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Braves Organizational Depth Preview: Right-handed pitching

As part of our minor league season previews, we begin by taking a look at the right handed pitching in the organization

AJ Smith-Shawver delivers a pitch for the Augusta GreenJackets Image Credit: CRSA Photography

Spring training has kicked off down in Florida, and with affiliated ball looking to kick off soon we’re going to be taking a look at the depth in the Atlanta Braves system. We’ll go through each position and look at where the organization stands on its major league depth before taking a look at the top prospects who will provide the next wave of reinforcements.

40-Man Roster Outlook

Pitching depth is one of Atlanta’s strengths going into the 2023 season and beyond, and while there is uncertainty on the back end of the bullpen the Braves have no doubts as to their projected top four. Among the young talent Spencer Strider and Kyle Wright are both under contract for seven and four years respectively, along with veteran Charlie Morton who the Braves hope will recapture his 2021 form. Atlanta also runs out relievers Raisel Iglesias, Joe Jimenez, and Collin McHugh who are all expected to be major keys to the bullpen’s depth.

The fifth starter position is where the right-handed depth looks to be particularly important as there are a number of players who will compete for that job this spring. Ian Anderson regressed significantly in 2022, but had success the prior two seasons and is likely the favorite to land the job. Atlanta also has Michael Soroka still recovering from his 2020 torn achilles and subsequent re-tear in 2021, but he has faced a number of setbacks in that timeline and is currently being held out from spring training. Atlanta also has Bryce Elder who gave them some solid performances down the stretch albeit against some of the worst lineups in the major leagues.

Darius Vines is also on the 40 man roster and will be at Triple-A this season, though he has little shot of making the team out of camp. Still, Vines is an interesting prospect with two above average secondary pitches and average command that has allowed him to have a good measure of minor league success. Vines has a decent shot to make his major league debut this season after he posted a 3.77 ERA between Double and Triple-A last season. Questions linger about Vines’s ability to succeed with a below average fastball, but he is still a player that has a chance to be a long-term contributor to the Braves rotation.

Top Prospects

Atlanta’s farm system has widely been gutted by promotions and recent trades, but even with all of that pitching is still going strong. The top prospect in the system is AJ Smith-Shawver, who will play the entire 2023 season at age 20 and possesses one of the best fastballs in the system. He complements that with a devastating plus slider and an improving changeup and has all of the makings of the Braves next star arm. Spencer Schwellenbach is a second round pick that the organization loved in 2021 but he hasn’t played since being drafted due to Tommy John surgery. Looking even closer to the big league level Victor Vodnik is the system’s top relief prospect. Vodnik has touched triple digits with his fastball and has a pair of effective secondary pitches, but he’s been injured frequently as a professional and the Braves moved him to the bullpen last season. Between two levels Vodnik posted a 2.34 ERA with 47 strikeouts in 34 23 innings though he still had injury issues. Roddery Munoz is a bit farther from the major leagues but his upper 90’s fastball and improving slider are good enough that the Braves added him to the 40 man roster this winter to protect him from the Rule 5 draft. Three of Atlanta’s top four prospects are right handed pitchers, and two of those came in the most recent draft where the Braves selected 11 right handed pitchers in 22 picks.

2022 Draftees

2022 first round pick Owen Murphy is the other player in the running with Smith-Shawver for the number one prospect, and despite being a surprise first round pick he has immediately impressed. Murphy gets high praise for his makeup and has a pair of effective breaking pitches along with the elite athleticism that gets evaluators hopeful he can command his low 90’s fastballs. Compensation round pick JR Ritchie is not far behind Murphy, showing an upper 90’s fastball but a bit of trouble holding his performance late into games. Ritchie also features both a curveball and slider, with both posting good spin rates but needing a bit of refinement to be consistent strikeout pitches. The most talented of the right handed pitchers may not even be the first two picks, as second rounder Cole Phillips was a likely first round pick before Tommy John surgery ended his high school career. Phillips is a big-bodied pitcher that has cleared 100 mph with a slider that some think can be a double plus pitch at the professional level. 7th round pick Adam Maier also had injury issues in college that cut off what seemed to be a quick ascent, but he has arguably the best secondary stuff in the system with a plus slider and double plus changeup. The Braves took four straight right handed pitchers to start the draft with Blake Burkhalter being the final one of those. Burkhalter is a player most believe is a relief pitcher, but that the Braves hope can use his fastball, cut fastball, and changeup combination to make the rare transition from college reliever to professional pitcher. The final big name right handed pitcher the Braves draft was sixth rounder Seth Keller, and undersized athlete that many fear is destined for the bullpen but who has mid-rotation potential. Keller is another with a slider and changeup that both look to be above average pitches and a fastball that has a shape that plays well with both pitches. Overall the Braves focused heavily on the pitching talent available to them in 2022 and it has paid off with a system deep on right handed pitching in a few different waves of talent.

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