Finally we have reached the pinnacle with the top six prospects in the Atlanta Braves system. After a season in which no players were ranked in the top 100 nationally there is near unanimous agreement that there are now two, and they both come in at the top of the system. Five of the final six players played their first full season of professional baseball in 2023, showing just how much the system has refreshed in the past two seasons and how it seems on the rise as a whole.
I would like to thank everyone for their time and comments on the article, I have enjoyed this process once again and look forward to checking in throughout the upcoming season. A huge amount of appreciation goes out to the minor league crew of Matt Powers, Brady Petree, and Devin Csigi. We have had a lot of overturn with our staff over the past few seasons, but I’ve been lucky to have them all stick around over the past season and get to work with them again on this. Battery Power absolutely could not churn out the amount of minor league content we do without their help and without the support and readership of all of you. Thank you all again, and enjoy.
6. Luis Guanipa - OF
How he got to the Braves: International free agent, January 2023
The headliner from the Braves January 2023 international free agent class was outfielder Luis Guanipa, who they signed out of Venezuela for $2.5M. Guanipa, who is listed as 5’11 and 188-pounds, is a dynamic power/speed combination with serious bat speed and the potential to growing into four plus or better tools as a centerfielder. It’s going to take some development to get to that type of upside, but the easily plus bat speed and feel for hitting along with the 65-70 grade speed gives you the potential for an impact guy in all three phases of the game. The only tool that doesn’t have plus potential would be his arm, which grades out as a possible fringe-average tool.
Guanipa spent the entire 2023 season at the age of 17, turning 18 in mid-December. With that and him only signing in January he spent the entire season in the DSL, posting a .238/.361/.384 slash line with four homers among 16 extra base hits and 23 walks to 42 strikeouts in 208 plate appearances. He also added 20 steals in 26 attempts. While you can’t really ever take much away from DSL stats, he showed off the speed, pop in the bat, and drew a good amount of walks - so it was a very solid debut season for him.
Guanipa is ticketed to make his stateside debut this season, and will likely end up in the FCL. It isn’t out of the question that he starts in Low-A, or gets sent there fairly quickly, as an 18-year-old that has such elite tools and feel for hitting. The upside is higher than any bat in the system, so he could end up moving higher on this list by midseason.
5. Ignacio Alvarez - INF
How he got to the Braves: 2022 Amateur Draft, 5th round pick
Nacho Alvarez came into the 2022 season as a bit of an unknown, but moved up late in the draft process with a strong year in JUCO, to find himself as the Braves fifth round selection. He went on to post a .844 OPS over 122 plate appearances after signing and emerged as a sleeper prospect in the Braves system with some feel for hitting, drawing a ton of walks, and playing high end defense.
Last year he spent his entire first full pro season in High-A and slashed .284/.395/.391 with 24 doubles and seven homers to go with 66 walks and 87 strikeouts over 501 plate appearances. He even added 16 steals in 21 attempts while playing 107 of his 108 defensive games at shortstop - after playing just 10 at short and 16 at third base in 2022.
Alvarez is highly ranked but a bit of a mystery still at the same time. The biggest question with the bat would come from him being a bit too passive at the plate at times, which with his advanced approach and weak competition makes his hit tool tough to fully evaluate. There is also more power in his body than we saw last year, but the approach he has doesn't fully tap into it and is an area that could really help him maximize his ceiling. Defensively the biggest question is where his eventual home will be. He may be able to be a quality defender at shortstop, but could be an excellent fielder at third and has enough versatility that second could also be an option.
After spending a full season in Rome last year, expect Alvarez to move up to Double-A where he will finally start to see more advanced pitching - which has the potential to force him to be a bit more aggressive at the plate. He will only turn 21 after the season gets underway in April, so he is still young and has plenty of time to continue his development. The ceiling on Alvarez is a productive two-way infielder, and with his glove, versatility, athleticism, and ability to draw walks it’s at least a utility role floor for him.
4. Owen Murphy - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2022 MLB Draft, 1st round pick
The Braves broke expectation when selecting Murphy, going down the board and away from anyone that had been projected to them in the first round of the 2022 draft. Murphy had a mixed performance in a short debut that summer, but showed flashes of a player worthy of such a high selection. 2023 proved further his talent, as he was one of the best performers in the Carolina League as a 19 year old. Among teenagers with more than 60 innings pitched Murphy ranked second this season in strikeout rate (29.6%) and came in as the clubhouse leader with a 21.2% K-BB%. While most players in their first full season tend to wear down over the long summers Murphy only got stronger, and in his last six starts of the season struck out 31.1% of batters while walking just 5.2%. Murphy made a successful jump to High-A Rome for three starts, and although his strikeout rate did drop he continued to show a fantastic age-relative performance.
Murphy’s main knock in his projections is being a bit undersized, as that comes with both durability concerns and a lack of projectability. Still, he made it through one season with seemingly no ill-effect, and his low 90’s fastball is still effective thanks to his elite spin rates, shape, and vertical approach angle. Murphy also lacks a traditional pitch mix due to not throwing a changeup at this date, but his slider and curveball have both flashed above average to plus potential. He also lands these pitches in and around the zone consistently, showcasing promising command for his age along with plus athleticism and simple mechanics that should allow him to continue to progress in that facet. With three potentially above average pitches and above average command Murphy has all of the hallmarks of a solid starting pitcher, and if the Braves history is any indication he should have a chance to rocket through the system in 2024.
3. Spencer Schwellenbach - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2021 Amateur Draft, 2nd round pick
Despite being drafted by the Braves two and a half years ago, the former Nebraska Cornhusker did not make his organizational debut until April 6th of 2023. The reason for the delay was due to the fact he underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after being drafted by the club. And his debut was well worth the wait. The right hander appeared in 16 games, all of which were starts, throwing to a 2.49 ERA across Single-A and High-A. He struck out 55 batters, in his 65 frames which is not an overly impressive number for a pitcher who possesses two plus pitches. He features a four seamer that has the ability to reach 99 and a slider which is his go to swing and miss pitch.
The leash that the Braves put on Schwellenbach in 2024 will be extremely interesting and impactful on his future past this season. Since he has only thrown 65 innings since being drafted it is highly doubtful they will let him get very far past 100 innings this season. This in turn means he will likely not throw a full workload until the 2025 or 2026 season which are respectively his age 25 and 26 years. I’d expect the organization to start him in High-A in 2024 with their sites on a quick promotion to Double-A.
2. Hurston Waldrep - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2023 Amateur Draft, 1st round pick
The Braves were nothing short of aggressive with Waldrep. They gave the former Florida Gator just 7 minor league appearances this year before promoting him to Triple-A for his final start of the year. On the surface it is surprising to see teams this aggressive with their young starters, but it does slowly feel like it is becoming a league wide trend. Waldrop does have true swing and miss stuff which can be seen by his 41 strikeouts across 29 1⁄3 minor league innings this season. However, there is also considerable concern when it comes to his control as the right hander walked 16 batters. The majority of those control issues stem from his delivery which shares some similarities to the Cleveland Guardians James Karinchak. Look for Waldrep to start the year in Triple-A and be one of the first pitchers up when the Braves need another starter whether that be due to injury or a double header.
1. AJ Smith-Shawver - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2021 Amateur Draft: 7th round pick
Smith-Shawver is just 14 2⁄3 innings away from losing his prospect eligibility, but as long as he remains a prospect he will be at the top of the heap for Atlanta. The 2021 draftee burst onto the scene this year throwing a 2.76 ERA across three minor league levels after two consecutive seasons where he had an ERA of a 5.11 or higher. But, when you dig a bit deeper there is some slight cause for concern when it comes to AJSS’s 2023 season. He threw 21 innings between High-A and Double-A to start the year and he did not allow a single run in any of his 5 starts at those levels. But when he was promoted to Triple-A his performance took a turn. He posted a 4.17 ERA and walked a whopping 26 batters across 41 Triple-A innings and it was more of the same in the bigs. His swing and miss stuff took a hit as he struck out 20 in 25 1⁄3 innings and he still struggled with run prevention (4.26 ERA) and walks (11).
I am very curious to see what the Braves decide to do with Smith-Shawver because of those aforementioned struggles. In my opinion it would be advantageous for the organization to start him at Triple-A. However, an open competition between him, Bryce Elder and Reynaldo Lopez for the fifth spot in the big league rotation might see him start the year in the MLB.