My Braves Top 30 Prospects

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In the “I’m not an expert, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn” mind of things, I’m going to present my Braves Top-30 Prospects. Over the last 5 years, I’ve watched a lot of minor league ball and have learned quite a lot on talent evaluation. While I’m still a little bit reactionary when it comes to ranking prospects, I do feel that small sample is something to pay attention to in development. Sometimes it’s a HUGE swing adjustment like Orlando Arcia made to keep his bat in the zone longer, a simple adjustment from Braden Shewmake to add some launch angle, or it’s a tighter delivery from Kyle Muller to change everything in terms of his prospect grade (hat tip to David Lee on this last one because he provided video evidence and WOW, what a difference!).

It’s worth noting that none of the players that were recently drafted will make it on this list. I haven’t seen them, have not tracked their careers, and am not comfortable in making rankings up. In all likelihood, Cusick would make the top-10, and the next 2 in the top 20, but I’ll wait until the offseason before making slightly more accurate assumptions about their careers.

Braves Top 30 Prospects

1. Cristian Pache

Pache’s bat looked good at the end of the 2019, looked promising in a small sample in 2020, then fell off a freaking cliff in 2021. He’s finding his way back with a simpler approach that was his go-to in 2019. Just a reminder to everyone, Pache was traveling with the club a lot in 2020 and there’s no telling how much damage that did to his development. I’m looking forward to a strong 2022 where he’ll reaffirm his position as Braves CF of the future.

2. Shea Langeliers

There was never a question about his defense. Defensively, he was ready when he was drafted. At over a 50% caught stealing rate for the year, he’s a defensive specimen that the Braves haven’t had in a very long time. However, that’s not why he’s number 2 on this list. He’s number 2 on this list because he’s smashing the ball in the most pitcher friendly park (and league) in professional baseball. With 14 home runs (and they’re not cheapos) and an .873 OPS, Langeliers is proving that the Braves made the right choice when they selected him 9th overall in the 2019 draft.

3. Michael Harris

There’s hype all-around this kid and it’s well-warranted. His 2021 numbers won’t wow you, but watching this kid, his approach, the simple swing, the athleticism, it’s all there. He’s hit a recent skid, but by season’s end, his numbers will be there and he might be atop this list in 2022.

4. Kyle Muller

Alright…I made an assumption about Muller in my preliminary list. That assumption was that Tucker Davidson was the better prospect. That assumption was due to his lack of command. Well, due to some unforeseen mechanical adjustments, Muller is different…very different. And now, that downward plane can go to work. Gosh…this could get really fun.

5. Drew Waters

Waters still baffles me as a prospect, but even I cannot deny the recent success that has me saying… maybe, just maybe. There’s still some things that have to right themselves. He’s still striking out a lot and everything coming out of this kid just wreaks of aggression, but there are a lot of players that succeed with a constant stream of intensity and Waters could be next in line.

6. Tucker Davidson

Tucker has dropped down on this list for 1 reason and 1 reason alone…sticky stuff. He was one of the guys whose spin rate dropped after sticky restrictions. Also, Peter Moylan discussed “grip” when using a combo of rosin and sunscreen, and apparently, without it, it causes added stress on the forearm. Luckily for the Braves, Davidson is one of the hardest workers out there and he’s not going to take no for an answer.

7. William Contreras

Contreras’s below average defense showed up in the bigs and ultimately got him sent back to AAA. I think his bat got a little lost along the way and that was unfortunate. I maintain that the bat will play but the defense is going to need work and that might take the rest of 2021 at AAA and the beginning of 2022.

8. Spencer Strider

Holy prospect out of nowhere alert. Strider is one of the main reasons why that 2020 draft class of 4 players is looking extremely promising. His fastball has a 65-70 grade and it is downright filthy. He’s on his 3rd level in 3 months and it’s likely the level that will challenge his stuff. It very well could be that Strider tops this list in 2022.

9. Braden Shewmake

Had a horrendous start to the 2021 campaign, but has come on strong of late and has raised his OPS to .638, which is still awful but the beginning of the season wasn’t a representation of his skillset (was running a .405 OPS on June 16th). There’s a bit of bad luck here as his BABIP is .248 and I’m sure it will normalize these next few months. He’ll be 24 in November so time might be running out, but I still think this is a big leaguer with starter potential, but could serve a team well as a super-utility.

10. Jesse Franklin

I don’t want to get both feet on the Jesse Franklin hype-wagon, but it’s hard to ignore what he’s done from June on. When May wrapped up, Franklin had a .481 OPS in 79 PAs. From June 1st on? 1.154 OPS with 9 doubles, 1 triple, 15! HRs, 16 BB, and 8 SB to 0 CS. That’s some work! He’s not hitting fence scrapers either. He’s demolishing the baseball. The swing gets a little long so that’s something to keep an eye on as he progresses through the system. I expect him to be in AA soon.

11. Jared Shuster

Number 25 overall in 2019, Shuster is impressing with his ridiculous changeup that pairs well with his 92-94 MPH fastball. At 22 y/o, he’s dominating High-A and rightfully so. I expect we’ll see him in Mississippi by year’s end with AAA in his sites and the MLB in 2023.

12. Vaughn Grissom

Grissom is all athleticism and projection at this point. At 6’3, 190 (I think he’s bigger than that now), the move off of SS has been coming and now he’s a full-on 3B in at Low-A. The defense is strong the power is starting to come and while the .763 OPS isn’t great, when the muscle mass gets added, the OPS will skyrocket. Still only 20, there’s a lot to like about his skillset and the power potential. Look for Grissom to end the year at High-A with potential to be in Atlanta in 2023-24.

13. Bryce Elder

It’s easy to forget about Bryce Elder when Spencer Strider is stealing the 2020 draftees spotlight, but don’t sleep on him. He’s a thick-framed workhorse type of starter that’s also been promoted midseason to AA. He’s known for his sinker, but the real plus, as mentioned before, is his durability. While he’s striking out a ton, he’s also walking 4 per 9 at AA and that might be a concern going forward. Expectation is that Elder will spend the rest of the year at AA and if all goes well, we’ll be in Gwinnett’s rotation in 2022.

14. Roddery Munoz

It’s all projection right now, but Roddery is an arm to dream on. After one look, David Lee gave his fastball a 65 grade and that is enough to get my attention as David isn’t very reactionary when giving out grades. A fairly simple delivery, I’d expect to see Roddery tighten up his delivery as, like Kyle Muller, that’s a lot of arm to control. He’s going to be a project, but if he can stay healthy, it’s going to be a fun ride watching him develop.

15. Alex Jackson

At this point, we know what Alex Jackson is, but I still believe in the skillset. I’ve comped him to Mike Zunino several times and I still think that’s his ceiling. He’s got light-tower power that goes along with HUGE swing and miss potential. An all-around good defender, there’s a backup catcher future here with potential for more should he be given the chance to adjust to MLB pitching for a few years.

16. Freddy Tarnok

Tarnok is prospect fatigue at its finest and I’m definitely guilty here as I’ve forgotten about him several times, then watch him and say…”Oh yeah…that guy’s really good”. The problem for Tarnok has never been stuff…it’s staying healthy. Through 4 years in the Braves system, he’s only managed 220 innings and health will be the key component for him going forward. He’s got 2 remarkable pitches in his arsenal and that will at least give him a solid start as a back end bullpen piece, but there’s definitely starter potential here. If he gets healthy and starts to click, he’ll move fast, but he’s only at High-A now and time is ticking.

17. Jared Johnson

I like Jared Johnson more than most. He’s always working to improve his game and that speaks for his character. His primary focus has been the fastball but now he’s working in his slider and it looks good…when he can locate it. Unlike others, I don’t see Jared moving quickly as both control and command have a long way to go, but whether it’s as a starter or in the pen, this is another arm to dream on.

18. Victor Vodnik

Vodnik would be higher on this list if the dreaded “forearm tightness” didn’t occur earlier in the season. A small dude with a serious fastball, Vodnik has such boom or bust potential and the bust would likely come via injury concerns. If he’s able to avoid injury and pitch effectively for the rest of the year at AA, his stock will increase again.

19. Indigo Diaz

The biggest surprise of the year and an 80-grade name, Indigo Diaz has no intention of pitching to contact. Between High-A and AA, Diaz is carrying a 17.7 K/9 and a 2.5 BB/9. Mississippi seems to be the right level for him and unless he just fully dominates there, I could see him finishing his season at AA with a promotion to AAA in 2022 with sights set on the MLB.

20. Justin Dean

One of my favorite players in the system! Dean, measuring at 5’6, was deemed powerless. That is not the case. He has 13 Hrs in 1084 career MiLB ABs, but more than that, he hits the ball hard pretty regularly. And while he’s fast, he doesn’t have elite speed, merely good jumps and good baseball instincts. He’s stolen 81 bases and has only been caught 22 times (79% success rate). None of these are the best part of his game, that would be his walk rate. He’s collected 122 in 1024 PAs. Factoring in all of the above with a great defensive glove, and Dean has a reach chance to reach the bigs, especially as a 4th OF type.

21. Joey Estes

Estes has a really good fastball. It doesn’t come with supercharged velo (93-95), but it rides and spins like crazy. The slider is his 2nd pitch and is behind the fastball but still looks like it can be a real weapon. A curve rounds out his arsenal, but it looks to need work. He’s not even 20 yet so there’s a real chance the Braves stacked their system once again with elite talent from the later rounds.

22. Darius Vines: Recently promoted to High-A, Vines is an offspeed wizard with his change and curve far surpassing his fastball. He could be fine in a relief role without a great fastball, but it’s going to have to find some life if he wants a career in a starter’s role.

23. Daysbel Hernandez

Groomed as a reliever since his signing at 17 years of age, Daysbel has always had a good fastball but a high walk rate has delayed his MLB debut. He started out the year at AAA, but faltered and got himself demoted to AA. Since, his numbers are better and his walk rate is acceptable. With so many good pitchers on his tail, his days are numbered if he wants to break through in the only org he’s ever known.

24. Kadon Morton

Morton is a toolsy OFer that’s currently getting ABs in the FCL. Like Backstrom, he was part of the 2019 draft process of which AA and crew saved from $ in the early rounds to deal it out on the later rounds. He’s an OFer by trade, likely corner, but has the athleticism to play all 3, however I’d venture to guess that the Braves want him to add some bulk which likely means he’s going to stay in the corner. Morton will likely be seeing time at Augusta soon and I can’t wait to lay some eyes on him.

25. Mahki Backstrom

Backstrom is one of my favorite prospects to follow. At 6’5, 220, he’s likely a 1B/DH type but the dude can generate some tape measure shots already. Like Bryce Ball, the challenge will be overcoming his large frame, shorten his swing, and get through to the ball. Like Morton, I expect to see Backstrom in Augusta later this year, but the Braves aren’t going to be rushing this talent as he might have to stay in the fridge to marinate a little longer than normal.

26. Trey Harris

Trey Harris is a hitter, but Trey Harris was not a hitter of balls in the air at the beginning of 2021. For some unknown reason, Trey, who was one of the better Braves MILB players in 2019 that did not get an invite to the alt-site in 2020. No one knows how much that affected the players that did not get the privilege of playing highly competitive baseball, but I do know that Trey spent his time working out and coaching baseball to help supplement the loss in income. The road back in 2021 was rocky and Trey was hitting every rock as his GB rate was nearly 60%. Not good. He has since gotten back on track and is doing great things again. In his last 25, he’s carrying an .886 OPS. He feels like a MLB bench player and I sure do hope he makes it with the Braves.

27. Troy Bacon

At 24 years old, Troy Bacon seems to finally be putting it together. He’s limiting walks, commanding the zone, and still maintaining a healthy K-rate. While his fastball won’t wow with velocity, it does produce a lot of weak contact. He’s at AA and will likely finish the season at AAA. He might be a fringe reliever, or the added command could make him a solid 7th inning guy.

28. Ricky DeVito

DeVito is known for a splitter that just dives away from hitters. He also has a mid-90s fastball and a curve that’s getting better, but for now, the splitter is way in front of the other 2. While at Rome, he’s struck out 12 per 9 while only walking 3.1, and I expect that he’ll be moving up to AA within a few weeks.

29. Brooks Wilson

Has the flow to go with the swag, Brooks Wilson is going to sneak up on the Braves one day and they’re going to say, “Well, that’s just fine”. He has a beautiful curve and a sinker that just drops off the table. He’s at Mississippi now, but he’s going to move soon, or I’ll go get him and drive him to Gwinnett myself.

30. Cade Bunnell

I poked fun at my podcast co-host Brent Blackwell when he, who pays 0 attention to the minors, pointed out that Cade Bunnell was having a good year. Well, he is having a good year and playing all over the infield. If you know me, I like my number 30 to be a bit outlandish. This dude is 24, is playing in Low-A, and likely ends his career in the minors, not the majors. However, he’ll likely see Rome this year and really, who knows from there?

Notable Omissions: Trey Riley, Tyler Owens, Ambioris Tavarez, Willie Carter, William Woods, Nolan Kingham

Author: Ryan Cothran

Ryan is the site editor and manager of Braves Journal. Follow him on Twitter.

39 thoughts on “My Braves Top 30 Prospects”

  1. Thanks for that Ryan.

    Do you think Contreras’s bat projects enough to play 1st base?

  2. Great list! Lots of great prospects in the minors.

    Back to the bullpen: I was looking at baseball-reference and I noticed that the Braves are dead last in multi-inning appearances by relievers. I’ve heard Glavine and O’Flaherty both say “everytime you pick up the bullpen phone, you risk putting in a guy who doesn’t have it that day”

    I wonder if leaving in relievers who had an easy inning for a second one would help the pen’s effectiveness. Last year’s super-pen had the advantage of being extra deep due to the expanded roster size, so comparing results can be a bit of an apples and oranges situation.

    Thinking about solutions seems like a better use of my headspace than demanding for people to be fired.

  3. I don’t know but I’ve never worried about his bat. The best thing that could happen for the Braves is that both Langeliers and Contreras can hold as above average hitters and they’re utilized as the DH when “resting”.

  4. I wonder if we might see Langeliers in Atlanta this year. He was a high draft pick out of college, and both his defense and bat might be ready. If he ends up with 2 years of high minors development (depending on what he did in 2020), then they might give him some innings in September, especially if our catching continues to struggle.

  5. @2 Matzek and Jackson had been effective multi-inning guys last year but not really so this year. When you have a thin pen, you probably don’t want to throw a guy 2 innings and therefore guarantee that you can’t use him the next day, I would think.

    There was a game a couple weeks ago where it was a close game, we use all of our “best” relievers, got the win, and I remembered thinking that Snit probably wants to get a blowout in either direction tomorrow just so he doesn’t have to make hard decisions on pen usage. He didn’t have that problem last year.

  6. Great stuff Ryan, and I like that it varies greatly from the safer, more conventional Atlanta prospect lists.

    I might have Elder a bit higher even but that’s nitpicking. Great list and great write ups.

  7. On the pen, one of my main frustrations with Snit has been his refusal to go mutli innings with many of the guys, especially then they are “on”. Like using Jackson for 3 pitches on Friday and then going to Martin to start the next inning.

    With the consistent inability in the pen to either throw strikes or miss bats, when someone is rolling I would like to see them stretched out a bit.

  8. Thanks a lot, Ryan.

    As someone who last saw a minor league game in 1964 (Sandy Valdespino looks really dangerous for those Crackers…) I am always impressed by those of you who keep track, exert critical judgment, and tell me what’s going on.

    On the other hand, as impressive as Valdespino was to the 8-year-old me, his MLB career was pretty undistinguished.

  9. @2, 5 and 8 Isn’t part of this due to our apparent lack of double switching? If you wanted/needed a reliever to go multiple innings it seems like the double switch would be in order. With Adrianza and Arcia’s ability to play infield and outfield I would think this would give us an opportunity to switch out Dansby, Heredia, Almonte, Ender, etc. if necessary. Even though we can do it, it seems like we rarely do.

  10. @10 Their primary pinch-hitters don’t really make it conducive to double-switch. I guess if you PH Adrianza or something, maybe, but Sandoval isn’t going to play 1B. I don’t know if I would take Heredia or Dansby out of the game to stick Adrianza into it just so I can try to get an extra inning out of Luke Jackson. And I’m a big Luke Jackson fan.

  11. @11 I understand that, but it seems if we double switched and used “some” relievers for multiple innings maybe we wouldn’t need what seems like 17 pitchers on our active roster and could actually utilize some roster flexibility with position players. That and jetisoning The Big Pumpkin so we actually have a guy that could either hit or play defense instead of him that can really do neither.

  12. Such a great list and write-up, Ryan, thank you. I am most excited about Langeliers and Strider. Waters and Pache hopefully are figuring it out.

  13. @11 or just let Luke Jackson (or whoever) swing the bat. I’ll trade one out for three.

  14. I will both applaud: very well done article and some of the lower minors arms look promising… but also lament the fact that the player I saw in Pache is our #1 prospect. Hopefully he just was completely overwhelmed MENTALLY and this isn’t a physical issue going forward with bat speed etc. IMO, he seems to also need to trim down a little bit. (So do I FWIW.)

    IMO our #1 prospect is probably Langeliers or Muller given his success in a SSS in a Braves uni. Waters could be even higher than he is now, or he could be in the high 20s in a year and out of baseball in 2-3. I would worry that a v high prospect couldn’t hit higher than the .240s in AA but if his power is legit and his arm is too, we have our catcher of the future even with that BA.

  15. Fair enough, @2. I’ll just request what I’ve been asking for something like four years now: I’d like our starting prospects to experience a taste of major league success in the pen. Put Bryse or Wright or Touki in the bullpen. Pull Josh Tomlin out of it. They’re not doing the organization any good repeating Triple-A for what feels like the eleventh straight summer.

  16. @Chief

    I value a SSS and definitely moved Muller up because of it, but I’m allowing Pache a little grace. The Pache I watched in 2019 was a top 20 MLB prospect and, let’s be real, hitters are the ones that really suffered during pandemic baseball. It was pretty easy for pitchers to work on velo, plug up to a machine, grab analytical advice from people telling their clients what the computer is telling them, but hitters just didn’t have access to seeing regular professional pitching for a year. To me, Pache was one that needed 3-4 months of seasoning in the minors and, instead, he was on the taxi squad for a lot of the season.

  17. @16 Totally agree. 5 innings of Smyly + 3 innings of Bryse/Touki/Wright/Newc + 1 inning of whoever is a plan I can get behind. Sure they’ll give up some runs, but they’ll get their innings in and get used to pitching in the bigs.

    I remember when the 1-inning specialist was a novelty. Now every reliever has become one.

  18. Thanks, Ryan. May they all become superstars.

    Chief and Rob being nice to each other? Perhaps world peace is achievable in my lifetime. I am proud of you both, young men.

  19. @9–Sandy Valdespino was my favorite player in 1964. He was the star on my team in the first professional games I attended (the 1964 AAA Atlanta Crackers). He hit .334 with an OPS of .909. His WAR over 7 big league seasons from 1965-71 was -1.3.

    He was the first of scores of prospects who broke my heart. But hope springs eternal. I appreciate your work on this, Ryan.

  20. Game postponed. Doubleheader tomorrow. We are not setup to have a doubleheader against good teams. Blech.

  21. Doubleheader is actually Wednesday. Muller starts tomorrow. Touki and Morton pitch Wednesday.

  22. @27 Chip could take lessons from a lot of people, including many of us on Braves Journal

  23. Wonderful research, POV and list here Ryan. Well done. I feel like a much more informed Hammers fan now!

    I have a hunch we’ll still have all of these 30 players at the end of the month.

  24. Ryan, did you place Pache #1 based upon your feeling that since he’s already played in the majors and at least should be an above average CF defensively, (though maybe not elite as he’s been hyped), he has a higher floor than Langeliers? Do you feel like Langeliers is now the higher ceiling prospect?

  25. Pache is just a really hard prospect to evaluate right now from the fan side. He had a .815 OPS at AA and .747 OPS at AAA in 2019 as a 20-year old with rave reviews on defense. I still remember that incredible catch he made in centerfield in Tampa against the Yankees during the 2020 spring training. Then 2020 happens, he has no minor league data for us to review, and then he has 68 miserable PAs at the major league level in 2021. And he’s 22, so he’s not ridiculously young, but he’s not old to be a prospect either. Is he the 2019 version, the one who excelled while being young for the levels? Or is he the 2021 prospect? Couldn’t tell ya.

    What I can tell you is that Langeliers is probably not Buster Posey and Pache is not Ronald Acuna. They’re two very good but not elite prospects, and you can probably flip-flop them at 1 and 2 depending on which side of the bed you woke up on.

  26. The other point of reference for me on Pache was that management liked him enough in 2020 to put him on the post-season roster. He didn’t exactly tear it up statistically, but he appeared to hold his own. He had some memorable at bats against the Dodgers including a homerun and a double. From that very small sample size it was easy to conclude that he was ready. The wheels just seemed to fall off in every way this year.

  27. @30

    I had a really hard time with Pache and Langeliers and even thought about putting them both at 1. In the end, I tried to give Pache a little grace because of the 2020 season. He was literally traveling with the team most of the season and not seeing regular quality, which, IMO, was a terrible decision for his development. If he can recover and be the 750ish OPS guy with gold glove caliber defense, he’s the best prospect in the system and, in the end, that’s why I put him there.

  28. To my eyes he looked fine, albeit certainly not Andruw-level otherworldly. But given the literal unanimity of scouts about the excellence of his glove, I’m completely willing to write that off as SSS exacerbated by playing almost no baseball for a year and a half.

    Obviously, the question with him has always been the bat. I think his glove gives him a high floor, but I don’t think any of us would be thrilled if he turned into Endy Chavez or Ben Revere — i.e., a guy who plays a decade in the bigs, but is only worth 5-10 wins.

    But we should be happy if he turns into Ender Inciarte, Kevin Pillar, or Kevin Kiermaier — i.e., a guy who is worth 15-20 wins over a decade of play, with maybe a stray All-Star appearance.

    To get to the next tier — the Denard Span, David DeJesus, Juan Pierre tier of guys worth 20-25 wins — he’ll need a level of bat control that I frankly despair of him developing. But it’s not outside the realm of possibility. (Anything beyond that, though — you know, like, a Brett Butler or Steve Finley or Ellis Burks-type 40-win career — feels legitimately, literally, wholly impossible.)

    Still, he’s young enough that it’s possible a year’s worth of reps in 2021 could get him ready to make a meaningful leap forward next year. Here’s hoping.

  29. Pache feels incredibly over-rated. Was never high on him even last year, felt that Braves should have dangled him in a trade with his trade value high.

    Pache to me gets the Andrelton Simmons glow. People just fell in love with the defense, completely ignoring offense. Pache’s defense isn’t even at the level of Simmons’ defense. But even Andrelton was a liability on offense; Angels went nowhere all those years with Andrelton.

    Pache simply can’t hit. If he gets to Ender level that will be a success for him. And Ender level seems far, far, away.

    Pache will drop out of the top 100 IMO, whether this year, or next. The window to trade him high has now passed.

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