#17. Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 2nd Round, 2021 from University of Nebraska (NE)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
21-years-old6’1″ / 200 lbsR/R17th

The only prospect on my list that didn’t play at all in 2021, Schwellenbach underwent Tommy John surgery shortly after signing with the Braves for $1 million back in July/August. Following the draft, it was reported that the righty was originally Atlanta’s first-round choice, but the need for elbow surgery dropped him down a round. Either way, Schwellenbach will be lucky to log a meaningful amount of innings in 2022 as he’ll likely require most of the season to recover and rehab.

But if you can get over the fact that it’ll probably be 2023 before we really see the kid in action, it’s important to know just what Schwellenbach could provide to the organization. He’ll pitch as a pro, but the former Nebraska star was a touted two-way player in college, hitting .284 with 19 XBH and nine stolen bases in 48 games as a hitter during his final year in Lincoln, to go with a 0.57 ERA and an average of 9.7 strikeouts per nine in 31 2/3 innings as a high-leverage reliever. Put that together and you have a tremendously athletic prospect who won’t turn 22 until next summer.

Missing basically entire year is never a good start for a prospect. But given this kid’s tools, I’d say the wait may be worth it for Schwellenbach.

#18. Victor Vodnik, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 14th Round, 2018 from Rialto HS (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old6’0″ / 200 lbsR/R18th

Year 3 was more of a challenge for the right-handed Vodnik. The undersized pitcher met his first real taste of adversity in Double-A as part of the M-Braves starting rotation. The kid dealt with injuries that caused him to miss a good bit of time in 2021, but overall he logged a 5.35 ERA (4.06 xFIP) in 11 starts with Mississippi, while averaging just under 11 strikeouts per nine.

Unfortunately, Vodnik’s biggest struggle had to do with free passes this past season. With the M-Braves, he walked 22 in 33 2/3 frames (5.9 BB/9) and then while in the Arizona Fall League he walked 14 in 23 2/3 (5.3 BB/9). However, to be fair, the California native did earn a Fall Stars invite with Peoria.

Personally, I’m not too concerned with Vodnik’s middling performance from 2021. He’s still fairly young, and given he only had roughly 70 innings of work above rookie-ball coming into last year, the jump to Double-A can humble any potential star. Although the bad health isn’t quite ideal, and I hope he’s able to do a better job of staying healthy in 2022. Vodnik has a real chance at becoming a top 10 prospect this coming season. He has the stuff. He just needs a full year to show it off.

#19. Cal Conley, SS/2B

Drafted by ATL: 4th Round, 2021 from Texas Tech (TX)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
22-years-old5’10” / 185 lbsB/R22nd

Conley came from Texas Tech this year, where he crushed it in college, slashing .329/.393/.587 with 15 homers, 13 doubles and seven stolen bases in 56 games. As a guy that played all of his games at shortstop for the Raiders, those are some impressive numbers in general, not to mention for a defensive position.

The fourth-round pick got his professional start with Single-A Augusta, and Conley had time to get in on 35 games with the GreenJackets – a healthy sample that resulted in a .214 AVG. The kid didn’t necessarily hit very well in the minors last year, but he held his own and his plate discipline indicates a player not out of his realm; in 161 PA, Conley struck out only 20.5% of the time in Single-A.

As a college bat, and also a guy that plays a position the Braves are rather thin at organizationally, I expect the 22-year-old Conley to be moved up through the minors rather quickly. I wouldn’t be surprised if those 30-ish games in Single-A last year is all he gets as he begins 2022 with High-A Rome.

#20. Darius Vines, RHP

Drafted by ATL: 7th Round, 2019 from California State University (CA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old6’1″ / 190 lbsR/R23rd

The recent rise by Vines has been crazy. Coming into 2021, the former seventh-round pick’s latest performance was a rather underwhelming rookie-level campaign in which he allowed a horrid 6.68 ERA in 32 1/3 innings combined with the GCL and Appy League teams in 2019. But in Year 2 (well Year 3 if you count the cancelled 2020 season), the 23-year-old Vines shined. First it was Single-A Augusta, where his 92-93 MPH fastball and “deceptive” slider (per Talking Chop) set down opposing batters with ease. With the GreenJackets, Vines averaged 12 strikeouts per nine and completed the level by posting a 2.25 ERA in eight starts (36 IP).

Towards the end of June, the Braves promoted Vines to High-A Rome, and this is where the kid starting really getting some attention. With just 30 or so innings above rookie ball under his belt, the California native was just as strong with Rome, putting together a 3.24 ERA in 14 starts with the team and becoming one of the staff’s more consistent starters. By August, I had Vines pegged as the no. 23 prospect in the Braves system, and throughout the second-half of 2021, he continued to trend in the right direction (featuring a 2.38 ERA in his final six outings of the campaign).

Last season’s Double-A South manager of the year, Dan Meyer, should really enjoy working with Vines in 2022, where the latter will likely join a more depleted M-Braves starting rotation this time around. As he turns 24-years-old just after the regular season begins, this coming year is a big one for Vines, who, because he lacks a ton of velocity, will need to continue to hone in his command and control. This could certainly be a much more well-known name by mid-season.

#21. Luke Waddell, INF

Drafted by ATL: 5th Round, 2021 from Georgia Institute of Technology (GA)

AgeHeight / WeightBats / Throws2021 Midseason rank
23-years-old5’9″ / 180 lbsL/RNR

As a four-year starter at Georgia Tech (and fifth-round pick in this past summer), Waddell was given a pretty aggressive assignment in Year 1, spending 21 games in High-A Rome before finishing out the 2021 campaign in Double-A Mississippi. As a 22-year-old, he played all over the infield on defense, and while with the R-Braves he got hot at the plate, slashing .304/.372/.580 with seven XBH (six HR) in just 78 PA, including a late-August stretch in which he went 10 for 18 (.556 AVG) with four long balls.

Waddell ran into a bit of a wall with the M-Braves, going just 5 for 31 (.161 AVG) during his short stint there to end the year, but even though he failed to produce much with the bat, he still managed to show a strong glove at several different positions (zero errors at second, short and third). Plus, despite only posting a 7 wRC+ in Mississippi, the kid only struck out four times (a 12.1% K rate), indicating he’s plenty able to put the ball in play versus high-minors pitching.

While his power display in High-A was impressive, Waddell isn’t the flashiest in terms of tools, and I don’t believe power is ever going to be his game. For a guy just now entering his first full season as a pro, he definitely has an advanced feel for hitting, though four years at a Power 5 school will help with that. Though he’s probably topped out in terms of prospect stock (and I didn’t even have him ranked back in August), to me, I now believe this is a solid future big league utility-infielder, and his strong performance this fall in Arizona makes me confident that he’s perhaps only a few seasons away from the majors. With Peoria this past fall, Waddell hit .311 with five doubles in 18 games as one of the only Braves to actually produce in the Arizona Fall League. If he can hit in Double-A in 2022, this could be a very interesting prospect going forward.