We are less than a week away from minor league baseball and with that an influx of new information on which players made the biggest leaps over the past offseason. There are a few players in the system that ended last season poised to make steps forward in 2023 and today we have the first of two going over names to watch. This article will focus on the top breakout candidates among Braves pitching prospects with the longer list of intriguing hitters going up tomorrow.
Schwellenbach’s Tommy John surgery recovery has had him on the backburner for the past two seasons, but the 2021 second round pick should be healthy to start this season and will be one of the hottest storylines. His variance on the midseason prospect list is the widest among the current top 25 as he has a real chance to jump to the top of the list if he can replicate his amateur profile. Schwellenbach showed a plus fastball and slider combination along with plus athleticism and feel for a changeup but such limited data from being primarily a position player in college that it’s unknown how his stuff will play as a full time starter.
Munoz has been teetering on the edge of a true breakout since bursting on the scene with a double plus fastball in his first start of 2021. That season was marred by injury that kept him from repeating his early success and while 2022 was a turnaround for him he couldn’t find consistency at the High-A level for most of the early part. Munoz finished his last ten starts between High-A and Double-A with the best stretch of his career, striking out 63 batters and posting a 3.51 ERA in 48 2⁄3 innings. He has some of the highest strikeout rates in the system and his slider improved to flashing above average last season to give him a two pitch mix that is major league quality. Munoz may be destined for a bullpen role without a quality changeup or average command, but given his place on the 40 man roster and the progress he made to end the season he may be ready to really put his name on Atlanta’s map in 2023.
The 2022 draft for the Braves was widely a mix of players with fairly high amateur profiles, and Ritchie is no exception. He is a player that already comes in as a high pick and with high expectations, but that didn’t stop him from being a popular pick in our preseason roundtable. Ritchie had inconsistent pure stuff in his high school career as he struggled to hold his velocity deep into games, but when he was on he could touch 99 mph with his fastball along with a pair solid secondary pitches led by a potentially plus slider. Ritchie’s command profile and pitch mix should give low level hitters fits and there is much optimism that he could be among the system’s most dominant arms this season.
At this point it may be considered a cheap pick to have Dylan Dodd on the list, but the plans for this article were made in February and he was already going to be on the list then so I feel justified having him on. As you’re almost certainly aware at this point Dylan Dodd is having a tremendous spring training with the big league club, and that along with Kyle Wright needing more time to recover from his shoulder issue has earned him a spot in the Braves rotation to start the season. He will likely be in competition with Jared Shuster to hold onto the fifth spot following Wright’s return, with the indication being that Shuster is the current favorite. Still, it should be said that Dodd’s chances are solid as he was already seen as a potential rotation option coming into the season. So to the people on twitter who got upset at me for saying he could be an option this season: I am still awaiting your apology email.
The reason Dodd was already considered a breakout candidate was because his performance last season and his abilities simply didn’t match the hype he was getting from people outside of major league organizations. The general consensus from within the Braves was that he was a much better arm than he was given credit for and that other organizations felt the same way about him. I personally had Dodd at number five on my preseason list and strongly debated between him and Shuster even going into this spring. Dodd doesn’t have a single pitch that is a go-to pitch like Shuster, but he makes his money on a three-pitch mix that can all be effective in any count. He commands a plus fastball at an above average to plus level while mixing in an average slider and above average changeup. Dodd’s early struggles last season centered around his inconsistency in getting a feel for his offspeed pitches, but once he nailed down his arsenal he took off finishing fourth in the system in total strikeouts with an impressive 4.94 K/BB. Look for that ascent to continue this season whether in Gwinnett or Atlanta.
Maier is the easiest pick among the 2022 pitching draftees to be a breakout candidate because it seemed like he was already headed in that direction before a UCL sprain and subsequent brace surgery ended his season in April. Maier may feature the system’s best combination of secondary pitches with a high-spin wipeout slider and a split-changeup with huge movement and low spin. His fastball is closer to an average pitch with mediocre velocity and spin rates, but he commands the pitch well enough and can still utilize it for strikeouts when he gets players guessing on his offspeed stuff. He moves his fastball well vertically and produces high ground ball rates along with his high strikeout rates.
Because I love y’all, I’ll give you seven names for the price of five. Two other interesting names to watch are Didier Fuentes and Davis Polo. We have basically nothing on either given that they played last season in the Dominican Summer League, but the important to look for to identify players at that level are young pitchers with high strikeout rates. Both Polo and Fuentes fit that bill as both played last season at age 17 and put up good peripherals. Fuentes struck out 50 batters and walked only 10 in 44 innings across 11 starts while Polo led the team in strikeout rate with 26 in 19 2⁄3 innings primarily in relief.