The Atlanta Braves went overslot in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft to take an interesting, but still fairly raw, high school right-handed pitcher in AJ Smith-Shawver. Smith-Shawver (or AJSS) came into the draft with a high ceiling, but also a more limited resume than most top prep arms due to his time spent playing football. One plus: his fastball has serious potential.
Preseason Report Card
AJSS ranked 24th in our preseason Top 30 Braves prospects list. The upside intrigued, but he was considered raw coming into the draft and struggled in a limited 8 1/3-inning, four-appearance sample in the FCL after signing in 2021. It was fair to call him a wild card for the 2022 season this spring, as no one knew how he would fare in his first taste of full-season ball.
What we saw in 2022
Smith-Shawver looked better than anyone could have predicted for the 2022 season, considering his background and limited pro experience. Over 17 starts covering 68 2/3 innings for Augusta, AJSS posted a 5.11 ERA and a 1.35 WHIP. Those numbers don’t sound great, but the peripherals are where you really saw the promise. The 5.1 BB/9 wasn’t unexpected this season for such a young kid being pushed into full-season ball, but the 7.1 H/9 and 13.5 K/9 and a consistent ability to miss bats started to get him noticed by those outside of the Braves organization. His 3.53 FIP and 3.84 xFIP tell the story much better than the ERA.
AJSS was starting to get some attention from the national prospect media as a breakout guy, and we started to get excited for what he could become over the next few years. Then on August 5, he left a game against Delmarva with some sort of injury and didn’t appear again this season. The extent of the injury still isn’t known months later, though the lack of confirmation by the team isn’t always the best sign in these types of cases.
Smith-Shawver will be a wildcard in 2023, just like in 2022 — but for an entirely different reason. Now that he’s shown what he can do when healthy, the biggest question mark for his 2023 season will be if and when he pitches. If he starts the season on time, he would likely move up to Rome and spend the full season there trying to improve his command with more work. If he starts the season late, he’d likely be ticketed for Rome shortly after a rehab assignment. And if the worst case scenario happens and he misses 2023 completely, you can likely expect him in Rome to start his 2024 season.