It has been an eventful month for the Battery Power minor league staff with the recent MLB draft, and we are finishing it off with our staple feature. Starting today we’ll be going through our rankings of the top 25 prospects in the Atlanta Braves system, working from the bottom of the list up. This list was a collaborative effort between myself and the rest of the minor league crew of Matt Powers, Brady Petree, and Devin Csigi. The list started yesterday with our honorable mentions.
For those of you familiar with how we do our lists, you can skip this section and head straight for the rankings, but for those who don’t the list is a composite of each of our individual rankings of players. While there was a lot of agreement on which players to rank, there was quite a bit of variance within our lists and we have always felt that it provides the most fair reflection to draw rankings from multiple people. Because of this in many cases the rankings are incredibly close and even came down to tie-breakers between a couple of individuals, so the rankings should not be seen as terribly strict. It should be more seen as a system of tiers, with a bunching of players at the bottom of the system in the same ranking, another bunching of talent a little higher, and then the higher level talent at the top of the system.
I will be hanging around in the comments of each of these posts over the next few days, so feel free to ask any questions about the list or ask for clarification if and when it’s needed. Without further ado, here is the 2023 midseason top prospects for the Atlanta Braves.
25. Luke Waddell - IF
How he got to the Braves: 5th round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft
Luke Waddell has long been known as a player that can hit, and throughout his college and professional career that judgement has held true. After posting a career .407 OBP with Georgia Tech the Braves selected Waddell with their 5th round pick in 2021 and watched him continue to rake as he has advanced through the system. Waddell has a career .371 OBP in the Braves system and has more walks than strikeouts, a trend which has gone another step this season. Waddell is putting up career best numbers in batting average and on base percentage while walking 57 times to just 44 strikeouts in 375 plate appearances. Among players with 300+ plate appearances in the minor leagues this season that is the 7th best ratio.
Waddell’s hit tool is likely to carry him to some major league role, as it’s easy for teams to want to find a place for guys who consistently get on base. Waddell’s limitations elsewhere though keep his ceiling and thus his ranking low. Waddell has 30 grade power, and while he has seen a surge in his home run rate this season it’s mostly due to a short stretch of output which will likely even out over time. His numbers at Double-A have been absurd, but as an older player he wasn’t able to carve out a good run in Gwinnett due to a lack of impact contact despite maintaining his plate discipline peripherals and a high line drive rate. Waddell is also limited defensively due to his mediocre speed and poor arm, likely lending to him being a pure second baseman except in absolute emergency situations. He has arguably the best hit tool in the system, but it’s going to be hard to find him a place on the field with his defensive limitations and lack of ability to hit for power.
24. Jesse Franklin V - OF
How he got to the Braves: 3rd round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft
The road for Jesse Franklin has been mired in injuries, as even back in his days at Michigan he missed significant time after a breakout freshman season. Most recently, Franklin missed nearly all of 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery, and he is now 24 with all of the same questions he had when he came into the league. Franklin was productive in his first year of pro ball with a 118 wRC+ in High-A in 2021, but in both trips to Double-A he has played below league average. The concern for Franklin is and has always been his on base skill as he struggles with high strikeout rates and lower than ideal walk rates. Franklin is a pure power hitter, and while he excels in that category he has trended down in prospect rankings since his 2021 season.
Franklin’s profiles for success are narrow and both his walk and strikeout rates need to be improved for him to be a major league player. He is limited to a corner outfield spot, likely left field due to his arm, and isn’t a particularly good defender there. This is going to put immense strain on his bat. From a power perspective his swing is geared towards hitting the ball as hard and as far as possible, and there is no doubt that he does that. Franklin has hit baseballs in parts of Advent Health (formerly State Mutual) Stadium in Rome that we’ve never seen other players reach. It’s elite raw power, but a 33.8% strikeout rate and 5.3% walk rate this season just will not get it done. If Franklin can get his strikeouts to a reasonable level, somewhere in the 25-28% range, that may be enough but his inability to recognize spin is becoming increasingly concerning. That said, it’s been hard to judge strikeout rates for both hitters and pitchers with the Double-A ball, and with Franklin particularly prone to issues with spin it’s likely impacting him more than others.
23. Braden Shewmake - SS
How he got to the Braves: 1st round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft
After a bright 2019 debut season where he posted a triple slash line of .300/.371/.425, Shewmake has struggled to find his footing as a prospect. His batting average has never been above .260 at any level since 2019 and he has not produced much in terms of power as his career high in homers is 12 in 2021 (he has 11 already this season). When using wRc+ as an overall barometer, at his best he has been a hitter who is 11 percent worse than the average hitter in every league he has played in besides A ball. Now coming out of Texas A&M, Shewmake wasn’t projected to be a world beater of a hitter as scouts anticipated he would be about average in terms of his contact and power. Unfortunately, though, he has not come anywhere close to that.
Shewmake is a below average hitter who both struggles to make consistent hard contact and work the ball in the air. His fly ball rate of 36.5 percent this season is very good, however, according to Fangraphs, 25 percent of those fly balls are infield fly balls, meaning he is not working the ball into the deeper parts of the park. The positive with his game though as a hitter is strikeouts are not a problem for him as currently in AAA his K rate is just 17.2 percent which is more than solid despite his age. As things currently stand Shewmake is a glove first and glove only player with there being significant doubts as to whether or not he is ever going to be able to impact the ball enough to carve out a big-league career.
22. Blake Burkhalter - RHP
How he got to the Braves: Comp round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft
One of the more intriguing arms throughout Atlanta’s system that we’ve yet to get an extended look at due to injury is Blake Burkhalter. Selected with the 76th overall pick in the 2022 draft, the 22-year-old right hander broke out as a reliever with the Auburn Tigers before the Braves snatched him up. In his junior campaign with the Tigers, he worked a whopping 13.8 K/9 while posting a 3.69 ERA. The pro stats were few, but Burkhalter showed flashes of his potential in his brief appearances with the FCL squad and Augusta. Across 4.2 innings, Burkhalter whiffed seven batters, walking one while allowing two runs – both at the FCL level.
Unfortunately, Burkhalter underwent Tommy John surgery earlier this spring, so we won’t have an opportunity to get an extended look at him in pro ball. When he does return to the mound, Burkhalter has the potential to have a solid three-pitch mix if he develops a change or slider to go along with his excellent cutter and low to mid-90’s fastball. Overall, the Braves have given every indication they plan to stretch Burkhalter out as a starter with the possibility of moving him to the bullpen if things work out. It’ll be April or May of next year before we get another look at him so time will tell what his trajectory ultimately is.
21. Isaiah Drake - CF
How he got to the Braves: 5th round pick in the 2023 MLB Draft
The Braves went overslot and used their fifth round pick on a player who on the surface sounds a lot like their third rounder from 2019. Just like Michael Harris, Isaiah Drake is a local prep outfielder with loud tools and the biggest question mark surrounding him is regarding his hit tool. Not to mention both of them being young for their high school draft class with Drake not turning 18 until after the draft. That isn’t to say Harris is a good comparison for Drake, but the general profile of the two is quite similar at the same point.
Drake is a guy who has some mixed feelings about his hit tool from scouts, but obviously being a local player gave the Braves plenty of chances to get looks at him all spring and it is worth noting that he really had a good showing with the bat at the MLB Draft combine. That’s the questionable tool at this time, but he’s easily a plus plus runner with plus power and should be a strong defender with his tool set.
A player like Drake has a wide range of potential outcomes, but the Braves aren’t a team to bet against when it comes to prep bats with hit tool questions and strong work ethics if you look at Harris and Austin Riley. If Drake is able to make enough contact, he’s got legitimate star potential with his power/speed combo.