The Braves’ draft strategy in recent years has settled into a pretty consistent pattern: draft a couple of college guys that they like and think that could move quickly on Day One and then target interesting overslot prep players on Day Two without totally blowing their bonus pool. One such prep player from the 2021 draft, AJ Smith-Shawver, has us and the Braves quite excited to see what he could turn in to.
Midseason Report Card: On our midseason top 30 prospects list, we slotted AJ Smith-Shawver at #23 which was our best guess right after the draft. It it likely he will be ranked a bit higher on our upcoming preseason rankings.
2021 Season Stats: 4 appearances, 8.1 IP, 4 H, 8 ER, 10 BB, 16 K
What we saw in 2021: Coming directly out of the draft, Smith-Shawver was a known commodity as he his fastball was clocked at 95 during the summer. That, in itself, was encouraging. The reports we have heard from a number of places had him throwing even harder than that in the FCL and he also possesses a hard slider that was hitting 90 mph. All of these things are good news.
He did certainly have some issues with his command, though, which is not surprising for a raw prep arm in his pro debut with that sort of stuff. We would caution folks against drawing too many conclusions from his ERA and walk numbers from the 2021 small sample, though, as five of his earned runs and five of his walks occurred in the same start and one does wonder how much of that damage was the result of one bad day and some inherited runners scoring. That said, it was encouraging to see him miss a bunch of bats in limited playing time and if the reports on his stuff are true, it isn’t hard to imagine why FCL players struggled to hit him.
What the future holds: Again, if the reports on Smith-Shawver’s stuff and athleticism hold, he has the makings of a top pitching prospect with all of the usual caveats about prospect attrition and pitcher attrition, especially from the prep ranks, applying here. He could stick as a starter and, failing that, could still have a bright future as a reliever with that profile. It will be hard to gauge the most likely outcome until we see him pitch over a longer period of time in the pros.
Given his success in the FCL, it wouldn’t be shocking to see him in low-A Augusta next season right away, although a stint in extended spring to get him some more coaching and refining his command wouldn’t be a crazy notion, either.