Welcome back to the fourth installment of our Atlanta Braves 2022 Preseason Top 30 Prospect List! We appreciate all of the support on the list so far. If you happened to miss the first few articles, fear not...here are some links to get you caught up. If you are unclear on how we create our list and want some general tips on how to digest our thinking, the 25-30 article has an extensive explanation right at the top.
This second to last installment of our top 30 is a bit pitching heavy which is hardly a surprise given that if the Braves have one area of real depth in their farm system, it is at starting pitcher. However, there are still some bats on the rise in this update including our favorite infielder in the system going into the 2022 season. Enjoy!
12) Jesse Franklin - OF
How he got to the Braves: 3rd Round Pick in 2020 MLB Draft
The Braves third round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft is one of the two players they took in that four man draft class who dropped a little bit due to injury. Unlike Spencer Strider, Jesse Franklin was seen as a potential late first round pick in that draft heading into the season, but a broken collarbone in a skiing accident combined with the season shutting down ended his season before he ever got on the field.
The Michigan product fell into the third round and the Braves pounced on the Washington state native, who helped lead the Wolverines to the final round of the College World Series in 2019. While Franklin didn’t see the field for the Wolverines in 2020, he did get some time at the alternate training site later in that year to at least give him some taste of pro ball before he would make his debut in 2021. However that little taste didn’t help too much at the start of the season in High-A, as he posted a .481 OPS to open the season’s first 19 games.
Things got better from there, and Franklin went on to produce a .935 OPS over his final 82 games of the season. On the year he would hit .244/.320/.522 with 24 doubles, two triples, 24 homers, 19 steals, 34 walks, and 115 strikeouts in 406 plate appearances.
It took him some time to shake off the rust, but it was a quality season for Franklin. That said it proved that he is far from a finished product and can’t be brought along too quickly, which isn’t completely abnormal for a prospect out of a cold weather state.
Franklin is probably going to end up a below average to fringy hitter with above average power and speed, along with average defense to go with a fringy arm. There is some hope he can stick in center defensively, but he will likely end up being a left fielder as he doesn’t have the arm for right.
Franklin should start 2022 in Double-A and will likely spend the entire season there. He is probably going to need an additional year as well before he is a serious candidate to make it to the show, but as a decent hitter with a good power and speed combo there is value in his profile.
11) Joey Estes - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 16th round pick in 2019
2021 was a great year for Joey Estes as he showcased a good fastball, great slider, above average curveball, and a quickly developing changeup which is an incredible arsenal for someone who was just 19 years of age.
This above average mix of pitches absolutely puzzled hitters in 2021. He appeared in 20 games and had an 11.6 K/9, 2.64 BB/9, 2.91 ERA, and 3.30 FIP. His changeup quickly developed over the course of the season and it showed as he got stronger, and stronger as the season progressed. Estes has shown the ability to throw any of those pitches for strikes, and is confident to throw them when he’d like. He relies mainly on his plus fastball, and slider but as he rises in the system you will likely see him use his full arsenal more and more.
Estes will likely play a full season at A+ Rome as he enters his third season in professional baseball, and is still just 20 years old.
10) Bryce Elder - RHP
How he got to the Atlanta Braves: 5th round of the 2020 MLB draft
The 2020 MLB draft class has turned into an embarrassment of riches for the Atlanta Braves. I was one of the people lower on Elder in the 2022 preseason rankings, so I felt it was worth writing him up to explain why.
Elder is very good. It shouldn’t come as any surprise, having come out of a solid college baseball program like Texas. Each year, from his freshman year in the bullpen to becoming the Friday-night guy, Elder got better for the Longhorns. That was exactly the case in 2021.
The 6-foot-2 righthander rose from Rome to Gwinnett despite not throwing a single professional pitch after being drafted nearly a year prior. He finished with an 11-5 record with a 2.75 ERA, 1.10 WHIP and 155 strikeouts in 137 2/3 innings. You can argue he was at his best at Gwinnett, which is very impressive and shows his maturity.
So, why would someone rank him just outside the top 10? Elder is a bulldog, able to go deep into ball games. He has a modest four-pitch arsenal, but he uses each pitch very well, able to strike people out with any of them. Elder may be big-league ready as soon as May, but there just seems to be more upside to some of the other pitchers in the system.
That’s not to say Elder isn’t incredibly valuable. He throws effortlessly, and unlike many Braves’ pitchers, not very hard, so he will be around for many years to come as a solid back-of-the-rotation innings eater that always has his team in a position to win. He just may never become the ace… and that’s just fine and a major steal for the Braves in that 2020 MLB draft.
9) Freddy Tarnok - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 3rd Round Pick in the 2017 Draft
If you’re looking for the favorite for the Braves top pitching prospect by midseason your man might be Freddy Tarnok, as his progression in 2021 finally unlocked the unbelievable potential we’ve been dreaming about since he was drafted in 2017. Tarnok started his season injured and didn’t debut until early June, but when he did, it was clear that everything we’ve watched of him in year’s past was meaningless. Tarnok attacked hitters differently and had a confidence on the mound we’d never seen before. After a rough start in his second game back, he became as good as anyone in the system with a 2.91 ERA and 35.9% strikeout rate over the final three months of the season. He also contributed a strong start in Mississippi’s championship series to cement his rise in the system. His nine games in Double-A were absurd as he had a 2.60 ERA, 2.27 FIP, and 61 strikeouts to 15 walks in 45 innings.
Tarnok made significant strides in every aspect of his game since we last saw him play and he now has three above average or better pitches in his arsenal. His fastball has always been a strong suit, but 2021 saw him make a concerted effort to work up in the zone more frequently. He refined his consistency with his command of the pitch and used it to great success the entire season. His curveball was still his out pitch as a secondary offering and he has added a tick of velocity to make it less loopy and pair it better with the velocity of his fastball. The real progression has come with his changeup which may end up being the best pitch of the bunch. There is still a consistency problem as it’s a pitch that takes time to learn, but it improved each and every start this season and as he started to get a feel for it, it became a lethal weapon against Double-A hitters. The late fade on the pitch along with the hard movement of his fastball is a strong pair and made him tough to square up at any point. His command made major strides but he is still lacking in that department and it’s likely to be the ultimate determining factor in his outcome. He has elite athleticism for a pitcher and has the physical tools to keep refining that consistency, and if he is able to reach his ceiling this is a legitimate top of the rotation arm. There is still reliever risk, but he’s made that seem more unlikely especially with the progression of his third pitch.
8) Tucker Davidson - LHP
How he got to the Braves: 19th Round Pick in 2016 MLB Draft
Tucker Davidson improves his ranking three spots over the last time he appeared on our preseason rankings to No. 8 even though it is debatable as to whether there are more questions about him now than there were before the 2021 season. Davidson started his time with the Braves after being their 19th round pick in the 2017 Draft. He had been largely pegged as a relief prospect by us going into the 2017 season, but he exceeded expectations and forged himself into one of the Braves better starting pitching prospects. He sports a fastball that has inconsistent life but good velocity in the mid to upper-90’s if he really reaches back. The breaking ball and changeup are both inconsistent, but showed flashes of being quality offerings during his limited time in the major leagues in 2021.
Davidson had a lot of things going for him in 2021. He was excellent in limited action for Triple-A Gwinnett. So good, in fact, that he earned a promotion back to the big leagues and found some success there albeit in just four starts. Unfortunately, he ended up on the injured list with the dreaded forearm tightness in June 2021 and did not appear again in a game until an October 3rd appearance with Gwinnett. Its hard to imagine that there won’t be some amount of rust and/or a slight set back in 2022 coming off the injury and subsequent time off. Also, we don’t really know the exact severity of his injury, so we be following along with him and his usage closely. However, we saw real progress from him with the quality of his secondaries and the increases in swing and miss this past season (particularly in the minors), so consider this ranking a vote of confidence that he recovers completely and ends up being an useful starter going forward.
7) Vaughn Grissom - INF
How he got to the Atlanta Braves: 11th round of the 2019 MLB draft
The Talking Chop team has been a big fan of the 2019 MLB draft class since they’ve stepped on the field. Vaughn Grissom’s 2021 showed why: This class is full of high-upside talent that should continue to be exciting as they climb the Atlanta Braves’ minor-league system.
Grissom just turned 21 on Jan. 5, so the right-handed hitter played the entirety of the 2021 season at the age of 20. That was coming off a season that many prospects lost due to COVID-19, but the Braves’ saw enough in him to get him to the alternate site… at age 19 without a lick of experience over Rookie-level ball. The reports were glowing and proved to be true: Grissom absolutely erupted in his breakout 2021 campaign.
He spent the majority of the season in Augusta, and combined with a brief stint in Rome, Grissom hit .319 with an .882 OPS. Power isn’t going to be his forte, but he did show some sneaky pop when he got into one. He doesn’t seem to care much for striking out – perhaps his advanced approach was accelerated by facing major-league ready arms at Gwinnett in 2019. He posted a ridiculous .418 on-base percentage while striking out just 14.2% of the time and walking nearly 12% of the time. His wRC+ of 143 was one of the best marks in the entire system.
Grissom came into the Braves’ system as a shortstop, but played all over the infield last season. When you combine that versatility with his plate awareness and pitch recognition you have a very special prospect on your hands. While Braves’ fans are enamored with Grissom’s potential after a breakout 2021, expect to hear his name at the national level in 2022.