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Talking Chop 2022 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 1-6

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We have reached the summit of our 2022 preseason Braves prospect rankings.

MLB: New York Mets at Atlanta Braves Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Welcome back to the final 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.

Talking Chop 2022 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: Honorable Mentions

Talking Chop 2022 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 25-30

Talking Chop 2022 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 19-24

Talking Chop 2022 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 13-18

Talking Chop 2021 Preseason Top 30 Braves Prospects: 7-12

Quick message from Eric: I want to take a second to thank the TC MiLB staff. Wayne, Garrett, Gaurav, and Matt...you guys are studs and you guys constantly kill it making sure we continue to provide some of the best coverage of the minor leagues out there. These lists are huge undertakings and our staff here works incredibly hard to make sure we put out a product we are proud even if we are well aware that 90% of our audience is going to take issue with some or all of our rankings....that is just how it is. I also want to thank all of our readers and listeners for following along as we rolled our list out yet again. You all are the reason why we are able to do what we do and for that, you have our eternal gratitude.

Enough with the stalling, here are the top six prospects on our ranking of the Braves farm system. Enjoy!

6) Kyle Muller - LHP

Braves MiLB Prospect Review: Kyle Muller

How he got to the Braves: 2nd Round Pick in the 2016 MLB Draft

Coming in at number six on our preseason top 30 is the hulking lefty Kyle Muller who remains one of more intriguing starting pitching prospects in the Braves’ farm system. A product of a stellar 2016 draft strategy that brought Ian Anderson, Joey Wentz, and Muller in the first three rounds to the Braves, Muller features a huge 6’7 frame with a heavy fastball that is usually a mid-90’s offering that can touch a bit higher if he reaches back, an improving breaking ball that is above average with flashes plus when his command is on, and a changeup that is a decent change of pace pitch. Like a lot of guys with large frames, repeating his delivery and command can be a challenge which is pretty much what happened at the end of MLB debut in 2021. However, his time back in Gwinnett largely went well and he is clearly in the mix for the 2022 rotation.

There were a lot of positives to take away from Muller’s 2021 season. He successfully debuted in the majors and his first three starts went quite well. However, back to back less than great starts against the Nationals and Reds marked the end of his time with the big league club and with it comes some interesting questions. Beyond the inconsistency in his command which, to varying degrees, is probably going to always be an issue for him, he also needs to find a way to miss more bats. He would have the occasional game where he would strike out a decent number of batters, but he also had a lot of occasions where he would get into a lot of long at-bats which did not help him later in games nor did it help his walk numbers. Some progress with his breaking ball as well as commanding his fastball a bit better at the top of the zone should help with that and we remain optimistic that he can be a useful rotation piece as a result.

5) Drew Waters - OF

Braves MiLB Prospect Review: Drew Waters

How he got to the Braves: 2nd round of the 2017 MLB draft

Drew Waters had an interesting 2021. At times he showed the tools that make him such an exciting prospect while at other times, he showed why there has been some reservations in anointing him the next Braves’ top guy. He enters the season slipping a few spots from his No. 2 midseason perch.

Here’s what we know. Waters is still relatively young – especially taking the COVID-19 year into consideration – at 23. He was a fast riser up the Braves’ minor-league ladder, and that was in large part due to a ridiculous 2019 season where he showed off all five tools that prospect lovers drool over. When he connects with a pitch he likes, his power can be enormous and he is a threat on the base paths with above-average speed.

That all took a step backward in 2021. Now, to be fair, Waters was injured to start the season and didn’t play in 2020. That is a lot to come back from, but, numbers, as they say, don’t lie. He didn’t look like the prospect he was in 2019 – a bully at the plate that controlled the strike zone and teed up on mistakes. Instead, he struck out nearly 31% of the time. That said, he did walk a career-best 10.2% of the time, so again, all was not lost. One may get excited seeing that he also posted a career-high in home runs, but his career lows in doubles and triples was well off his career norms. He averaged 39.5 doubles and nine triples in 2018 and 2019 and had just 22 and one, respectively, in 2021.

The Braves added Waters to the 40-man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, so it’s clear they are willing to let 2021 be a pass. This will be Waters third tour of duty in Gwinnett (albeit 2019 was just 26 games) and it’s shown that Cristian Pache has a clearer path to Atlanta. Waters needs to come out and look a lot more “2019 Drew Waters” this season in order to stay atop a Braves’ system with quite a bit of depth at the outfield position.

4) Spencer Strider - RHP

Braves MiLB Prospect Review: Spencer Strider

How he got to the Braves: 4th Round Pick in the 2020 MLB Draft

When the Braves used their fourth round pick on Clemson right hander Spencer Strider in the 2020 MLB Draft, it confused people. Strider, once a top prep draft prospect who went the college route and required Tommy John surgery, wasn’t a guy many expected to hear his name called in the five round draft that year as he mostly came out of the pen in 2018, missed 2019, and threw just 12 innings in 2020 before COVID shut the world down.

However the Braves scouts saw something in Strider, likely in his biggest showcase start of the abbreviated season against rival South Carolina. That was apparently all it took, along with his prep resume, for the Braves to use one of their four picks in that draft to land him.

The slender 6’0 right hander didn’t get to make his pro debut until 2021 and what a debut it was. Strider started the season all the way down in Low-A Augusta and dominated his way through all four levels of full season minor league ball to eventually make two appearances in Atlanta at the end of the season.

Strider was the definition of dominant if you look at his numbers excluding his one inning stint in Gwinnett due to being short sample size:

Low-A: 0.59 ERA, 0.72 WHIP, 18.8 K/9, 15.1 IP

High-A: 2.45 ERA, 1.02 WHIP, 14.7 K/9, 14.2 IP

Double-A: 4.71 ERA, 1.22 WHIP, 13.4 K/9, 63.0 IP

After that and the one inning stop in Triple-A, Strider made a pair of relief appearances in Atlanta. In those two games he gave up a run on two hits over two and a third innings.

Strider profiles as a potential middle of the rotation type of arm, but could also end up being a key piece out of the back of the bullpen with his stuff and starters background giving him the ability to work multiple innings out of the pen.

Strider’s best offering is his potentially plus plus fastball that he has touched 99 MPH with. This pitch is a big part of why he was able to post such absurd strikeout rates in the minors, all above 13.4 batters per nine innings at each of his stops where he pitched multiple innings. Strider also has the potential for average pitches in his curve and change, which pair well with his big fastball. The command is still a work in progress, but that’s not totally abnormal for a guy who prior to this spring only threw 12 game innings since his Tommy John surgery, as command comes back last particularly with the breaking ball.

Strider’s biggest weaknesses are that he doesn’t have a clear second above average pitch at the moment, and the command still needs work after he walked 3.8 hitters per nine innings across the four levels of minor league ball this year. Additionally he can just use some extra innings, as he has thrown no innings in 2019, 12 innings in 2020, then 96.1 innings this year.

You can expect to see Strider in Gwinnett in 2022, and considering he has already made his big league debut, he will be a candidate to move up to the big leagues at any time now depending on the need. While the Braves will continue him as a starter, it’s far from certain where he will end up though he has the potential to be a real asset as either a starter or reliever.

3) Shea Langeliers - C

Braves MiLB Prospect Review: Shea Langeliers

How he got to the Braves: 1st Round Pick in 2019 MLB Draft

There’s really not much we haven’t said about Shea Langeliers at this point as he put together one of the best all around seasons we’ve seen from a minor leaguer in recent memory. Langeliers was somewhat mediocre for like two weeks in May and then decided to scorch the league for the remainder of the season. He finished hitting .258/.338/.498 at Double-A and placed himself solidly in the mix along with Michael Harris and Cristian Pache to be the top prospect in the system this year. Langeliers also played elite defense and had absurd throwing numbers with a 42% caught stealing rate that was actually trending down by the end of the year because of a couple of pitchers that were promoted and didn’t know how to hold runners. Overall, Langeliers was a menace on both sides of the baseball and was, if not the best player in the system this season only a half tick below that level.

Langeliers hit 22 home runs in 92 games this season, and it cannot be overstated how absurd that is. This is a catcher hitting at a 30+ home run pace in a notoriously pitcher-friendly home park that no one hits that many home runs at. It’s worth mentioning that the minor leagues in general saw a huge uptick in home runs this season, but Langeliers still stood apart in that regard. He is also possibly the most valuable defender in the minor leagues given the position he plays, though it’s arguable he’s not even the best on this list. To be at the level of Pache, a player who has gotten historically high hype for his defense, is impressive. Langeliers is likely going to be your top prospect by midseason, and for good reason, but he is in the minor leagues for a good reason as well. He needs some work on his game calling, and that’s not a knock as he is well ahead of the curve, it’s just an aspect of the game that takes a lot of time to learn and he will have to improve like every minor league catcher. The only real question mark is his hit tool. Hitting .258 at Double-A isn’t particularly good and neither is his 26.9% strikeout rate, and that hit tool is the reason he isn’t number one and isn’t in Atlanta. He has to improve to be an impact bat, though with his defense and power he really does not have to hit all that well to be an extremely good catcher. He draws his fair share of walks which will be important to mitigate some of the issues with his hitting, and he hits the ball hard when he does make contact. If the hit tool takes a step forward, Langeliers could be a superstar and even now is not nearly enough of a concern to outweigh his other abilities.

2) Michael Harris - OF

Braves MiLB Prospect Review: Michael Harris

How he got to the Braves: 3rd Round Pick in 2019 MLB Draft

Michael Harris didn’t come into his draft in 2019 as one of the most hyped players in the class, but by the time the 2019 season ended he emerged as one of the top prospects in that entire draft class.

The Braves took Harris in the third round and he went on a tear in the GCL posting a .917 OPS over 31 games before skipping the next level (then short season Danville) and ending the season in Low-A at Rome for the final 22 games. While he didn’t excel there, he at least held his own.

The lost 2020 season wasn’t a completely lost year for Harris, as he spent it at the alternate site and provided some highlights, including hitting a homer off the yet to debut Ian Anderson. This gave Harris a chance to compete against older players, as well as learn from them for the shortened season which is something that will only benefit him in the long run.

Harris returned to Rome in 2021, which had moved up to High-A as part of the minor league shakeup that was put in before this past season. As a 20-year old, 2.9 years younger than the league average, and only 53 games into his pro career heading into this season, Harris went on to produce a strong .294/.362/.436 slash line with seven home runs and 27 steals over his 420 plate appearances. He also managed 35 walks to 76 strikeouts, both fairly similar to the rates he posted in his pro debut back in 2019.

Harris, who was liked by many teams as a pitcher heading into his draft, represents a talented and athletic young outfielder with the potential for five tools. A chance to play above average defense in the outfield (mostly center to this point, but could fit well in right) with a huge arm, better than anticipated contact ability, plus speed, and the potential for above average to plus power is the overall toolbox on him.

Harris is expected to start the 2022 season in Double-A, as he continues his development with his bat and defense and tries to bring a little more of his above average raw power into his slightly below average in game power output. Not that the power output is a huge worry considering his age and the fact he was playing against older competition, but it is something that needs to take a slight step forward in order for him to move up to the number one spot. Harris with the proper growth this year could position himself for a chance to make his big league debut sometime around midseason in 2023.

1) Cristian Pache - OF

Braves MiLB Prospect Review: Cristian Pache

How he got to the Braves: IFA signing from 2015

Finally, we have reached the top of our preseason top 30 with outfielder Cristian Pache who, despite an admittedly rough 2021 season, remains in the top spot. Before we get into the nitty gritty here, it is worth noting that Pache was not the unanimous choice for this spot as Michael Harris did get one vote. We totally understand the hesitancy regarding Pache as his time in the major leagues before he got injured and then finished the season at Triple-A was quite bad. However, we are not willing to write him off from 63 at-bats where he slashed an abysmal .111/.152/.206 even if we freely admit that it is less likely that he will reach his offensive ceiling which is substantial.

In Pache, you get an all-world defender at a premium position in center field to go along with elite athleticism and tools. He can really run when he gets under way even though he shouldn’t be a guy trying to steal 50 bags every year. Pache is also a bigger, stronger guy than he is given credit for and could hit 15-20 homers assuming he can get the issues with his hit tool sorted out. He needs to draw more walks and continue to learn which pitches he should turn on, but his defense is good enough that he needs to only be an average hitter to be incredibly valuable and we think he can be better than that. He just turned 23, so we are now officially in the realm of “he needs to take that next step soon” especially with Michael Harris and potentially Drew Waters waiting in the wings.