Atlanta Braves

The defending World Champs had another impressive minor league graduating class.  Unfortunately, it has thinned their minor league system with few low-risk potential Major League players. Jared Shuster and Kyle Muller look like they can help Atlanta as soon as next season. My favorite player in the system is Geraldo Quintero, a scrappy second baseman who can hit with intriguing fantasy tools.  After that, there’s plenty of talent but a high range of outcomes.  If you’re a Braves fan, you might be disappointed in the list, but when you consider that Vaughn Grissom, Michael Harris, and Spencer Strider were all core pieces in the 2022 team, that should cheer your spirits.

Prospect Quick Shot

  • Top Prospect: Jared Shuster
  • Biggest Mover: Geraldo Quintero
  • Emerging Prospect: Diego Benitez

1. Jared Shuster (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP
  • Tools Summary: Polish, throws strikes with excellent secondary pitches

Drafted in the first round in 2020, Jared Shuster doesn’t have a premium fastball but works 92 to 93 MPH with a lot of spin.  The pitch sets up his real weapon in his double-plus change-up.  If you watched the Futures Game this year, you saw him get several ugly swings with it. He’s polished, throws strikes, and is nearly ready to show his wares in the Major Leagues.  I’ve put his ceiling as a number four starter with a chance to out-pitch that ranking.

2. Kyle Muller (LHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: Still trying to put things together; his size and overall arsenal point to a mid-rotation starter.

Kyle Muller got another kick at the can in the Major Leagues, but he couldn’t make it stick like last year.  Statcast shows solid stuff with a fastball that averages 94.5 MPH with a high spin rate of 2,407 with a solid curveball.  His slider got hit hard with an XSLG of .705.  He improved his control in Triple-A this year, and when you combine that with his size (6-foot—7) and solid arsenal, the ceiling continues to be a number three starter.  Remember, it took Kyle Wright multiple attempts before he stuck.  Perhaps the same thing will happen with Muller.

3. Geraldo Quintero (2B)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 10 2B
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with an excellent understanding of the strike zone.  He’s only 5-foot-8, but he’s deceptively strong with plenty of bat speed.

There’s a lot to like with Geraldo Quintero.  He’s athletic with plus speed, and despite being listed at 5-foot-8, there’s enough bat speed and strength to project average future power—additionally, his approach and ability to make contact stand out.  In 515 plate appearances across Low and High-A in 2022, he struck out 17.6% while walking 11% of the time.  Others will downplay him because of his height, but there is a lot of fantasy goodness in the total package.

4. AJ Smith-Shawver (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with a big arm but currently has 30-grade control.

As a former quarterback, AJ Smith-Shawver brings athleticism and arm strength as his core talents.  The Braves’ job is to mold those skills into on-the-field baseball skills. He showed flashes in 2022, where he ran his fastball up into the upper 90s with a feel for a curveball.  He doesn’t know where anything is going yet as he walked over five per nine in 68.2 innings in Low-A, but he’s only 19, and with his athleticism, the Braves like the upside.  He did have two IL stints, including one that ended his season in early August.  The upside is a number three starter or bullpen arm if he can’t throw enough strikes.

5. Royber Salinas (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  High-Leveraged Reliever or Top 45 SP
  • Tools Summary: He has a big arm but has problems repeating his delivery.

Robyer Salinas was a mainstay on our weekly Hot Prospect podcast early in the season.  He shoved it in Low-A, putting up video-game numbers – 52K/12BB in 23.2 innings with a 1.52 ERA.  He didn’t have great control, but it didn’t matter as nobody could hit him.  He found the sledding more difficult in High-A as batters didn’t swing at balls out of the strike zone like in Low-A.  His delivery is not very athletic as he doesn’t use his lower half well and doesn’t repeat it.  But the arsenal will get batters out, and that should work either in the bullpen or as a starter if he can throw more strikes.

6. Ian Ritchie Jr. (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 45 SP with extreme risk
  • Tools Summary: Projectable body with a feel for his secondary pitches.

The Braves went back-to-back with high school pitchers last July.  I like their second-round pick, Ian Ritchie, more than their first-round pick, Owen Murphy.  A lot more was known about him, with more scouts seeing him in showcases over the past several years.  He’s 6-foot-2 and throws hard with a feel for his slider and change-up.  He also pitched well in his limited professional debut, throwing 14.1 innings striking out a batter an inning, and walking three per nine.  The upside is a number three starter with risk, as he has a long way to go.

7. Darius Vines (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023-24 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 60 SP with upside
  • Tools Summary: He’s athletic with a plus change-up and curveball.  Unfortunately, pushing down his ceiling is his lack of a premium fastball.  But guys are learning to throw harder…

Darius Vines is an athletic right-handed pitcher that pounds the strike zone.  Last season in Double-A, he walked only 2.5 batters per nine.  He doesn’t have the big fastball but pitches with a ton of confidence and polish and two plus secondary pitches in his change-up and curve ball.  I heard about his curveball before seeing him over the summer but was equally impressed with his change-up.  He also hit 94 MPH several times but generally sat 91 to 93 MPH with excellent location.  The ceiling is likely a #4 starter, but I do believe there is upside.

8. Jesse Franklin (OF)

  • Highest Level:  Double-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 OF with risk
  • Tools Summary: He has intriguing speed and power, but the approach is aggressive, with plenty of swing and miss.

It was a lost season for Jesse Franklin last year.  He had Tommy John Surgery in May and missed the rest of the season.  He started the year in Double-A after hitting 24 home runs and stealing 19 bases in 2021 in High-A.  He’s aggressive at the plate and will strike out more than you like, but the tools are fantasy-friendly, and if he can work on being more patient, the upside is a full-time regular.

9. Braden Shewmake (SS)

  • Highest Level:  Triple-A ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling:  Utility Player
  • Tools Summary: He doesn’t have any carrying tool, and his hit tool has stagnated since his professional debut in 2019.

Many people got excited about Braden Shewmake when he hit the ground running after being drafted in the first round by the Braves in 2019.  In 2021, he was not able to extend his solid debut, nor was he able to last season.  He did improve his walk rate, which dropped off considerably in 2021.  However, he only slugged .399 while playing the entire season in Triple-A.  His defensive chops should give him a big-league career, but he’s looking more like a utility player than a full-time regular.

10. Owen Murphy (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Low-A ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling: Unknown
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with a good fastball, but he has a long way to go.

The MLB Network seemed surprised when the Braves announced Owen Murphy’s name on draft night last July.  He’s athletic with a good fastball, but he’s also 6-foot-1 and didn’t focus on baseball (he also played football) while in high school, and he has a long way to go.  I’m unsure what to make of the pick or even comment on his ceiling, as he’s so young and inexperienced. 

11. Bryce Elder (RHP)

  • Highest Level:  Majors ETA: 2022 Fantasy Ceiling:  Top 75 SP or reliever
  • Tools Summary: Average stuff but can throw strikes.

Bryce Elder pitched in the Major Leagues, and while the stat line didn’t look great, he did well against some of the lesser teams in the league (Miami and Washington, to be exact). The arsenal is average, with his fastball sitting 91.3 with poor spin, an average slider, and change-up.  He didn’t get hit hard, but other than that, there doesn’t seem to be much there.

12. Spencer Schwellenbach (RHP/SS)

  • Highest Level:  DNP ETA: 2025+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Reliever
  • Tools Summary: He throws hard (triple-digits) but has yet to throw an inning in professional baseball as he recovers from TJS.

Spencer Schwellenbach was drafted in the second round in 2021 as a two-way player but is likely to wind up as a pitcher.  He’s recovering from Tommy John Surgery and has yet to put up a stat line, but when he was drafted, the Braves liked his premium fastball/slider combination (up to 100 MPH); therefore, he could move to the bullpen and move through the system quickly.

13. Diego Benitez (SS)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: Toolsy Dominican International signee with a long way to go.

The Braves are finally out of the penalty box and can now sign International Players.  Their first big signing was Diego Benitez, a Dominican athletic shortstop with excellent hand-eye coordination, speed, and power.  He didn’t show much in the DSL last season, as he only hit .196, but he did walk 29 times in 182 plate appearances.  While he has a long way to go, the pedigree and investment are evident.

14. Brandon Parker (OF)

  • Highest Level:  High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling:  Bench Player
  • Tools Summary: Solid on-base skills with a little bit of speed and power.

Brandon Parker was drafted in the 10th round in 2019 and started to put things together last season.  He spent most of his time in Low-A, where he showed high on-base skills with some pop and speed.  He got a late-season promotion to High-A and struggled, but I do like the on-base skills and think he could develop into a bench player down the road.

15. Robert Gonzalez (OF)

  • Highest Level:  DSL ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling:  Unknown
  • Tools Summary: Athletic with plus speed but has a long way to go.

Robert Gonzalez was the standout performer on the DSL Braves squad leading the club in hitting and stolen bases.  He’s athletic with plus speed, but some worry he’ll slow as he matures and lose that speed.  He’s a total bet at this point and should not be rostered on any Dynasty League teams.

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