Put Both Eyes on Brandol Mezquita and Jared Shuster, and Braves Game Thread.

Along with my daily recaps and weekly series previews, here at Braves Farm I plan to also write a reoccurring column examining the top performers in the Atlanta Braves minor league system. Each post will look at the two best players in the system at any given time – one hitter and one pitcher – with the former quantified by wRC+ and the latter by ERA. I’m going to try and do these every few weeks or so, to give enough time to cycle in new players. So let’s get started…

Be sure to check out my previous installment, where I profiled a pair of former UDFAs, in first baseman Landon Stephens and righty pitcher J.J. Niekro

Hitter: Brandol Mezquita (OF)

Pitcher: Jared Shuster (LHP)

One of these two names is probably someone you would expect as a Braves Farm Leader, though the other… well I’m pretty sure there are many in Braves Country that has never heard the name before. Either way, though, both Brandol Mezquita and Jared Shuster are having amazing seasons so far, and as of Sunday, they lead the way in their respective roles, with Mezquita sporting a 157 wRC+ and Shuster a 1.84 ERA.

Who is Mezquita? I’m sure you’ve heard of Kevin Maitan, right? He was a top-tier international prospect the Braves signed back in 2017, but then lost because of the infamous Coppy Gate. Well, it wasn’t just Maitan that Atlanta lost because of that scandal – the org also lost 12 other international signees, including Mezquita, who’s $300K signing bonus was deemed an “inflated bonus”. Essentially, those 13 players’ contracts were voided, and as a result they were each free to sign with other teams. Maitan wound up with the Angels organization, where he’s flamed out as a prospect, currently struggling in Double-A (with my hometown’s Rocket City Trash Pandas). And Mezquita… well… he later signed with the Braves.

I mean, Atlanta had to eat nearly $16.5 million due the lost bonuses from those players, but it appears at least one of those guys is real pro hitter.

Which brings us to Mezquita. This kid is doing everything right. For the last three seasons he has played well, but as a teenager in rookie ball, it was always difficult to determine how real any of it was. Regardless, though, with 129 career games in the Braves system, Mezquita carried a 110 wRC+ as a pro, to go with eight home runs and 27 stolen bases entering 2022. His defense had been solid, and his speed on the bases made him seem like a rather toolsy player. But none of that was really going to mean anything unless he could translate that performance into full-season ball. But as you know now, it did translate. So far, in 20 games with Single-A Augusta, the kid has raked, currently sporting a .352/.439/.477 slash line, with six XBH (2 HR) and 18 RBI – good for that Braves minors leading 157 wRC+ entering Sunday. And entering today’s series finale versus Carolina, the GreenJackets outfielder is the midst of a 19-game on-base streak. Sure, not as impressive as Michael Harris’ 26-gamer, but pretty damn good for Mezquita, who’s competing against players nearly a year older than him (on average). There hasn’t been any signs of slowing down either. Mezquita was hitless in Saturday’s game (though he did draw a walk), but the kid is hitting .375 over his last eight games, including five multi-hit performances in that span. And it wasn’t too long ago that he snapped an eight-game hitting streak in which he hit .414 (from April 13-23). Mezquita doesn’t slug for much power yet (shown by just the six XBH), but he doesn’t shy a way from making pitchers pay when they make mistakes, which is all you can really ask for at this point in his development.

There’s two Mezquita splits I really like so far in 2022: 1) he’s hitting same-handed pitchers really well, sporting a an OPS nearly 300 points higher so far against righties (.958), including all of his XBH… and 2) his numbers with two outs and runners in scoring position are video game-like, as the outfielder is slashing .450/.522/.650 in 23 PA in that situation. Those aren’t necessarily predictive stats, but they at least illustrate that Mezquita isn’t just taking advantage of a platoon advantage, or racking up numbers in low-leverage situations, which makes his incredible start to the season that much more special.

It’s odd, but sometimes I forget Shuster was a first-round pick by the Braves. For whatever reason, it seems like he gets overlooked. But regardless, his stock as a prospect has never been higher than it is right now. The 23-year-old lefty is coming off yet another impressive outing for Double-A Mississippi this past Thursday, featuring 5 1/3 innings of three-hit, one-run ball, in which he struck out six and walked none. Those types of starts have come in bunches for the Wake Forest product, who has yet to allow more than five hits in a single outing in 2022. Through those five games pitched, Shuster owns a miniscule 1.84 ERA, and while no one’s ever expected to maintain such amazing run prevention over a full season, it’s not as if it’s simply all luck; FanGraphs gives him a 3.00 FIP and 3.11 xFIP.

Like with Mezquita above, fortunately there appears to be evident signs of sustainability for Shuster as well. Not only is he holding righty batters to a .435 OPS so far this year (compared to a .681 vs. LHB), but his situational splits are exactly what you want, as he has held opposing batters to just a .088 AVG and .315 OPS when runners are on base. Essentially, Shuster is in shut-down mode whenever there’s any traffic on the bases, which probably explains why he’s maintained such strong numbers this season. And from an anecdotal standpoint, given it’s impossible to analyze pitch-specific results in the minors, it appears Shuster’s changeup has gotten even better, which is certainly dangerous for the opposition. This isn’t his first rodeo in Double-A, for the lefty prospect made his final three starts there to end 2021, but it would seem fair to assume that the Braves are in no rush with Shuster. Sure, he’ll turn 24 in August, but even at that age he’s still considered right on track in terms of the average age for a Double-A player. Plus, we probably shouldn’t completely get ahead of ourselves – it’s important to remember that this is only Shuster’s second full season as a pro pitcher, and his small sample with the M-Braves last season wasn’t all that inspiring (7.36 ERA / 14 2/3 IP). But regardless, if he keeps this up, I don’t see any reason why Shuster couldn’t earn a Triple-A assignment at some point in 2022.

Braves News

Acuña’s Road Back!

Braves did it right in featuring their star and his journey to recovery in a 10-minute video.

92.9 Crew Breaks Down Concern for Tyler Matzek

Andy Bunker and Randy McMichael were joined by the 92.9 crew to discuss Tyler Matzek’s early struggles.


Manfred wants consistent balls

Just over a month into the 2022 Major League Baseball season, unfortunately, one of the biggest stories to this point has been the ball. The actual, physical orb we have long called a baseball is a discussion point, and mostly a negative one.  Read the whole article here.

Braves Lineup

In a match of “who’s the real deal?”, Kyle Wright faces off against Garrett Whitlock. Both dudes are exceeding expectations. Whitlock lives off his 4-seamer while Wright is showing 3 real upside pitches. Hope the home team wins!

29 thoughts on “Put Both Eyes on Brandol Mezquita and Jared Shuster, and Braves Game Thread.”

  1. Thanks, Clint. I’m a pretty intense Braves fan, and I don’t remember having heard of Mezquita. Shuster I’ve heard of, but I had completely forgotten him.

  2. To be honest, I had completely forgotten about Kevin Maitan as well. I remember the signing scandal, but now none of the players that we lost. I wish Mezquita well, and hope he can make it to the bigs.

  3. Chip just tried to encourage us by pointing out that the Red Sox are only 7-9 when they score first. I suspect that in none of those 9 losses did they take a 6-0 lead.

  4. This has been a boring, depressing, and uninspiring Championship victory lap so far.

  5. Two strikeouts with a man on third and less than two outs in this game already.

  6. Well wonderful start .. thought Wright stopped throwing slider .. since he was hanging it .. ooooppppsssd . Not .. then offense in high gear striking out with less than 2 outs and runner in scoring position 2 innings in a row .. great start .. gonna finish yard work… catch ya Wed….

  7. I just bet my friend a 100.00 that Ozuna would hit a weak ground ball and Albies would swing at 1st pitch .. im richer

  8. Well how much longer is Snit gonna continue to roll No hit Ozuna out there in the 4 spot .. hurting Riley at plate ….you need to protect him better … D’Arnaud is alot better option ….. Snit needs to shake lineup up …..

    Acuna, Swanson, Riley, Olsen, D’arnaud, Albies , Ozuna , Duvall and Demerette

  9. We have 15 flippin pitchers out there and Snit throws #15 out there in a 2 run game when we have top of order coming up in bottom of 9th .. really .. really …

  10. @19, Much of your whining irritates me, to be honest. However, I wholeheartedly agree with this point. We just had an off day and we’re about to have another one. Spare a decent bullpen arm to give us a chance to win the game, for God’s sake.

    While we’re at it, throwing away games where we’re slightly behind because “you can’t use your best guys when you’re behind” is a pretty classic Snitker move, but beyond that, there’s been a borderline indifferent attitude at times to results at this early point in the season coming from the team. This is an example, the messing with a six-man rotation when we didn’t have the people to staff it because getting guys an extra day of rest was seemingly more important than winning games was another, the ridiculous Acuna plan which I wouldn’t be surprised if Acuna just flat refused to abide by was one more. There just doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of urgency here…and I get it to an extent. But I would like to remind that games don’t start counting for more in the standings after Aug. 1. It may seem that way based on what happened last year, but I can assure everyone, they count the same now as they do then.

  11. Thornburg had been on a nice run, so I get why they were trying to increase his leverage. Putting him in 2 runs behind is defensible if you don’t think he’s the 15th-best pitcher.

  12. @20 Totally agree. The sense of urgency seems to have been lacking since day one. They are playing a dangerous game with the whole “look what we did last year” type of attitude. For all of the other years we blew it when we had better teams one would think we wouldn’t appear to be so complacent.

  13. It’s not a dangerous game and they’re not resting on last year’s success. The problem is that you don’t know what you have. Nutsack’s not Nutsack. Jackson is injured. McHugh has been a bit of a disappointment. You have to run guys out there to figure out what you have, especially when 3 guys you were relying on have disappointed or have been unavailable. What else are they supposed to do?

  14. Last year wasn’t a blueprint. It was a generational coalescence of good decisions, good fortune, and marvelous baseball that resulted in a championship. And it was wonderful. But it’s a new year. I don’t think we’ll ever see a year like last year again in our lifetime. So while it’s early, another month of this may be hard to overcome.

  15. In general, if you want to distill Bobby Cox’s philosophy into a blog comment, borderline indifferent attitude to early results pretty much covers it. And, honestly, focus on process rather than outcome feels sound to me.

    The trouble seems to be the obvious one: almost all of our hitters and many of our pitchers have been scuffling. I don’t know why – other than regression to the mean, which is an observation not an explanation – but I also doubt that playing with a greater sense of urgency or intensity would greatly help. It seems just as likely that it could lead to more guys pressing.

    Snitker isn’t a magical manager, but I think he has a pretty well-demonstrated ability to inspire his guys to play to the best of their ability for him. So if you want to blame anyone, blame the millionaires. Right now, this is a 90-win team playing like an 80-win team. Been a cold spring. They’ll almost certainly get a little better. It’s going to be a little hard to watch at times, just like last May.

    But I feel better about it anyway. And I agree with @24.

  16. @21 and others – First we have 14 pitchers right now. Someone has to be 14th best. And that needs to be tested so that at the end of May the correct 14th best pitcher is DFA’d. Right now, I think Thornburg is the leader in the clubhouse. Maybe an injury solves the problem. I put more blame on the hitters; while although 6 runs given up is rarely going to win you a game, not getting the two runs early with men on third and less than 2 outs would have made it a 6-6 game for the top of the 9th. Hitters striking out is more of a current danger to the team more than “the ball” or low leverage pitchers being bad.

    Rearranging the lineup to move TdA into cleanup and Ozuna and Duvall down to 7/8 would make a big difference. And have TdA DH when Contreras is catching. Results should mean something for playing time. (or maybe Ozuna/Ozzie/Duvall at 5/6/7)

  17. Here’s the thing: do you really think the Mets are a .677 winning percentage team? There’s probably going to be some regression there.

  18. Asserting that the players don’t care about winning or succeeding; that they are not trying hard enough because they are complacent; that they figure they can coast until August–none of that is supported by any evidence and it makes no sense to me. Nobody on the Braves–players, coaching staff, front office–believes that playing sub .500 ball until August and then miraculously getting hot for a couple of months will work again this year. They would all prefer to win now, and by all accounts they work and practice hard for Snit. I agree with Alex that more intensity and a sense of urgency can be counter-productive and lead to pressing. Baseball is not like football or basketball, where intensity really is necessary, especially on defense. Baseball requires daily focus through the long grind of a regular season, which is a different mindset than urgency. One reason Bobby Cox won 14 straight division titles is that he insisted they avoid the highs and lows, and just keep lugging away game by game and series by series.

    Nick is absolutely right that games in April and May count the same as games in August and September, so it’s dangerous to fall too far behind. On the other hand, managers do need to take the long view with respect to bullpen and rotation management so as not to wear folks out. The same is true for regulars, but interestingly Snit has never felt the need to give regular rest to his every day lineup. (FWIW, I do hope that Nick is right that RAJ’s special rules are over and that he will play most every day going forward.)

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