Atlanta Braves fans have long bemoaned Alex Anthopolous’s hesitance to use top prospects to make trades, and when he finally did so to acquire Matt Olson the price was steep. The Braves lost two of the system’s top three prospects in Cristian Pache and Shea Langeliers, their most recent first round pick in Ryan Cusick, and an exciting young arm in Joey Estes. All four ranked within Battery’s Power top 13 prospects and a system that already lacked significant depth has had a huge chunk cut out of its elite talent base.
This trade was a blow to the system, but could also be seen as a smart usage of the talent the Braves did have to spare. Three of the top six Braves prospects are outfielders, so it was sensible to move one of them in a deal. The Braves already have a log jam of pitching at the upper levels to pick from and while Shea Langeliers is widely regarded as one of the top catching talents in the game, Atlanta has William Contreras to fall back on. Trading out of these positions of strength was a wise choice, but it doesn’t mean it’s any less impactful on the system. The Braves were already seen as a bottom third farm system and now with two more top 100 prospects gutted from that it’s likely a bottom five system. That depth will take time to rebuild and won’t be helped by the fact that much of it exists at the upper levels of the minor leagues.
An interesting note from this trade is that the Braves did not move an impact bat. While Pache and Langeliers are certainly high caliber prospects overall, they are seen as defense-first players. Anthopolous held on to the top offensive players in the system, among them Michael Harris, William Contreras, Drew Waters, and Vaughn Grissom. In the past, the Braves have been willing to sacrifice defense to get the best offense possible, e.g. signing Marcell Ozuna, playing Adam Duvall in center field, and running with William Contreras behind the plate until he began to struggle offensively. Whether this is an organizational philosophy isn’t clear, but they did move the top two defensive prospects in the system in this particular deal.
Five Prospects to Watch in 2022
Harris is going to be nearly universally regarded as the number one overall prospect in the system, and with good reason. The 21-year old Georgia native had an outstanding full season debut, earned his way to being the 46th best prospect in baseball according to Baseball America, and showed off the best hit tool in the system. Harris has a high baseball IQ, can play center field, and has plus raw power. He will likely start at Double-A this season, and while he is unlikely to make it to Atlanta in 2022 he will be a front runner to take over the center field job in 2023.
Waters has become passed over a bit due to his struggles to hit at Triple-A, but his raw physical attributes have kept him at the top of the system. He is the most immediately ready outfield bat and a strong spring and Triple-A season could have him competing to take over in center. While his hit tool is a question mark, the other aspects of his game have flourished and he seems to be one step away from making it to the big leagues. He may need some time to work things out, but hope still remains high for a future for Waters.
Bryce Elder will enter Braves camp as a non-roster invite and should be seen as a dark horse to take the fifth spot in the rotation out of camp. All of Elder’s pitches took a step forward in 2021 and he was able to advance to Triple-A in his first professional season while putting up tremendous numbers at each level. His advanced pitchability and command made him an intriguing prospect, but along with improved raw stuff he now has the potential to impact the Braves in the upcoming season.
With Dansby Swanson fast approaching free agency, the search for the next Atlanta Braves shortstop may become pressing should they not work out an extension. The Braves hope that will be Shewmake, though a poor offensive showing in 2021 has the 2019 first rounder on his back foot a bit. While his defensive improvements made it clear he can handle the shortstop position long term, he will come into 2022 with a lot to prove and an opportunity to show the Braves he can be ready to take over in 2023.
Indigo Diaz was the top relief arm in the minor leagues in 2021 in a number of categories, posting absurd strikeout rates at High-A and Double-A. While the addition of Collin McHugh makes the need less pressing, the Braves are a bit weak on right handed relief arms at the major league level and Diaz could quickly find himself pressed into action if he repeats last year’s performance at Triple-A.
Top Prospects in the system
Top Overall: Michael Harris
Top Position Player: Michael Harris
Top Pitcher: Spencer Strider
Top Left Handed Pitcher: Kyle Muller
Top Relief Pitcher: Indigo Diaz
Top Catcher: Tyler Tolve
Top Infielder: Vaughn Grissom
Top Outfielder: Michael Harris
Expected graduates in 2022
As mentioned before, the system is loaded at the upper levels with guys who will soon be knocking on the door of the major leagues. Five of the system’s top 10 prospects have already played at the Triple-A level with three of those having debuted, so a run on graduations from prospect status could be imminent. Tucker Davidson and Kyle Muller both have seen somewhat significant time at the major league level and if they repeat that in 2022, they will graduate from this list. Muller is 13 1⁄3 innings away from graduation and Davidson is 28 1⁄3 away. Spencer Strider received a taste of the major leagues in 2021 and if he can have another strong year he may quickly press himself into action at the major league level. As mentioned before, Bryce Elder would also fall into the category of players that could play themselves into a major league role. Drew Waters is the least likely of this group of top 10 prospects to graduate this season, but if the Braves run into injury troubles again, he could find himself reaching the mark. Among lower level prospects, the aforementioned Indigo Diaz, as well as Jasseel De La Cruz and Brooks Wilson could all see enough time on a major league roster to lose prospect status.
Prospects on the Rise
We’ve talked at length about the negative impacts on the system but it's time to look at some players that could bolster the depth and strength of the system.
Vaughn Grissom is the system’s top infield prospect and if he repeats his 2021 season he will likely find himself skipping into Top 100 lists. Grissom was statistically the system’s best hitter in 2021 and over the last half of the season, had more walks than strikeouts. His raw power hasn’t begun to show consistently in games, but his combination of strength, hitting ability, and ability to play shortstop makes him one of the most exciting prospects in the system.
Freddy Tarnok was a confounding case of talent not matching results, but in 2021 those result caught up all at once and he was behind only Spencer Strider as the system’s top performing pitcher. With three above average or better pitches, Tarnok needs to prove he can stay healthy and continue to improve his command. In which case, he has the potential to take over as the system’s top pitching prospect. His abilities were on display in the playoffs for Mississippi where he dominated in his championship series start.
Tavarez is the most hotly-anticipated international prospect the Braves have signed over the past few years and he projects to make his professional debut in 2022. Once we finally have performance and reports on him we’ll get a better feel for his placement in the system and he could very well be one of the top 10-15 guys in the system. Tavarez has impact potential with the bat and will likely be the system’s top third base prospect.
AJ Smith-Shawver is the mold of player the Braves have had success developing, as a two-sport star that features a powerful arm with developing off speed stuff. Shawver is a bit of a project, like Kyle Muller and Freddy Tarnok before him, but has the potential to be an exciting arm in the system. Smith-Shawver struggled with walks in his professional debut, but struck out 16 batters in 8 1⁄3 innings.
Collins came straight out of high school on fire in the Florida Complex League, posting a .347/.424/.453 slash line in his professional debut. His elite speed allowed him to steal 12 bases as well. He isn’t much of a power threat, but he has the contact skills, defense, and base running ability to wreak havoc in the lower minor leagues and quickly put himself on the map.
Dodd’s professional debut doesn’t look spectacular, but as one of the top senior signs in the 2021 draft class he could be a quick riser through the system. Dodd features a low-90’s fastball with fantastic spin rates which allow it to play up as an above average to plus pitch. Pair that with an above average changeup and a fringe average slider and there is a lot of potential for him to make a run in 2022.
Andrew Hoffman is one of the Battery Power minor league crew’s top picks to break out in 2022. The 2021 12th rounder made an immediate impression in Augusta with a 2.73 ERA and 37 strikeouts in 29 2⁄3 innings. Hoffman is another pitcher with a high spin rate fastball that lands in the low to mid 90s. He has a big frame, some projectability, and a slider to pair with his fastball. The development of his changeup will determine a lot of whether he is a starter or reliever in the future, but there is a lot to like about Hoffman’s potential in 2022.
Schwellenbach has metrics on his pitches that made Braves scouts drool, but Tommy John surgery will keep him out for most of 2022 leaving us with no real information about him as a starting pitcher. Still, the talent is there and the organization loves Schwellenbach’s stuff, athleticism, and makeup. Hopefully we’ll get to see enough game action in 2022 for us to feel more confident projecting him
How the Braves will add talent
The progression of players is important to strengthening the system and setting up the major league team for the future, but in order to improve the depth of the system, the Braves will have to add talent. While they’re unlikely to be making any trades for prospects they will have two opportunities to add premium talent to the system.
The primary pipeline for talent in recent years has been the first-year player draft, and Atlanta will have the 20th overall pick in the first round this July. In addition to picking in this spot for each of their 20 picks the Braves will be adding a pick in Compensation Round B when Freddie Freeman does sign with another team. In 2021, the Braves signed 19 of their 20 draft picks and it’s safe to expect similar volume from their 21 picks in the 2022 draft.
Atlanta’s recent first round picks
2022 - 24th Ryan Cusick - RHP (traded to A’s)
2021 - 25th Jared Shuster - LHP (No. 10 Prospect)
2020 - 9th Shea Langeliers - C (traded to A’s)
2020 - 21st Braden Shewmake - SS (No. 13 Prospect)
2019 - 8th Carter Stewart - RHP (Did not sign)
The other primary avenue for adding talent is from the International Free Agent class. While sanctions have kept the Braves from adding significantly from this pool in prior years, contributing to the declining depth of the system, Atlanta signed shortstop prospect Diego Benitez out of Venezuela as their most notable addition in the most recent signing period. Scouts are hopeful Benitez can stick at the shortstop position defensively while also showing potentially above average power and the ability to hit for average.
Updated Atlanta Braves Top 10 Prospects
- Michael Harris - CF
- Spencer Strider - RHP
- Drew Waters - CF
- Kyle Muller - LHP
- Vaughn Grissom - SS/UTIL
- Tucker Davidson - LHP
- Freddy Tarnok - RHP
- Bryce Elder - RHP
- Jesse Franklin - OF
- Jared Shuster - LHP