As we’ve reached March we’re closing in on the start of another season of Minor League Baseball for the Braves, as that season opens on March 31 this year - at least for Triple-A, as the rest of the minors get underway on April 6. With that in mind now is as good a time as any to take a look at what the makeup of each of the Braves affiliates might look like this season.
We start with Augusta here, the Low-A club being the lowest rung of the minors in full season ball. This club is always interesting, as it’s typically the first chance to get eyes on many prospects we’ve heard about, but not yet seen due to lack of video of prospects in the FCL and DSL.
This year’s Augusta club has not yet set their roster, so this is more of a projection than it is a look at their roster. They have however set their coaching staff, with manager Cody Gabella moving up after managing the FCL Braves last year. The pitching coach will be last year’s High-A pitching coach, Wes McGuire. Connor Narron returns as hitting coach, a position he filled last year for Augusta.
Please note that the roster on the team’s official site is not an up-to-date roster and many of those players listed on it today will not be on it on Augusta’s Opening Day, as many could find themselves moving up or down, or even injured. The roster on the official team site isn’t likely to be updated and accurate until within 48 hours of Opening Day - but that goes for all minor league rosters.
The pitching staff of this team will be the part that draws the most watching interest in terms of prospects, as the Braves drafted a bunch of high end arms last year that should either open the season here or get here by midseason. The two first round picks, Owen Murphy and JR Ritchie, each made three appearances here last year and are found on the official roster. Those two should be locks to be in the rotation, provided they stay healthy. Second rounder Cole Phillips could join them, but seeing as how he is still recovering from Tommy John surgery and hasn’t pitched beyond high school yet, he would be more of a mid-to-late season addition. The other talented prep arm from last year is Seth Keller, who will be a candidate to make this roster - though he will have to earn it this spring as he is also a candidate to open in extended spring training/FCL. Since we are talking about 2022 draft picks, it also shouldn’t surprise anyone to see Adam Maier here, the overslot 7th round pick from Oregon, but his timeline is a little up in the air as he is also returning from elbow surgery.
After starting here to open last year and then being sent back to the FCL, overslot 2021 11th rounder Adam Shoemaker will also be a player to watch who is ticketed for Augusta in 2023. Shoemaker, who doesn’t turn 20 until the end of this season, is still filling in his 6’6”, 205 pound frame and trying to improve his command - not uncommon for young, long limbed pitchers. Another name to watch for is 2019 draft pick Jared Johnson, an overslot pick a few years ago with impressive stuff but still in need of development. Johnson missed last year injured, but should come through Augusta at some point this year after spending time here back in 2021.
One big name on the official roster is AJ Smith-Shawver, though I wouldn’t expect to see much/any of him here this year. AJSS was having a breakout here last year, striking out 103 in 68.2 innings in his first full pro season. However he went down with an undisclosed injury not to return for the rest of the season. He is much more likely to spend his time with Rome, though could come through Augusta if he is on a rehab assignment.
Odds are likely that a trio of young catchers will find themselves on this roster, and they are already listed on the official site roster. The 2022 10th round pick Andrew Keck, who hit 17 homers for Southeast Missouri State last spring, is the higher profile of the group. Keck appeared in four games apiece in the FCL and Augusta after signing, and will get a chance to show off his power here as he tries to prove that he can continue catching as a pro. The other is Antonio Barranca, a 2020 unsigned free agent out of high school. Barranca appeared in 19 games for Augusta last summer, most of them coming early in the season before being sent down to the FCL. Combined he hit .147/.345/.250 in 53 games in 2022. Lastly Harry Owen, an undrafted free agent out of JUCO last year who signed after a strong performance in the college summer Northwoods League. Owen appeared in two games here last year, after getting seven in the FCL following his signing. Owen might actually be the most intriguing of the trio with his mix of power and solid defense, and was a one-time SEC commitment (Auburn).
If you look on the team’s roster Drake Baldwin is listed, but considering he will turn 22 at the end of this month and was a third round pick out of college last summer, it is more likely he starts in High-A.
The biggest prospect name listed on the official site is probably that of Nacho Alvarez, who is likely 50/50 to open the year here. The 5th round pick from last year, who is still just 19 until mid-April, appeared in 15 games at the end of last year with Augusta and held his own with a .866 OPS. Alvarez, who has shown real potential with his glove at third and a great feel for getting on base, is a candidate to earn himself a spot in Rome with a good spring. The other two prospect names that stand out on the official roster are in a fairly similar spot. Mahki Backstrom made his full season debut last year and posted a .205/.355/.414 line in 80 games here, but the power hitting first baseman closed the season strong after a slow start. Then there is 2022 third rounder David McCabe, a college slugger who feels much more likely ticketed for Rome and it’s slightly more advanced pitching.
The biggest hitting prospect name likely to see Rome is shortstop Ambioris Tavarez, the 2020/2021 top international signing of the Braves. Tavarez was the first big dollar international free agent the Braves signed after the international sanctions were lifted, and after sitting out 2021 due to the Braves not having a DSL team playing, made his pro debut in the FCL last year. Tavarez, who got a late start due to injury (thoracic outlet surgery), hit .277/.304/.385 in 69 plate appearances. Due to those 69 plate appearances being his entire pro resume, there is a chance he doesn’t open the season on the Augusta roster, but he is very likely to end up here this year. There is some chance he could be joined by the 2021/2022 top international signing, shortstop Diego Benitez. Benitez made his pro debut last year and struggled a bit in the DSL, so he’d more than likely be a midseason addition to the roster if he was to reach Low-A this year.
Some others we could see here include first baseman Justin Janas, versatile infielder Jose Dilone, second baseman EJ Exposito, and shortstop Francisco Floyd. Janas, the 12th round pick out of Illinois, is a contact hitter who appeared in 23 games for Augusta after signing last summer. Floyd, who has also played third, split last year between Augusta and the FCL, and actually posted a better OPS in 36 games with Augusta (.702), than he did in 24 games in the FCL (.611). Dilone, who has played everywhere in the infield already in his brief pro career, spent last season repeating the FCL - though he did appear in two games with Rome in July. Exposito was the 16th round pick last year and played 27 games in Augusta, split between second and short, while posting a .730 OPS.
Outfield could prominently feature some of the Braves 2022 draft picks in key roles. The official roster lists Noah Williams and Kevin Kilpatrick, though Christian Jackson will also be a possibility. Williams, the 18th rounder out of a California high school appeared in five games for Augusta after 10 in the FCL last year. Kilpatrick, a 17th round JUCO pick and native of Stone Mountain, appeared in 22 games for Augusta with a .780 OPS and seven steals. Jackson, a 19th rounder from Duchtown HS, played in nine games with the FCL Braves after signing. All three of these 2022 picks have upside but will need plenty of developmental time and with the lack of depth in the system in terms of lower level outfielders, the playing time should be there for them to grab here.
Though he isn’t on the official roster, Tyler Collins could be here this year. Collins was expected to be here last year, but it ended up being a lost season for the 2021 overslot 8th rounder from a Texas high school. Collins looked great in the FCL that summer and rose propect lists, but he started last season late and wound up getting injured again quickly after his return to limit him to just four games played on the year. Collins has dropped on prospect lists because of this, but we can’t forget that he is the same guy who hit .347/.424/.453 with 12 steals in just 85 plate appearances in the FCL back in 2021.
Two more names are listed on the official roster, Ethan Workinger and Stephen Paolini. Workinger, a former undrafted free agent, played in 18 games here last year, spending the bulk of his season in the FCL, but also two games in Rome. Paolini was the fifth rounder back in 2019, and he has spent each of the past two seasons here. Last year he upped his line to .218/.331/.333 after a .518 OPS in 2021 - though he did post a .750 OPS from June 25th through the end of the season, and is a candidate to make the Rome roster.