We roll into Tuesday with the second part of our top 30 Atlanta Braves prospects, and this section is largely players that we have little experience with. Some have just been drafted and others have faced injury, but much of this is filled with players who could make tremendous leaps on the list this season. What is clear is the improvement of the system as a whole. While this part of the list was largely fringy prospects last year, there are players with true impact potential sitting here now, and quite a few that we are very excited to see in 2024. We thank you for your support on the first part of this series.
24. Luke Waddell - INF
How he got to the Braves: 2021 MLB Draft, 5th round
Atlanta didn’t have to go far to scout Waddell, as four seasons manning the shortstop position for Georgia Tech had them very familiar with his game. Waddell was a low-risk senior sign in the fifth round, and seen as a high-end contact hitter with not much else to his game. Largely this has held true in his professional career. Other than a six home run week in 2021, after which he won minor league player of the week, Waddell has posted consistently well-below-average power numbers along with elite contact statistics. Waddell played only 41 games due to injury in 2022, and thus repeated Double-A. In each case Waddell struck out more often than he walked, and the same was true in his short time in Triple-A in 2023. He was mostly locked out of Gwinnett due to the crowded infield featuring Braden Shewmake and Vaughn Grissom, but was still likely seen as an extension of Atlanta’s bench. With the path now cleared Waddell will head to Triple-A in 2023 with a chance to become a long-term contributor to the Braves future.
Waddell is a small player, listed at just 5’7”, and gears his swing entirely around line drive and ground ball contact so it is not surprising that he does not and never will hit for power. He was in just the 22nd percentile of Southern League hitters based on isolated power, however his hit tool is enough to carry him to major league bench potential. Waddell has the best pure hit tool in the system. and among 599 minor league hitters with more than 400 plate appearances he had the 15th-best strikeout-to-walk ratio and 22nd-lowest strikeout rate. Combine that with his ability to play up-the-middle on defense and there is value to be had in Waddell’s game. Still, he isn’t a great defender with below-average speed and a below-average arm, making his best position second base. It’s a question how far a pure hit tool can take a player, but there is no doubt that Waddell’s offensive game stands out even if it doesn’t fit with the Braves philosophy.
23. Didier Fuentes - RHP
How he got to the Braves: International free agent, January 2022
Didier Fuentes really opened some eyes last season when he opened the season in Low-A at just 17-years-old on Opening Day. A signing in January 2022 for $75k out of Colombia, Fuentes debuted in the DSL that year and earned a spot in the DSL All Star Game as he posted a 2.25 ERA and 1.02 WHIP with 50 strikeouts over 44 innings.
Fuentes posted some rough numbers this year in Low-A, recording a 7.27 ERA and 1.69 WHIP with 27 strikeouts in 26 innings - however he actually pitched better than the numbers would suggest and was 3.6 years younger than his competition. Fuentes only turned 18 in mid-June and that led to him being on a very tightly managed and small workload, but he showed a feel for missing bats and turned in some strong outings in addition to some clunkers.
Fuentes throws a fastball up to 96 MPH and has a potentially plus slider in his arsenal, though he needs to find more consistent command with it. The biggest question mark with him right now is that he is mostly a two pitch guy and needs to develop an off speed offering in order to remain a starting pitcher. Still the slider has enough movement and he has enough feel for pitching that he could end up a late inning reliever should the Braves need to change course with him.
22. Blake Burkhalter - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2022 MLB Draft, 2nd round
The Braves used their second round pick in the 2022 MLB Draft on Auburn closer Blake Burkhalter with the plan to develop him as a starting pitcher after he signed. He made his debut that summer after signing, but only got to throw a small sample sized 4.2 innings before his season was over - not surprising for a college arm who pitched deep into the season and then after a bit of a layoff had to ramp back up towards starting instead of relieving.
Burkhalter came into this season expecting to start his climb to the big leagues, but shortly into spring training he blew out his arm and needed Tommy John surgery that would cost him the entire season. Considering he is now in his age-23 season, coming off an injury, and still hasn’t really begun to make the transition into starter, it makes you wonder about if this will effect the team’s plan to transition him.
Still Burkhalter has a lot to like with a package of tools that profile as a starter, but also the stuff and experience to move fast to Atlanta as a reliever. When healthy Burkhalter throws in the upper 90s and has a cutter that is considered his best pitch. He will certainly be a player to watch closely this season once he gets back to 100%.
21. Garrett Baumann - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2023 MLB Draft, 4th round
In terms of pitching prospects with tantalizing physical potential, there might not be a better prospect in the Braves’ farm system than Baumann. The 6’8, 245-pound 19-year-old spun a 1.21 ERA in his senior year of high school, prompting the Braves to sign him to an over slot deal of $747,500 to keep him from his commitment to UCF. Baumann already possesses a fastball that tops out in the mid-90’s and a decent slider. The biggest knock — which is to be expected given his size and age — has been command thus far. But there’s plenty of time for that to be corrected.
Baumann made his pro debut with Augusta where he was three-and-a-half years younger than the average age of the competition. He made one start for the GreenJackets, posting a 4.50 ERA across two innings while striking out one and walking a pair. The Braves have already been aggressive with Baumann by sending him straight to Low-A instead of the FCL. While he will 100 percent be back in Augusta to start 2024, it’ll be interesting to see how far he’s accelerated if things go right for the big righty.
20. Isaiah Drake - OF
How he got to the Braves: 2023 MLB Draft, 5th round
Much like Baumann, the Braves went with tools and upside by selecting Drake with their 5th round selection in last year’s draft. Drake made a name for himself during the MLB Development League, posting a .333/.486/.593 slash line across 11 games. The biggest tool for Drake — which should come as no surprise given the fact he’s the younger brother of the NFL’s running back Kenyan Drake — is his speed. That speed has translated into plus defense for the 18-year-old, giving him multiple advanced tools. The question with Drake is about his bat.
While he shined at the plate prior to the draft, his offensive start to his minor league career wasn’t great, albeit in a small sample size. In 18 games with the FCL club, Drake posted a .591 OPS but did show off his running game by stealing 9 bases. However, while participating in a Braves inter squad game to prepare for the playoffs, Drake smashed a triple off the wall off of Colin McHugh, showing he does have a good bit of pop yet to be unlocked in his bat. It’ll be interesting to see where the Braves elect to start Drake out this season. He could easily start back in the FCL for a brief stint then join Augusta, or the Braves could very well send him straight to the GreenJackets to see if the bat has progressed over the offseason. Either way, Drake has enough potential to rocket up our prospect rankings if the offensive profile comes around.
19. Adam Maier - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2022 MLB Draft, 7th round
Even with all of the international signings of the past two seasons, no player in the Braves system carries the same level of mystery as Adam Maier. Maier burst onto the scene with three strong starts with the Oregon Ducks in 2022 before an elbow injury shut him down for the entire season. He underwent a brace procedure to stabilize his ulnar collateral ligament, and in the two years since has not appeared in a game. Maier has just 60 1⁄3 of post-high school innings of amateur baseball under his belt, yet still the Braves were confident enough to give him a $1.2 million signing bonus in the 2022 draft. Maier was expected to pitch in 2023, but never made his way into any official games and now sits as a seven-figure hole in our understanding of the 2022 draft.
The Braves could potentially have a value in getting Maier down in the seventh round. He was projected as a second round pick prior to his injury, and even with his limited track record had some believing he could work his way into first round consideration. Maier featured two impressive secondary offerings, with both his slider and changeup having plus-or-better potential. His arsenal is rounded out by a sinking fastball in the low-90’s that has peaked at 97 mph, and he has controlled the ball well at every stop of his college career. All of this information is well-and-good, but it’s also two years old and much development happens for all players over that long of a time frame — even for those that are rehabbing. We don’t fully know what Maier will be once he finally returns to action, which we expect to be early in 2024. Maier is still relatively young as he was drafted at 20 years old, and his chance for two elite secondary pitches still makes him one of the most exciting arms in the system. Anticipation continues to build for his debut in a Braves uniform, however given the layoff expectations should be limited for his upcoming season.