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Battery Power 2023 Midseason Top 25 Braves Prospects: 1-5

In one of the easiest decisions we’ve ever had, AJ Smith-Shawver once again tops our prospect list

Atlanta Braves v Cincinnati Reds Photo by Dylan Buell/Getty Images

We have reached the pinnacle of the Atlanta Braves system, and the name at the top of this list will come as no surprise to anyone. While the rankings from 2-5 were close and could go in many different orders, the people within that range were a clear tier of their own that could all be contributors to the Braves future. The system may be down over year’s past, but it’s continued to churn out major league quality over the past couple of years and we expect more than one future Atlanta Brave to come from this part of the list.

I would first like to thank the crew of Matt Powers, Devin Csigi, and Brady Petree for their help on this list. There have been a lot of changes to the minor league staff over the past couple of seasons and without them this list, our draft coverage, and our day-to-day coverage would not be possible. Everyone has brought unique perspectives to the table with regards to this list, and we’re proud of the work that has gone into it.

For all of the readers of the list we appreciate your comments and I look forward to having more to talk about with you in the comments of the top of this list. Your feedback is vital to make sure we’re getting you the content you want to see and your viewership is the reason we all have jobs here and have been able to expand coverage over the years. We appreciate the support on the list, and if you’re just stopping by be sure to check out the first parts of the series.

Honorable Mentions | 21-25 | 16-20 | 11-15 | 6-10

Without further ado, here are the top five prospects in the Atlanta Braves system as of today.

5. Ignacio Alvarez

How the Braves acquired him: 2022 MLB Draft: 5th round

Preseason Rank: 14th

Alvarez’s prospect pedigree has skyrocketed since being drafted last season. He was not on MLBPipeline’s top 250 prospects in the 2022 MLB Draft, nor did he make it onto the club's end of season top 30 prospect list. The lack of hype was more than understandable as well as he was a JUCO player at the time of the draft who was only in college for a season. Additionally, he was not a prospect who was hyped in high school, nor did he have high end power. But, since being drafted Alvarez has made a name for himself. Sure, he did not produce much of any power last season as he had just 6 extra base hits across 30 games, but he did hit .287, walked 11 more times than he struck out and flashed a plus glove. This season he has seen a considerable improvement across the board as he has 23 extra base hits (six homers), 52 walks compared to 57 strikeouts and a .293 batting average in High A ball.

Nacho does have a lower ceiling because of his expected lack of power as he is a player who is likely going to peak at 12 or so home runs a season. However, there remains a chance that he further grows into his frame seeing as he is just 20 years old. Additionally, his glove is more than solid, and he has strong bat to ball skills which gives him a relatively high floor. Where Alvarez fits defensively long term is a question mark due to his size as he is “just” 6 feet tall. He is currently a third basemen/shortstop but there is some doubt that he will be able to stick to those positions with a move to second base possible.

4. Spencer Schwellenbach

How the Braves acquired him: 2021 MLB Draft: 2nd round, 59th overall

Preseason Rank: 6th

It’s been a long time waiting to see Spencer Schwellenbach, but so far he has lived up to the Braves opinion of him. After spending his career at Nebraska as a shortstop and relief pitcher the Braves were enamored with Schwellenbach, and were it not for an elbow injury that ultimately ended with him undergoing Tommy John surgery he would have likely been the team’s first round pick in 2021. Instead, he dropped to the second round where they eagerly snapped him up and waited out the entire 2022 season as he recovered from surgery. Schwellenbach hit the ground running in 2023, and in 13 starts for Single-A Augusta posted a 2.63 ERA over 51 13 innings. For a player who has never been a starter before this a clear high water mark in innings pitched, and despite being promoted to Rome in early July he has yet to pitch for them as he has hit the injured list. Occasional trips to the injured list in the first season back from Tommy John surgery are not uncommon, so this isn’t a major red flag unless he continues to miss time.

Schwellenbach hasn’t been a strikeout artist at the professional level, but it’s not for a lack of stuff as he has looked better than his raw peripherals. Certainly Schwellenbach has struggled with consistency and hasn’t gotten the swing-and-miss he was hoped to have, but he has been slowly shaking off rust and seems stronger as the season goes on. Schwellenbach has a mid 90’s fastball with solid carry and mixes in a vertical slider and a changeup that he’s still working on getting a feel for. Schwellenbach’s profile is carried by his arm talent, elite athleticism, and low mileage but as a 23 year old he will need to further develop his secondary pitches to stick as a starter. If not a bullpen role could fit well for Schwellenbach where he can play up with his plus fastball and solid slider.

3. Owen Murphy

How the Braves acquired him: 2022 MLB Draft: 1st round, 20th overall

Preseason Rank: 2nd

Owen Murphy has been a bit of an enigma so far during his first full season as a pro ballplayer. On the surface, the numbers aren’t much to look at. Through 20 starts thus far in his minor league career, Murphy’s posted a 5.00 ERA in just 68.1 innings. While the numbers may look discouraging for the Braves 2022 first-rounder, it’s important to keep in mind the age — as he’s still 19 and won’t turn 20 until September — as well as the impressive strikeout numbers he’s been able to post to this point. Through those 56.1 innings this year, the righthander has tallied 71 strikeouts, good for a K/9 of 11.34.

One of the biggest strides Murphy has made in his first full year, has been the command. In 2022 in just 12 innings pitched, Murphy walked an average of 7.71 batters per nine innings. He’s been able to cut that down to 3.99 batters per nine, albeit in a larger sample size. Murphy often does a good job of leaving batters on base, to the tune of a 61.4 percent clip this year. However, the one area he has to make some strides if he wants to take his game to the next level is limiting extra-base hits and keeping the ball in the ballpark. Murphy has shown an advanced feel for four pitches and has the ability to miss bats. Velocity-wise, Murphy has sat around 91-93 MPH but has shown the capability to ramp it up to 95 if needed. The upside is clearly there as a top of the rotation starter, but there are obviously some areas he needs to work on in order to reach it. However, given his age and level, there’s plenty of time for the Braves to work with Murphy to correct some of the issues and realize that potential.

2. Hurston Waldrep

How the Braves acquired him: 2023 MLB Draft: 1st round, 24th overall

Preseason Rank: N/A

The Braves used their first round pick in this year’s draft to take a local kid via the University of Florida when they drafted right-hander Hurston Waldrep. Waldrep was a player that most mock drafts had be selected quite a bit before the Braves got on the clock, especially considering the lack of college pitching in this year’s draft. When Waldrep did end up falling to the Braves his raw stuff was just too much for them to pass up and they made him their top pick in the 2023 MLB Draft.

Waldrep started his college career at Southern Miss before transferring to Florida for this year and continuing to have success at the SEC level. The numbers were impressive just like the stuff, with a 4.16 ERA and 156 strikeouts in 101.2 innings. That 13.8 K/9 followed a 14.0 rate back in 2022 - but it also comes with a 5.0 BB/9 rate. That walk rate, and the associated issues with command were the reason why a guy with his raw stuff was available at 24 in a draft lacking much talent from college arms.

Waldrep can get up towards triple digits with his fastball and has a nasty splitter, one of the best secondary pitches in this entire draft class. That gives him two potentially plus plus pitches right there and a slider has the potential to be a third swing and miss offering. That package of stuff is why the Braves overlooked their usual preference for slightly better command when they selected Waldrep, as he could end up being an arm similar to Blake Snell - just so overpowering that despite likely below average command, he is able to be an impact starter.

Waldrep has everything needed to be a legitimate front of the rotation starter should he be able to improve his command with the Braves coaching staff. Even if he isn’t able to improve the command to the point where he is able to start, his floor would be a potential closer with stuff like he has.

1. AJ Smith-Shawver

How the Braves acquired him: 2021 MLB Draft: 7th round

Preseason Rank: 1st

This is no shock at all as AJ Smith-Shawver is clearly the best player in the system at the moment, and at every step of the way has proved it in 2023. After starting out the season in High-A Rome the most aggressive projections saw him maybe getting a cup of tea in Gwinnett, but he blitzed past that by the end of May. Smith-Shawver was overwhelming at Rome, putting up performances that made it clear he was already well past anyone else at the High-A level. It took three starts for him to knock down the wall to Mississippi, and that too was a short-lived appearance. Smith-Shawver pitched just two games at Double-A between a combination of his performance wanting to get him away from the experimental pushed Atlanta to promote him to Gwinnett. Smith-Shawver was the youngest player in the league, but it didn’t seem like it and in just his second Triple-A start he put up a career high with seven innings pitched. This earned Smith-Shawver, still just 20 years old, a promotion to the major leagues where he dominated in a relief appearance in his debut before making three starts and getting sent back to Gwinnett.

Let’s start by saying that the push to get Smith-Shawver to Atlanta was probably premature, and there was likely little expectation he would stick there all year. He has struggled adjusting to the Triple-A and Major League ball and thus has had issues with his command of his slider that will need to be worked out. This has hurt his performance so far, but he is so young it really doesn’t matter. Smith-Shawver averages around 94.5 mph on his fastball, though in recent starts with Gwinnett he’s been sitting with an average over 95 mph. He’s added a curveball this year that projects to be better than his slider, and in the major leagues already debuted a split-changeup that he had not thrown to that point in time. The rapid development of Smith-Shawver has been a treat, and is driven both by Smith-Shawver’s elite athleticism as well as his high work ethic. Smith-Shawver’s makeup is universally praised, and is one of the reasons the Braves have put so much on his shoulders at a young age.

All that said, development from this point is not guaranteed and his command needs to continue to step forward for him to be a starter long term. The number two upside is real, but he’s been struggling since he’s been promoted to hit his spots especially with the slider. The athleticism and work ethic are what Atlanta banks on with projecting him to improve command, and that’s why there is still belief he will be a starter for the team within the next two years. All of his secondary pitches need refinement, but as Smith-Shawver really only started pitching three years ago this isn’t a surprise and where he is given that development timeline is fantastic. Smith-Shawver could be primed to contribute out of the bullpen late this season as the Braves have focused more on his fastball and slider since his demotion and have him throwing a bit harder. Some of this tinkering at both the Triple-A and Major League level are what has contributed to his struggles, but once the adjustments set in the hope is that he will quickly take the next step in his game. His last outing was his best at Triple-A with five scoreless innings and six strikeouts. More importantly, his slider was effective for the first time really since he was promoted to Gwinnett, and that will be a big emphasis moving forward.

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