When the Braves drafted Spencer Schwellenbach with their second-round pick in the 2021 draft, they were ecstatic that he fell to them there. For a while, he was a favorite to be the team’s first-round pick, until an iffy medical report on his elbow (how’s that for foreshadowing) moved the team off of picking him that early in the draft. While Schwellenbach did end up having to have Tommy John surgery after he experienced soreness during his post-draft workouts, he is still arguably the most fascinating prospect in the Braves’ farm system given his yet-to-be-realized conversion to starting pitcher, as well as his upside.
Preseason Report Card
Schwellenbach was one of the hardest guys for us to rank before the season, both because of his injury, and the difficulty of projecting a guy who was a shortstop and reliever in college as a starting pitcher. We ended up settling on him being the 16th-best prospect in the system at the time, although if you were ask our staff at midseason given the reports we got on him, we would all probably agree that that ranking was soft and he should have been a few spots higher.
What we saw in 2022
Like several guys in our preseason top 30, we didn’t get to see Schwellenbach play in 2022 because of his Tommy John Surgery. There were initial whispers that he might return late in the 2022 season, but the team decided to forgo that, instead just working him out in instructs and giving him a regular offseason. This way, Schwellenbach will be looking forward to a regular routine going into the 2023 season.
This is a tough one because, on one hand, we have a starting pitching prospect that is both coming off an injury that cost him a full season and has never started before. Even if we believe wholeheartedly in the Braves’ evaluation of his talent (which they believe is extremely high), we still haven’t laid eyes on him as a pro, nor do we know how his command will be post-surgery or later in starts, which are key considerations for pitching prospects.
However, we also know the potential with Schwellenbach. He was hitting the upper 90s with his fastball in college and everything we have heard is that he is back hitting those marks now. We had some initial disagreement as a staff on the quality of his slider, but it has all the makings of a plus pitch. The unknown is what his changeup looks like as a pro and how often he makes use of the pitch to play off of his high-octane fastball. It was a good pitch in college, but feel is really important when one throws a changeup, and we just don’t know how the long layoff from game action is going to impact the pitch and his feel for it.
With all of that out of the way, we will just say this. The reports we have gotten on his rehab have been overwhelmingly positive, to the point that it’s exciting. It sounds like Schwellenbach has put on a lot of strength and the stuff continues to jump in his recovery workouts. We expect Schwellenbach to start his pro career in High-A with Rome, and he may not be there long if the reports of his progress are anywhere close to true. The conversion to starting is really hard to feel confident about since it doesn’t happen often, but the Braves firmly believe that they have a guy with a chance to be a frontline starter if things break his way.