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Talking Chop 2021 Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects List: 19-24

Our 2021 midseason prospect rankings keep chugging along with Braves prospects 19-24

Darius Vines delivering a pitch for the Rome Braves.
Mills Fitzner

Hello again and welcome to the second installment of our 2021 Midseason Top 30 Braves prospect rankings update. In case you missed the last couple of articles we have put out on our rankings, here are a couple links to help you out.

Talking Chop 2021 Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects List: Honorable Mentions

Talking Chop 2021 Midseason Top 30 Braves Prospects List: 25-30

For this part of the rankings, we have a nice mix of new faces as well as established names in the Braves minor leagues with pitchers and position players mixed in. Its always nice to have some new names to talk about and this is far from the last installment that will feature some flesh blood. Below, you will find prospects 19-24...enjoy!

24.) Darius Vines - RHP

How he got to the Braves: 7th Round pick in the 2019 MLB Draft

Vines was a player that came into this year as a guy we had our eyes on but were not ready to commit to as a prospect yet. All he has done is go out and succeed at the lower levels of the minor leagues. Vines was drafted twice before finally signing with the Braves on his third go through when they picked him up in the 7th round in 2019. Vines had an okay final college season at Cal State-Bakersfield and racked up strikeouts, but was seen as a project that needed some development. He struggled in his professional debut, but put in a lot of work over the layoff to set himself up as a real prospect. Vines made quick work of Low-A, needing 8 starts to get out of the level. He pitched 36 innings and struck out 48 batters, with only 10 walks allowed and a 2.25 ERA. He then looked solid in his first four starts in Rome with a 2.65 ERA, but struggled over his final two and currently has a 4.45 ERA. Vines has struggled with the home run ball at High-A, though his strikeout and walk rates have both stayed fantastic.

Vines has a shot to start at the major league level, though his base of stuff may not gel completely with the organization’s philosophy. While he has good spin on his fastball and can locate it well he lacks elite velocity with a fastball that sits in the low 90’s and rarely gets above 93. There is some level of projection where they could unlock some velocity, but he’s never going to be an elite velocity guy without a major rebuild and will have to rely on his location. Where he has struggled is when he leaves his fastball over the plate as it gets hit hard. When he works on the edges, he can usually get deep into counts and then rely on one of the better breaking balls in the system to get swings and misses.

He has a get over curveball in the mid 70’s that he can loop in for strikes and gets whiffs on, but his out pitch is his hard 79-81 mph breaking ball. It has plus movement and shape and plays extremely well off of his fastball. This pitch along with his fastball could make him an effective middle relief option if starting does not work out, though there has to be some hope the fastball ticks up in relief. The changeup has moments where it flashes above average, but lacks a consistent plane out of his hand that makes it vary between that and well below average. The velocity separation is solid and plays well on his fastball, but he will need to work on consistency to make it a more effective offering. When it is on it gives him a second above average pitch to pair with the curveball, and he is unafraid to use it effectively against both handed batters. With his athleticism and his simple delivery he is able to repeat fairly well and has the makings of above average command.

23.) AJ Smith- Shawver - RHP

How he got to the Braves: 7th Round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft

The Braves biggest overslot pick in the 2021 MLB Draft class was a fairly low mileage Texas prep arm in AJ Smith-Shawver. AJ comes in low mileage because he was more of a slugging corner infielder for his high school team and also a star quarterback for his high school team. However in the last 18 months he really started to show the upside with his arm in the longterm, leading to more time on the mound and more scouts projecting him in that role going forward.

Smith-Shawver has a big fastball already, and with his remaining projection and low mileage it isn’t hard to picture him someday hitting 100 MPH or at least close to it in the future. He also has the potential to have an at least average curve and command going forward with further development.

Smith-Shawver is at least four years away as he needs to fill in his body, refine the smaller things of pitching as well as his curve and command, and he will need to really work on his lightly used changeup with pro coaching. The potential to be a middle of the rotation starter is real, but so is the risk considering just how far away he actually is.

22.) Ambioris Tavarez - SS

How he got to the Braves: IFA signee from January 2021

The Braves first significant international free agent since the Cristian Pache, Derian Cruz class after the 2016 class featuring Kevin Maitan and co got cut loose, Ambioris Tavarez is a potential high end bat and one of the highest ceiling hitters in the entire Braves system.

Tavarez is years away, not playing in games this year due to the Braves DSL team opted out of playing this season, and isn’t very likely to stick at shortstop defensively. Still he has the potential to be a middle of the order run producing bat with the ability to hit for both average and power.

This ranking is one that could be considered very low if you’re looking back at this list in the future, but with all of the unknowns around him right now it is just hard to rank a guy with zero professional plate appearances much higher on the list. Still he’s going to be a guy we all want to watch closely in 2022 once short season ball gets going(assuming he starts in the FCL next season and doesn’t get an aggressive promotion to Augusta).

21.) Jasseel de la Cruz - RHP

How he got to the Braves: IFA signee from June 2015

2021 was expected, at least by us, to be a major breakout for Jasseel De La Cruz, and it started out moving in that direction. De La Cruz was coming off of a 2019 season in which he advanced through three levels, threw a no-hitter, and had a 3.25 ERA. There was real belief in the 24 year old to solidify himself as an option for Atlanta in the near future, and it has all but fallen apart over the last few weeks. Some yo-yoing messed him up slightly in the early portions of the season, but his stuff looked as strong as ever and he struck out 15 batters with only one walk in his first 12 ⅓ innings of the season. June was not kind to him, however, as a lack of a third pitch, his fringy command, and his inability to go through a lineup twice has caught up to him. Over De La Cruz’s last 10 starts he has a 6.69 ERA with 34 strikeouts to 24 walks in 35 innings. While he has been better of late, including only one walk over his last nine innings, his command and stuff has taken a step back over the course of the season and it is a question whether he is even going to stay on this list if he continues to struggle.

The upside for De La Cruz has always been there. His mid-to-upper 90’s fastball and wipeout slider have been among the best two pitch combos in the system for quite awhile. The changeup in the past has flashed average to above average potential, but he has nearly completely dropped it in 2021.The fastball typically jumps out of his hand in on right handed batters, but he has somewhat lost a feel for his spin over his past few starts and as such has seen regression in his command and swing and miss ability. His slider has had moments of brilliance even as he has struggled, but hasn’t been consistently around the zone enough to make any impact. There was hope early in the season that his control had taken enough of a step to overcome his reliever-ish size and delivery, but that simply hasn’t held. Right now he is looking almost certainly like a reliever, but if he can get back into the zone and get his stuff back to early season form he still has the potential to be an elite late inning arm. There is still a chance he starts, but the clock is ticking and he needs to turn this around quickly if he hopes to stay there.

20.) Justin Dean - OF

How he got to the Braves: 17th Round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft

Here’s what we know about Justin Dean three seasons into his professional career: He is oozing with athleticism, with the ability to stick in centerfield thanks to one of the best speed tools in all the minor leagues. The former 17th-round MLB draft pick has been relatively consistent at every stop, currently slashing .240/.360/.368 for the Mississippi Braves.

Dean’s best tool is his speed, which helps him at the plate and in the field. Throughout his career, he’s been very good at getting on base with a .377 career on-base percentage. Once he’s on base, that’s where he does the most damage, leading the South Atlantic League in runs and stolen bases in 2019 and currently seventh in runs with 38 while topping Double-A South with 22 stolen bases. That speed also helps in the outfield where he can cover all of centerfield — and then some — and despite not having a cannon of an arm, he tends to put himself in the right position to throw out advantageous base runners as evidenced by his 25 career assists in 226 games.

The 24-year-old has a nice hit tool but will never be a power hitter. The power that he does display tends to be pull side, but he has the ability to find the gaps and spray both fields when he is on his game — singles and gappers. Dean was not on his game in May, but after a lost season, that should be no surprise. He righted the ship in June slashing .283/.365/.370 as the M-Braves began to heat up. Somewhat surprisingly, Dean is striking out 34 percent of the time in 2021, a career high by a wide margin. His game is and has been getting on base, so the strikeout rise is a bit concerning. If he can get the strikeout rate down against advanced pitching, Dean seems to still be big-league bound as an ideal fourth outfielder with the upside for more.

19.) Trey Harris - OF

How he got to the Braves: 32nd Round pick in the 2018 MLB Draft

Harris has an infectious personality and smile that has endeared him to Braves Country pretty much since the day he was selected in the 32nd-round of the 2018 MLB draft. As it turns out, he’s a heck of a ball player as well.

The 25-year-old grew up down the highway from old Turner Field and is known for launching the first home run in the new digs, when he hit one out for Missouri playing against Georgia in 2017. Since then, he has been a steady bat that has climbed both the minor-league ladder and prospects list, thanks in large part to his 2019 Braves minor-league player of the year campaign. That season, Harris climbed from Low-A Rome to Double-A Mississippi and earned All-Star honors in the Arizona Fall League.

Like most of the bats who lost a year of development, Harris came out slowly in 2021. He found his contact skills in June and has now been on a mini power surge in July, closing the month with a two-home run game. He has solid bat-to-ball skills and can spray hits all over the field and has always been in control of the strike zone. Harris is striking out just 16.8 percent of the time and walking a respectable 7.2 percent of the time.

Defense has always been a question mark for Harris, but there is no denying he has improved greatly since his early days in the system. He is primarily a right fielder now, but can play in either corner, which could accelerate his path to the pros as a fourth outfielder. If it weren’t for an over abundance of outfield depth in the system, Harris would likely be in Gwinnett one step closer to a big-league debut.

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