The Atlanta Braves had high hopes for Jared Shuster when they picked him with the 25th overall pick in the shortened 2020 draft, but unlike two of the later picks from that very draft, Shuster is still waiting to get his call to the major leagues. Shuster had a dominant Double-A campaign in 2022 which renewed enthusiasm about his future in the system.
Preseason report card
Shuster was on an innings limit early in his 2021 season and the biggest question that brought for him was his long term health. With velocity that had declined to the upper 80s and low 90s, it was a question of whether his fastball was good enough to play at the upper levels, and whether he had full confidence in his arm. Still there was no doubting the absurdity of his changeup, which is an easy plus, borderline double-plus offering. He struck out 90 batters in 73 innings in 2021, but was brutalized by home runs with 15 allowed.
What we saw in 2022
No player in the system got off to a hotter start that Shuster, who immediately squashed any lingering health concerns. He pitched back-to-back seven-inning starts in late April and in the first two months had a 2.06 ERA (3.23 FIP) with 51 strikeouts to 11 walks in 48 innings. Shuster was performing consistently with only one game in which he had a command hiccup and couldn’t escape the first inning, while more importantly limiting opposing batters to four home runs in 48 innings. He had two rough outings in early June in which he both walked batters and allowed a couple of home runs, but quickly bounced back and had his best start on July 12th. In that game, Shuster struck out 12 batters over seven scoreless innings with only two hits allowed, and after one more start at Double-A was called up to Gwinnett.
Unfortunately, at Triple-A, trouble quickly brewed and Shuster’s troublesome fastball attributes started to become more detrimental. His strikeout rate plummeted to 7.2 K/9 while he allowed an alarming 10 home runs in 48 2⁄3 innings over 10 appearances. His command was on point to drive his early season excellence and he was able to get into favorable counts to utilize his changeup and average slider, but he was just a hair off in location towards the latter half of the season and didn’t have the stuff to get away with those mistakes.
Shuster is a hard player to assume the Braves have confidence in, given that he doesn’t fit the typical metrics they target with young pitchers. While they bet on a velocity increase that Shuster showed in the Cape Cod League ahead of COVID-19 shutting down scouting in the spring prior to the draft, Shuster does not have that stuff anymore and has shown no indications that that ability will ever come back. He is the pitcher that he is, and when the command is on point he is a decent junkballer with a particularly sparkling changeup. Still, he’s prone to being hit hard when he makes even small errors because he doesn’t have the velocity to get away with any degree of error. His command is better than most, but he needs to keep refining it to carve out a backend role at the major league level.