The Atlanta Braves have a bit of a shortage of quality position player prospects in their farm system these days. This is largely for good reasons, as the team has promoted position prospects to the big leagues over the last few years at a high rate, with many of them already earning long-term extensions with the team. Drew Lugbauer is part of the remaining crop of position prospects in the system. He’s interesting almost solely because of his power, but has some real question marks about his hit tool and defensive home that make his future murky.
Preseason Report Card
Going into the 2022 season, we did not have Lugbauer listed as a top 30 prospect in the Braves farm system. He was coming off a season where he hit a hit a bunch of homers, but we just didn’t see a hit tool or defensive value that projected to the major leagues. The system has gotten weaker since we wrote that, so you could convince us that he might be a backend top 30 guy now, but that has more to do with the guys in front of him than any actual progress he has made.
What we saw in 2022
In short, more of the same that we are used to seeing from Lugbauer. On the plus side, he did set the Mississippi single season home run record with 28 homers in 2022. The home runs he does hit are generally not cheapies, either. Power has been Lugbauer’s carrying tool since the day he was drafted, but he also has some issues.
Despite his big time power numbers, he posted a .771 OPS. That’s his second-highest since his pro debut season in 2017, behind only a .784 mark in 2021. He also set a career high by a mile in 2022 in strikeouts with 212 in 128 games, which is frankly impressive and reminds us of Braxton Davidson’s old stat lines.
The other issue is his defensive home. Lugbauer is a few years removed from seeing any time at third base or catcher (both positions he used to play) and he is strictly a first baseman or DH these days. That puts a lot of pressure on that bat and while the power is certainly there, the approach and hit tool are not. With those defensive shprtcomings, a 101 wRC+ when repeating Double-A is probably not the answer to most questions.
At this point, Drew is 26 years old and just repeated Double-A. He isn’t uninteresting because the power is real and he has a bit of athleticism to at least suggest that he should be a capable first baseman in a pinch. Our bet is that he heads to Triple-A Gwinnett for 2023. If he plays well, he can settle in as 1B/DH depth for the Braves that they could callup if they needed a bat in a pinch. However, it is hard to be optimistic that he can earn regular playing time when he hasn’t demonstrated much of a hit tool at all since his days in rookie ball.