The minor league season isn’t fully over yet as we have another week of Triple-A games left to play, however with the season 99% wrapped we will go forth and present our series of postseason player awards. In past seasons the Atlanta Braves had presented official Player and Pitcher of the Year awards, however this was discontinued and thus we will give those along with the defensive player of the year and a postseason all star team. This was not simply the vote of the four of us at Battery Power, as I also reached out to others that cover the system to get their votes and compile the ballots.
As for the rules, while the official awards were customarily given to those with rookie status intact (and I may do that in future years) I did not place that limitation on the voting. That is quite obviously evident based on the winner of this award, and frankly he ran away with it in the end. The player and pitcher of the year award were both open-ended ballots ranking each voter’s top three, and the votes were very simply weighted with 3 points for 1st place, 2 for 2nd, and 3 for 3rd. For both player and pitcher of the year the votes were a landslide at the top, so honestly the methodology really wouldn’t have mattered.
Your Winner: Vaughn Grissom
Vaughn Grissom may not have carved out the role in Atlanta that had been hoped going into spring training, but the 22 year old spent most of the year in Triple-A and excelled as the Gwinnett Stripers’s primary shortstop and part-time second baseman. Regardless of how his final week goes he will easily win the system’s batting title, currently hitting .332 with no other qualified hitter even cracking .290. Grissom is also the current leader in the system by wRC+, rocking a 136 that leads all Triple-A batters under the age of 24. Much has been made of Grissom’s future in Atlanta, but there is zero doubt he still remains a premium young hitter who managed to put up a fantastic season despite posting his worst home run rate since rookie ball.
Grissom’s .927 OPS is 85 points higher than any other qualified hitter, and it’s really just been a steady improvement all season. His early numbers were bolstered by small samples in March and April, but starting in May with his diminished power number he posted a solid, but unspectacular .792 OPS. He made a small jump forward with an .800 OPS in June, but starting in July he hit his stride and remained the system’s most consistent hitter for the remainder of the season. Grissom had a .920 OPS in July and finally broke through with his first home run since May, then finished the end of the season splitting time between Gwinnett and Atlanta. In his 19 games over August and September he has drawn 19 walks, while striking out just ten times and posting an on base percentage of .522. Furthermore he started to drive the ball more consistently down the stretch, hitting four home runs and posting a .275 ISO in those 19 games. All of this added up to a stretch with a clean 200 wRC+, making him not just the most formidable hitter in the Atlanta Braves system but the most difficult to retire in the International league.
Had the award been given out in prior years this may not have Been Grissom’s first time winning it, as across two levels in 2022 he posted a 147 wRC+ as a 21 year old. This culminated in his call up to Atlanta on August 10th, where he hit a home run in his major league debut and would make a significant contribution to Atlanta down the stretch as they made a comeback in the NL East race. Grissom has also been the most consistent on the defensive end that he has in his career, making only nine errors in 96 games between second base and shortstop. Grissom may not be a prospect in the technical sense, but as a young player who hasn’t yet carved out a major league career he continues to produce as well as any player from his draft class in the minor leagues.
I won’t run through every candidate to receive a vote, however four stand out above the rest. Three coincidentally finished second through fourth in the system by wRC+ and were members of the same draft class drafted in consecutive rounds. Ignacio Alvarez Jr. received the second highest points total, and while his numbers faded as the season went on he once again solidified himself in the conversation for the best position player prospect in the system. As a 20 year old Alvarez posted a 123 wRC+ in High-A Rome, all while learning how to play shortstop at the professional level. Alvarez played a huge role in the middle of Rome’s lineup, leading the team and ranking second behind Grissom with a .395 on base percentage this season.
David McCabe received the most second place votes, and also ranked second in the system by wRC+ this season. McCabe was underwhelming in the first month of the season, however he turned a corner in May and was arguably the best hitter in the system the remainder of the year. He posted an .878 OPS over his final 100 games and hit 15 home runs. While his lack of a defensive home is still a big question, the turnaround to his season put him squarely in the conversation for the best players in the system.
Drake Baldwin, 2022’s highest drafted position player, had a similar story to McCabe. His season started out in the doldrums, and through June he was hitting a mere .201 with a 92 wRC+. Then as his swing changes started to help he went on a tear and finished the year with a .347/.455/.574 (179 wRC+) line over his final 48 games. Baldwin made huge strides both at the plate and behind it, and is trending towards having the defensive acumen to stick at catcher in the major leagues. This combined with his patient approach and raw power gives him the opportunity to be a solid major league backstop.
Our final main candidate was Drew Lugbauer, who led the system in home runs though despite missing a significant stretch of the season. Because of this he did not have a qualifying number of plate appearances, but still hit 25 home runs in 96 games. At Double-A he posted a 162 wRC+ and hit 22 home runs in just 273 plate appearances, earning his first call up to Triple-A.