My front garden is starting to stir and that means it must be spring training time, and that means it’s almost my favorite time of the year: Minor League baseball season. We are a few weeks away from minor league opening day, but many of the Atlanta Braves’s top prospects have been active so far in spring training. This is going to be the first of four weekly updates on the minor league players in major league camp, along with a round up of notable transactions and news relating to the Braves minor league system. The season is so close you can almost smell it although that may just be the daffodils.
Top Prospects Performance
Early in spring training is always a busy time for prospects getting a sniff in major league camp, and this year that has been especially so for the shortstops of the system. Cal Conley and Braden Shewmake have both gotten significant at bats although with differing results. Shewmake is the one who has been playing the most shortstop, unsurprising given his defensive reputation, and it’s been an altogether solid showing in seven appearances. Shewmake has gone 4-12 with a double and some good defense, which is nice to see following his PCL tear last season. Conley on the other hand has been struggling and has been primarily used at second base (five appearances) with an appearance each at third base, shortstop, and designated hitter. Conley has just one hit and four strikeouts in thirteen at bats, though fortunately that hit did fall for a double. Luke Waddell has a hit and two walks in nine plate appearances after missing nearly all of 2022, while up-and-coming 3B/SS Ignacio Alvarez made one appearance and grounded out.
Catching is another area where it tends to be all hands on deck for spring training with the three best Braves prospects all appearing in games. Drake Baldwin has gotten the most time in games with no hits and a walk in five plate appearances across three games. Tyler Tolve is the only one of the catching prospects to get a hit with one of those in three at bats to go along with two walks, while Javier Valdes (who will not stick at catcher long term) grounded into a double play in his lone appearance. Two very low level outfielders also got into games. Kevin Kilpatrick Jr. and Kadon Morton are both interesting athletes, with Kilpatrick flying out in his lone appearance and Morton only getting in once to play defense.
Atlanta has also gotten some interesting looks at young pitching, with the most interesting spring coming from Dylan Dodd. Dodd has looked positively fantastic in his two appearances with seven strikeouts and no runs or walks in 4 1⁄3 innings. Dodd is a long shot for the opening day rotation, but is one of a handful of pitchers who could be on the short list to be called up early in the season. Dodd is the most underrated arm in the system, and despite lacking the buzz of some others is a real long-term option for the Braves if he continues to develop as he has.. The top of that list, however, belongs to Darius Vines who will likely spend a good deal of time in camp given his 40 man status. Vines made two scoreless appearances with three strikeouts in an inning in the first and two innings with no strikeouts in the second. Jared Shuster is also a top candidate to make spot starts this season and pitched two scoreless innings of relief in his only appearance. Behind the three starters four notable relief arms have appeared, led by Roddery Munoz who holds the distinction of a 40 man roster spot. Munoz appeared twice this past week and didn’t allow a run in either inning despite an uneasy performance with two outs in the first of those. His brother Rolddy Munoz also pitched a scoreless inning and struck out two batters with two walks. Blake Burkhalter struck out two batters in a scoreless relief inning as well, and is primed to be the quickest mover among the 2022 draft class. The final relief arm of note is Victor Vodnik, who really struggled despite being seen as the system’s top relief prospect. Vodnik allowed seven earned runs over three innings pitched with four hits allowed in his first and third appearance. They were not cheap hits either, with three extra base hits in the former game and another double in the latter.
Other Notable Minor Leaguers
Justin Dean’s age and lack of upper level hitting performance has dropped him from top prospect status, but he is still a relatively young player who has the chance to stick on a major league bench. If he has ever made a case to get that opportunity it has been this spring, where he has gone 6-12 with two walks, a double, and five stolen bases. Add in an unclear bench situation at the major league level, his defense at all three positions, and a highlight outfield assist and Dean has certainly made his best case for himself.
Cody Milligan has a solid chance as a bench option in the major leagues as well with his defensive versatility, but his struggles at Double-A last season have continued into a less-than-impressive spring. Milligan is 1-10 with a double and five strikeouts in seven appearances, though the Braves have done well to utilize his versatility. Catcher Chadwick Tromp is among the Braves emergency options and has made three appearances going 1-6 with a walk. Slugging first baseman Landon Stephens is coming off of a season in which he hit 22 home runs and in common fashion for him has walked and struck out in his two plate appearances. Fan favorite Drew Lugbauer has had about the worst spring possible with five at bats that all ended in strikeouts.
On the pitching side of things Alan Rangel is the most notable of the remaining names and it hasn’t been a great spring for him. Rangel debuted nicely with a strikeout in a perfect inning but quickly become the subject of game recapper’s despair with his next two. Following a leadoff fielding error by Lugbauer in his second appearance Rangel allowed two unearned runs on three two out hits to wipe out a shutout of the Mets. Then Rangel joined Nolan Kingham in blowing a 6-2 lead in the ninth inning of Sunday’s game as Rangel allowed three runs on two walks and a home run. Kingham followed by allowing five runs to let the lead slip fully away. Allan with two L’s Winans came off of a decent Arizona Fall League stint with a couple of showings this spring. In the first he was called in to just finish out a mess left by Ian Anderson before departing as Anderson was brought back into the game. Winans was again brought into a situation with runners on in his second appearance and he was not fantastic allowing four hits, two runs, and two both inherited runners to score as part of a five-run frame. In positive news Winans struck out two batters in the inning, and three of those hits were BABIP demons or poor defensive plays which unfortunately bit Winans.
Minor League News
There has not been much major news on the minor league front so far, though there have been a few notable players moved out of Major League camp. Tyler Tolve and Chadwick Tromp were both assigned to the minor leagues, as was reliever Blake Burkhalter following his lone appearance. The Braves will likely see much more official movement coming during and after this week, with a combination of unannounced call ups to fill in for games giving us more to talk about here.
The biggest news of the week was MLB pipeline releasing their top 30 Braves prospects last Monday, which was topped by Jared Shuster. Notably the list also had Braden Shewmake ranked sixth in the system and recent top international signee Luis Guanipa ranking 16th. Pipeline is one of a handful of rankings that have been willing to go high on Ignacio Alvarez’s fantastic professional debut and pushed him all the way to number 15.