The Atlanta Braves officially released the list of players they will protect from this December’s Rule 5 draft, and ultimately, there were no major surprises. The Braves ended up protecting their three highest-value eligible prospects while leaving off some relief pitchers and fringier players that they are apparently willing to let go to another team. You can read more about the Rule 5 draft in our preview from last month.
The biggest name among the prospects the Braves protected is shortstop Braden Shewmake, one of their 2019 first round picks. Shewmake was drafted for his hit tool and power potential, though neither of those have yet come to pay big dividends at the minor league level. Instead, Shewmake has developed into a fine defender at the shortstop position whose offensive shortcomings have brought his long-term future into question. He hit 19 home runs in 159 games between Double-A and Triple-A the past two seasons, while plagued by a number of injuries ranging from a rumored back injury to start this season to a torn PCL which ended his 2022 season. Shewmake has battled through swing changes the past couple of seasons and seemed poised for a breakout following positive developments early in 2022, but never performed consistently and had trouble staying on the field for extended periods. Still, the Braves likely think his major-league defensive ability would be enough for another team to snag him, and weren’t willing to let him go for basically nothing given the lack of organizational answers at the shortstop position.
Darius Vines is the safely the best prospect amongst the players protected. A seventh round pick in 2019, he has become part of the next wave of arms from the minor league system. Vines has a low-spin and low-velocity fastball but has been able to make up for it with an above-average slider and plus changeup that befuddles hitters when he gets ahead in the count. Vines is athletic and commands the ball well, though his fastball’s weaknesses have made him prone to home runs and other hard-hit balls when he leaves it over the plate. Vines is a bit of an outlier among the Braves top prospects in terms of his velocity and spin, but his offspeed pitches are so good that he’s been able to advance up to Triple-A and finished his season with a 2.38 ERA and 67 strikeouts in 64 1⁄3 innings in his final twelve starts. Vines is the most likely among this trio to appear in the major leagues this coming season.
Roddery Munoz is the youngest and least developed of these three prospects, but laps them both in pure ceiling. Munoz features a high-spin fastball that sits in the upper 90s with ease, and pairs it with a slider that has gone from fringy to solidly average in the past season. Munoz struggled with injury in 2021 and only pitched 29 2⁄3 innings, but broke out in 2022 with 119 strikeouts over 100 1⁄3 innings. Munoz had absurd numbers over his final seven games in High-A, striking out 49 batters and posting a 1.67 ERA in 37 2⁄3 innings. He struggled in a short stint in Double-A, but his stuff is so good the Braves felt him likely to be selected in the draft and chose to protect him. His easiest course to the major leagues would be as a reliever, but the Braves will continue to develop him as a starter for now in the hopes he can break the mold and make it as a starter with only two major league quality pitches. Munoz still has a lot to develop in terms of command and approach, so he will be highly unlikely to see the field in Atlanta in 2023.
Williams Woods was added to the 40-man roster last season to protect him from the Rule 5 draft, but an ill-fated 2022 season has him quickly shunted to the waiver wire. Woods was good out of the bullpen to start this season, but after a lower body injury plagued him through the middle of the season, he never got right. Woods has a high velocity fastball but fails to avoid hard contact and was knocked around in the Arizona Fall League prior to the decision to cut him loose.
Victor Vodnik is the most likely of the group left outside to be selected, as he has the talent to contribute to a major league bullpen now. Vodnik’s problem is that he has never been able to stay healthy and that has impacted his ability to develop at the minor league level. Vodnik is a guy we thought would get protected and is the biggest surprise, but it’s still no guarantee that his injury history won’t keep him from being drafted.
Indigo Diaz seemed on his way to locking up a spot by being one of the minor league’s top relievers in 2021, but his command regressed in 2022 and he wasn’t able to advance past Double-A. Justin Yeager, likewise, has always posted high strikeout rates with the help of his upper-90s heat, but his command is atrocious and he ran into trouble at Double-A. Lisandro Santos elected free agency last week, making him now available to sign with any team.
Drew Lugbauer has been a reader favorite for his prodigious power, but hasn’t learned how to hit Double-A pitching and is highly unlikely to be selected. Cody Milligan is a defensive wizard both in the infield and outfield, and has a solid hit tool, but has bottom-of-the-scale power that limited his production at Double-A. Brandol Mezquita is the best offensive prospect available and has a legitimate starter’s ceiling, but he’s had only 66 plate appearances in High-A. Teams will not burn a roster spot on a player with that little experience, so he will be safe this season. Greyson Jenista struggled at Triple-A this season, but he has legitimate raw power and could be the most likely position player selected. Still, it doesn’t seem particularly likely a team will select a player that has never hit at the minor league level and I don’t believe the Braves would be concerned if they lost him.