The Braves have built a great organization with young, controllable players at the Major League level. The window has been open for a while and should continue to remain open for many more years. But what about the Minor Leagues? Just when you think their system is light, you do the research and realize that there still is talent. Most of it is on the pitching side, but teams are always looking for pitching, so that’s not bad.
AJ Smith-Shawver has already seen time in Atlanta, and while he pitched okay, there’s more in the tank. Hurston Waldrep made my Daily Notes multiple times over the summer and will likely move quickly through the system. The further removed from TJS Spencer Schwellenbach gets, the better the command gets. Watch out for him; he could be the best of the bunch.
- Top Prospect: AJ Smith-Shawver
- Biggest Mover: Spencer Schwellenbach
- Biggest Disappointment: Jesse Franklin
- Emerging Prospect: Luis Guanipa
1. AJ Smith-Shawver (RHP)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with upside
- Tools Summary: He had a great season and made his way all the way to Atlanta.
AJ Smith-Shawver began the season in High-A, blew through Double-A, and even started four games in the Major Leagues over the summer. His impressive assent was partially fueled by the Braves’ injuries in the Major Leagues, but the athletic right-hander has made tremendous strides since being drafted out of high school in 2021.
As a highly recruited quarterback in high school, AJ Smith-Shawver is extremely athletic with a big fastball that tops out at 97 but with a low spin rate (2185 RPM). It did get hit hard in his time in the Major Leagues (.529 SLG with five home runs). However, his secondary pitches are great, especially his change-up with tremendous fade and an impressive 53% whiff rate. In fact, his change-up is likely why he made four starts in the Major Leagues before anybody thought it was possible.
He needs to work on better control as he walked too many once he got out of A-Ball. However, with his athleticism, I think over time, he’ll do that. It’s a great profile and the kind of young pitcher you want to invest in.
2. Hurston Waldrep (RHP, #24)
- Highest Level: Triple-A ETA: 2024-25 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 40 SP with upside or Closer
- Tools Summary: He has a solid fastball-splitter combination, and with some tweaks to his delivery, he could develop into a top-of-the-rotation starter. His control is currently well below average, and there is effort in his delivery.
3. Spencer Schwellenbach (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP with upside
- Tools Summary: He’s athletic with a plus arsenal and is finally back from TJ Surgery.
Spencer Schwellenbach was the Braves’ second-round pick in the 2021 Draft and immediately needed TJ Surgery. He missed the entire 2022 season.
He started as a shortstop at Nebraska before moving to the mound full-time. He’s athletic with a fastball that sits in the low to mid-90s with the makings of a nice slider and change-up. I missed him both times the Augusta GreenJackets (get it???) came to Myrtle Beach, but the buzz was really good. The control improved as the season progressed, and in his three starts in High-A to end the season, he walked one in 13.2 innings, striking out 14.
The Braves are doing great work with their pitchers and quickly moving them through the system. I think Schwellenbach could join the Atlanta pitching train sometime in 2025.
4. Ignacio Alvarez (3B/SS)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 3B
- Tools Summary: Rarely swings at pitches out of the strike zone. The speed and power are currently light, but there is enough bat speed to project future average power.
Ignacio Alvarez was the Braves’ 5th-round pick in 2022 after a nice two-year career in Junior College. He’s very selective at the plate and rarely chases pitches out of the strike zone. In college, he walked more than he struck out, which has continued in his professional career. He should be able to post a high batting average and even higher OBP annually.
He has average speed but is an excellent base runner and should be able to steal low double-digit stolen bases annually early in his career. The swing is geared for contact, but he’s not void of power. He’s an intriguing guy, particularly if he can add power with the ceiling of a full-time regular.
5. Owen Murphy (RHP)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2026+ Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP or reliever
- Tools Summary: Former first-round pick without first-round stuff. The arsenal and delivery feel more like a reliever.
The Braves have been careful with Owen Murphy, their 2022 first-round pick. He’s been limited to 75 pitches per outing, and while he’s been susceptible to the long ball, he has pitched okay in his first extended look. He doesn’t have a big arsenal, with his fastball sitting 90 to 92 with average spin and maybe the makings of a decent slider and change-up. It’s not what you would think in a first-round pick. There is also some effort in his delivery, which, combined with his arsenal, gives him a ceiling of a reliever.
I think it’s important to note that the Braves have drafted very well of late, and pitchers that look like relievers have turned into some terrific pitchers. While Murphy doesn’t seem like he fits that profile, he was a first-round pick by a quality organization, so fantasy managers need to consider this when choosing to roster him.
6. JR Ritchie (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2027 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 SP with risk
- Tools Summary: His 2023 season came to an early end with TJS. His plus arsenal and repeatable mechanics point to a number three starter if not more.
I liked the Braves’ 2022 Supplemental Draft pick JR Ritchie. The delivery was simple without much effort; he had a fastball that touched the upper 90s and the makings of two solid secondary pitches. His season started well in Low-A, with a 25-3 strikeout-to-walk ratio in 13.1 innings. Unfortunately, he hurt his elbow in May and had TJ Surgery shortly after.
He should return late in 2024, and assuming he returns to his pre-injury status, the ceiling is a number three starter, if not more.
7. David McCabe (3B)
- Highest Level: High-A ETA: 2025 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 1B/3B
- Tools Summary: He’s a big guy with good plate zone judgment and 20-home run pop potential. He did make strides in improving his strikeout rate.
The Braves took David McCabe in the fourth round after a college career at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. The Braves have moved him to the third, but given his size, I’m not sure he’ll be able to stick. He grinds out bats with a good eye, and when I saw him, the power that he showed in college was evident. It is not bat-speed power, but more big country raw power. Most impressively, he cut his strikeout rate down to 19% last season in 348 plate appearances in High-A. If that sticks, his ceiling rises to a potential full-time regular.
8. Braden Shewmake (2B/SS)
- Highest Level: Majors ETA: 2023 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 15 2B
- Tools Summary: He has a chance to be a full-time regular with a little bit of pop and speed who makes good contact. He needs a chance, and it just doesn’t look good in Atlanta.
When your Major League team is one of the best in the league, and you’re not even the next guy in line to get playing time, your future as a Major League baseball player can seem hopeless. I’m wondering if that’s how Braden Shewmake feels.
He’s not without skills. He’s not a high-end exit velocity guy, but he has a high Hard-Hit rate with mostly doubles power. He’s an above-average runner who makes excellent contact. At worst, he’s a utility player at the highest level, but at this point, he needs a change of scenery to get a chance. I will keep his ceiling as a Top 15 second baseman as the skills warrant it.
9. Luis Guanipa (OF)
- Highest Level: DSL ETA: 2027 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 45 OF with extreme risk
- Tools Summary: He’s extremely toolsy, showing speed and power. It will come down to how much he hits.
The Braves signed Luis Guanipa for an impressive $2.5 million in January 2023. He’s a tooled-up outfielder with double-plus speed and elite bat speed. He had a strong season in the DSL, showing hard exit velos and plenty of speed while playing a solid center fielder. He did strike out at a 20% rate, so he’ll need to work on that aspect of his game. However, given how much the Braves paid to sign him and his tools, he should be a target for Dynasty Leagues for managers who like to be aggressive.
10. Cade Kuehler (RHP)
- Highest Level: Low-A ETA: 2026 Fantasy Ceiling: Top 60 SP
- Tools Summary: Solid stuff with some control problems.
Cade Kuehler was the Braves second-round pick last July out of Campbell University. He has a three-pitch mix with a fastball that will bump 96 MPH. He didn’t always throw strikes in college, and in his limited professional debut, in seven innings, he walked four and struck out eight. However, the Braves have a way of getting the most out of their pitchers, and therefore, I would be buying in a Supplemental Draft.