We continue our look at the position depth in the Atlanta Braves system by hopping over to shortstop. Long the home of Dansby Swanson, the Braves will be fielding a new starter in 2023 and they hope their young star can take over because elsewhere the system is thin.
40 man outlook
The Atlanta Braves have notable long-term stability at most positions, but their main exception is at shortstop following the departure of longtime starter Dansby Swanson. The Braves did not address the position this off-season, putting all of the attention squarely on the shoulders of young Vaughn Grissom. Grissom was an 11th round pick back in 2019 and immediately impressed with an advanced hit tool and burgeoning power. However, he started the 2022 season in High-A and no one really expected him to be the favorite to win the job going into last season. He had a strong year at the minor league level which culminated in him spending time in the major leagues playing second base as a replacement for the injured Ozzie Albies
Grissom had a measure of success offensively at the major league level and carries confidence that he can continue to improve, however questions have always followed with regards to his defensive ability. Grissom and Braves assistant Ron Washington focused heavily this off-season on improving Grissom’s defensive actions and consistency and the organization has shown confidence in him being able to fill that void immediately. Long term there is little to indicate Grissom won’t be able to stick at the major leagues given how good of an offensive player he is, but 2023 will be an important indicator for where exactly he plays defensively in his career.
Should he falter, the Braves have Orlando Arcia in the stable who has proven to be a capable defender at shortstop who provides enough offensive value to be a stopgap option. Arcia is the team’s main backup should any of their infielders get injured and last season produced 0.7 fWAR and a 104 wRC+ in 68 games. While Grissom does seem to be the runaway favorite for starting shortstop there is on some level a competition for that spot between him and Arcia.
Elsewhere on the depth chart Braden Shewmake would be the first man up from the minor leagues, and is the best of the three on the roster defensively. Shewmake has an above average arm, impressive first step, and intelligence for the position that makes up for mediocre top end speed. The question for Shewmake is whether he will ever produce enough offensively to be a major league starter because he has not yet shown he can hit at the upper levels of the minor leagues. He is also coming off of a torn PCL further putting him at a disadvantage.
Braden Shewmake with the great play at short pic.twitter.com/UMiRNOkhUy— Gaurav (@gvedak) February 25, 2023
Behind Shewmake in the system the pickings get quite slim, with no legitimate shortstop prospect having played a game above High-A. Luke Waddell has a hit tool that will likely get him a role in the major leagues fairly soon, but he lacks the arm strength to stick at shortstop and lacks power to be an impact bat at the next level.
The most advanced true shortstop prospect in the system is Cal Conley, who put up a fantastic performance in the Arizona Fall League to garner more attention from Braves fans. The switch-hitting Conley had a 108 wRC+ in 44 High-A games last season and flashed moments of brilliance but was inconsistent and showed some concerning red flags with his approach. In addition, Conley is not a lock to stick at shortstop, as while he has enough range and arm strength to be a fringe average defender he has been prone to both physical mistakes and poor decision-making. Still, Conley is a power bat as a switch-hitter and if the defense does not develop he has the offensive ceiling to still be a major league regular
Atlanta’s best shortstop prospects both have yet to play above rookie ball in their professional career. Ambioris Tavares was the Braves first major signing since they faced international sanctions and his offensive potential has been exciting for many within the organization. He has top end exit velocities and a feel for hitting, but he’s obviously raw at the plate and struggled in a small sample last season. He has had trouble staying on the field and recently underwent thoracic outlet surgery on his non-throwing shoulder. Defensively many believe that Tavarez will eventually see a move to third base, though confidence has begun to grow that he may have the athleticism to stick at shortstop long term.
Diego Benitez was the Braves top international signing in 2022, and he too struggled during the past season. Benitez has the bat speed and hitting ability to be an impressive hitter and is one of the more athletic players in the system. His foot speed gives him a better chance to stick at shortstop than Tavarez, but he is even more raw offensively and comes with a high risk of busting completely.
2022 Draft Picks
Atlanta did not use any high picks on shortstops, but did draft two in the late rounds. 16th round pick EJ Exposito showed out in the MLB Draft League and made a decent impression in a short stint at Single-A Augusta. Exposito has some raw power that he flashes in game at times, but is a low probability hitter who may not stick at shortstop.
Keshawn Ogans has his first professional home run as he sends one outta here to score three more runs!— Augusta GreenJackets (@GreenJackets) August 14, 2022
Ogans has three hits and four RBIs tonight as we continue to pour it on in Fredericksburg! pic.twitter.com/msywylIQcu
Keshawn Ogans is a gamer-type who the Braves took with their final pick in the 20th round out of California. He too had a good showing in the draft league and impressed in a short stint at Low-A. Ogans can play all over the infield defensively and always found ways to make good things happen on both sides of the ball. He has speed on the basepaths and the ability to make solid contact though power is limited and likely keeps his ceiling below that of a major league regular. Still, at 20 years old he has shown a good feel for the game and could be a real contributor off of a major league bench down the road.