With opening day for all minor league clubs inching closer, rosters for Braves affiliates are slowly being released. The Rome Braves debuted their opening day squad Wednesday afternoon and the roster features perhaps the most upside and intrigue of any Braves MiLB roster we’ll see this season. There are plenty of newcomers to the roster from the 2022 draft as well as some returning players looking to build off of last season’s campaign and make the push for Mississippi.
In terms of pitchers named to the roster, there are a few names that stick out more than most. But the number one arm people will have their eyes on is Battery Power’s top preseason prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, who opens up his year with Rome.
The 20-year-old righty started 17 games with Augusta in his first full season as a pro and now gets the nod to High-A to start the season. In those 17 games with the GreenJackets, Smith-Shawver spun a 5.11 ERA and while that’s certainly not a sterling number to look at, his strikeout numbers with 103. He only allowed 4 homers across 68 ⅔ innings as well.
As Smith-Shawver is surely to garner most of the attention, there are a few other pitchers worth keeping an eye on to start the year. Guys like JJ Niekro and Rolddy Munoz make their return to Rome while newcomers like Luis Vargas are looking to increase their prospect status with a strong showing for the Braves.
Position-wise, Rome looks to be as stacked as any of the Braves’ affiliates.
Starting behind the dish, Drake Baldwin will get his first taste of High-A this season. Across two levels last year, Baldwin posted a .711 OPS while showing he may have the ability to stick at catcher. With a very weak group of catching prospects throughout the system, the potential is there for Baldwin to become the top backstop prospect the Braves have.
On the infield, third baseman Ignacio Alvarez leads the way for an intriguing group of prospects kicking off the year in Rome.Alvarez skyrocketed up prospect lists after a strong debut in pro ball after being selected by Atlanta in the 5th round of the 2022 draft, posting an .844 OPS in 30 games between the FCL and Augusta. Keshawn Ogans and Geraldo Quintero will suit up for Rome once again, both after a brief stint at High-A which saw them play in a combined 29 games last year.
The outfield is the real bread and butter of the prospect corps for Rome. Brandol Mezquita and Stephen Paolini are a couple of names kicking things off at Rome Braves fans are most-likely familiar with at this point. Mezquita only played 17 games with the club last year, sporting a .518 OPS. Paolini, on the other hand, finally gets the bump up to High-A after lingering in the lower rungs of the minors since his 5th-round selection in 2019.
Perhaps the two prospects with a sense of intrigue are Kadon Morton and Kevin Kilpatrick Jr. Morton got a small taste of Rome last season, appearing in 5 games. As for Kilpatrick, the Braves obviously see something in the 2022 17th-rounder as he was garnering significant playing time in big league spring training late in camp. Add to the mix his .788 OPS last season between the FCL and Augusta and there’s potential here for Rome to have the best minor league outfield in the Braves system.
Rome opens up their 2023 season tomorrow, April 6, with a three game stint against the Greenville Drive.