, Schwellenbach will likely get the training wheels taken off him this season. It wouldn’t be a surprise to see him start back with Rome, since he had just three starts there, with a chance to pitch his way to Double-A fairly quickly. It is also possible he earns a shot to open the year in Double-A if he has a strong enough Spring Training. Either way, he will be a guy to watch closely this year, even more than last year, to see if he will be able to continue progressing as a starter or if he might end up becoming a high-leverage reliever instead.