Atlanta Braves

I was pleasantly surprised by what I found in researching the Braves system.  Several quality players should help the Major League team in the short term with several long-term bets for the future.  Their trio of outfielders, Cristian Pache, Michael Harris, and Drew Waters lead the list.  Even though he didn’t hit immediately on his exposure to the Major Leagues, I still like the power-speed potential. Michael Harris though might have the higher upside as his raw skills are not that far behind Pache, but he’s a better current hitter.  Finally, Waters.  It’s all about contact.  If he improves his contact rate, he could be a star.  If he doesn’t, then I think he struggles to establish himself.  There’s plenty of pitchers in the list, none who stand out as a top-of-the-rotation arm, but plenty who should be Major Leaguers.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Cristian Pache
  • Biggest Mover: Michael Harris
  • Emerging Prospect: Diego Benitez

1. Cristian Pache (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2020 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 35 OF
  • Tools Summary: Elite defender with power-speed upside.  His approach is holding him back but he only turned 23 in November

Christian Pache began the season on the Braves opening roster and while the defense was superb, he was overwhelmed at the plate hitting .111 with a .206 SLG.  He strained his hamstring a couple of times and when he was first eligible, was optioned to Triple-A and did not return.  I’ve seen him play several times and while his approach still needs work, he’s a plus runner with plenty of bat speed to develop 20+ home run pop.  The approach is holding him back.  He just expands the strike zone too much and got carved up in the Majors as a result.  Better days are ahead and if a fantasy manager is down on him, I would be a buyer.

2. Michael Harris (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 35 OF
  • Tools Summary: Excellent season with a better approach at the plate.  He’s a plus runner with plenty of bat speed to project future power

Harris has plenty of tools with good bat speed and can really fly.  When he was drafted in 2019, the concern was his approach and propensity to expand the strike zone.  He did ok in his debut in 2019 but excelled in 2021.  He spent the entire season in High-A, showing excellent strike zone awareness striking out 18% of the time while walking 8% of the time. He showed his speed and pop as he stole 27 bags while hitting 14 home runs.  It appears to be all coming together for the outfielder and unlike what the Braves did with Drew Waters, they appear to be taking it more slowly with Harris.  Next year is the big test, but it all comes together, the upside is a number two outfielder on your fantasy team.

3. Drew Waters (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF
  • Tools Summary: Excellent power-speed potential but currently, the strikeout rate is over 30%.  If you are a believer, know your parameters and the associated risk

Drew Waters could be a fantasy stud.  He’s a plus runner with plenty of bat speed to project future power.  Unlike Michael Harris though, the amount of swing and miss in his game is troublesome.  When he was the darling of fantasy managers in 2019, we warned that his .400+ BABIP was hiding his 30% strikeout rate.  In 2021, it caught up to him.  His BABIP fell to .341 (still high) and he hit .240.  If he doesn’t change his approach, he could easily hit .220 or worse.  That said, the power-speed combination is alluring and because of that, he continues to rank high for me.

4. Shea Langeliers (C)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2022-23 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 15 Catcher
  • Tools Summary: Offensive game is rounding into form.  When combined with his excellent defensive ability, the upside is a full-time regular

Drafted in 2019 in the first round, Shea Langeliers’ offensive game is starting to catch up to his elite defensive ability.  He showed excellent power in 2021, slugging .498 with 22 home runs in Double-A.  He strikes out too much to ever hit for more than a .250 average, but the skills are there to be a full-time Major League catcher.  From a fantasy standpoint, he’s a Top 15 catcher for me capable of hitting 20+ home runs with pressure on the batting average.

5. Spencer Strider (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP or Reliever
  • Tools Summary: Breakout player in 2021 showing better secondary pitches.  Control is not always there

Spencer Strider was one of the breakout players for the Braves, even earning a late-season promotion to provide innings.  He always had the big fastball which scrapes triple-digits, but in 2021, he showed an improved slider and change-up.  He doesn’t always repeat his delivery and consequently, he’s walking too many (4.1 BB/9 in 14 Double-A starts).  The delivery is simple and there is enough athleticism to believe he’ll get closer to average-control than where he is.  Besides his poor control, he’s only 6-feet tall and that might eventually move him to the bullpen.  For fantasy managers, given his stuff and ability to miss bats, he should be owned in most formats.

6. Ryan Cusick (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Complex League ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: Large human with a fastball that will touch triple-digits.  While his secondary pitches need work, there are the ingredients for a mid-rotation starter

Ryan Cusick was the Braves’ first-round pick in 2021.  He’s a large human at 6-foot-6 and 235 pounds with a big fastball that will touch triple-digits.  He tormented Complex League hitters for 16.1 innings, striking out 34 and walking four.  There is mid-rotation upside here, particularly if the Braves can help him develop consistency with his secondary pitches.

7. Kyle Muller (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Closer
  • Tools Summary: Plus fastball-slider with high spin but has never been able to throw consistent strikes

I’ve always been high on Kyle Muller.  He has size at 6-foot-6 and a plus fastball that sits 94 to 95 from the left side with high spin (2,435).  The slider has gotten better but his change-up is still not there. Plus, he’s never been able to throw consistent strikes and that was the case in 2021.  But, throw him in the bullpen and let his fastball play up and he could be an impressive high-leverage arm. 

8. Braden Shewmake (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Middle Infielder or Top 15 2B
  • Tools Summary: Disappointing season gives pause to his ultimate upside

Braden Shewmake was unable to build upon his impressive debut in 2019.  He got more aggressive at the plate and while he hit a few more home runs, he only walked 5% of the time.  His stolen bases were also down; more than likely a result of his .271 OBP.  Candidly, it’s not a very exciting profile, particularly with the aggressive approach he showed last season.  He looks more like a soft-regular or even a utility player.

9. Tucker Davidson (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2021 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 40 SP
  • Tools Summary: Solid-average arsenal that lacks a true out-pitch.  Stuff plays up when he’s able to consistently pound the strike zone

Davidson split his time between Triple-A and the Major Leagues and pitched well at both levels.  Unfortunately, he developed a forearm strain and didn’t pitch after mid-June.  For now, it appears he will avoid TJS.  His best pitch was his slider which missed plenty of bats with hitters only batting .118 in his four starts in the Majors.  His fastball was hittable and only sat 93 MPH.  His control is improving and when he’s repeating his delivery, all his pitches will play up.  Assuming health, the upside is a strong number four starter or a low-end number three.

10. Jesse Franklin (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 OF with contact risk
  • Tools Summary: Excellent professional debut where he showed power and speed but with too many strikeouts

Jesse Franklin was taken in the third round of the 2020 Draft and finally saw his first action this season.  He showed both power and speed by slugging 24 home runs and stealing 19 bases in High-A.  Now, it did come with too many strikeouts (28%) and a below-average walk rate (8%).  But anyone with those types of tools needs to be monitored and the strikeout rate was not 35%, so there is optimism that he’ll be able to tweak his hit-tool enough to get full-time at-bats.  He should start 2022 in Double-A and that will be a good indication if he’s a Top 45 outfielder or an extra bat.

11. Spencer Schwellenbach (SS/RHP)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: Potential two-way player with solid skills at shortstop but potentially better skills on the mound

The Braves took Spencer Schwellenbach, a two-way player from the University of Nebraska in the second round last June.  In college, he was a solid shortstop with a plus arm but just an average hitter.  As a pitcher, he saved 10 games in his junior year with a 34 to 8, strikeout-to-walk ratio.  He reportedly sat 96 to 97 with a nasty slider.  While the Braves might make him a two-way player, I would guess they develop him as a pitcher, perhaps even a starter.  Don’t laugh…he’s athletic and looking at his delivery, it’s simple with easy velocity.  He’s already had TJS, so why not.  Since he did not post a stat line in 2021, we don’t know what the Braves are thinking.

12. Jared Shuster (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary:  Solid arsenal but doesn’t have any current plus pitches

Shuster was the Braves’ first-round pick in 2020.  He has a solid arsenal and throws strikes, but he also doesn’t have a true plus pitch.  His fastball will sit 92 to 93 MPH but it doesn’t have a ton of spin or movement.  He spent most of 2021 in High-A and pitched well.  In 58.1 innings, he pitched to a 3.70 ERA striking out 11 per nine and walking 2.3 per nine.  He did get three starts in Double-A to finish the season and while the final stat line didn’t look good, if you ignore his first outing, he pitched just fine.  When you add it all up, it feels like a number four, innings-eater type of pitcher.

13. Vaughn Grissom (SS)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024 Fantasy Ceiling:  Middle Infielder
  • Tools Summary: High floor player with great plate discipline and coverage

Vaughn Grissom is a hit-first prospect with great plate discipline and coverage, rarely striking out and walking about as much as he strikes out.  He doesn’t have a ton of power or speed but does have enough bat speed to hit 8 to 12 home runs and enough speed to steal high single-digit stolen bases.  Ultimately, he’s likely a utility player, but guys who can hit find their way into lineups more often than not.

14. Joey Estes Jr. (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 50 SP
  • Tools Summary:  A young projectable pitcher with a solid fastball and emerging secondary pitches

Joey Estes Jr. pitched very well as a 19-year-old in Low-A in 2021.  In 17 starts, he’s pitched to a 2.69 ERA striking out 12 per nine and walking less than 2.5 per nine.  He currently sits 92 to 93 MPH, but as he fills out, he should be able to add velocity.  The secondary pitches show promise with his slider ahead of his change-up.  If you like to speculate on pitchers, he’s a kid that warrants some attention.

15. Diego Benitez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Int’l Player expected to sign ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary:  Athletic Venezulian shortstop with plenty of bat speed and an idea at the plate

The Braves should be big players in the International signing period and are rumored to be in on Diego Benitez.  He’s a Venezuelan shortstop with plus bat speed and a feel to hit.  He’s also has a chance to stay at short, or if blocked, he should be able to play second or third.