Foreword: This is my personal take on prospects and rankings. In general Atlanta’s system is not robust with talent at the moment because of what we have already taken to the Majors or traded. If Harris, Strider, and Grissom had ended their seasons at AAA we would have a top-5 ranked system! Of course I would rather we win the division in 2022, thank you very much. We should also all remember that bad systems usually still contain some future stars and a surprising number of future mlb contributors.
These rankings are a reflection of several strong beliefs about what makes a good prospect:
I recognize my own limitations – I am not a scout! I do not believe that I can project future growth accurately or see how future small adjustments might yield huge differences in results. Because of this I try to politely speak with actual scouts at the minor league games I attend. I put great emphasis on this! Tools matter.
All prospecting is a balance between rating potential futures versus current skills and performance. Sometimes we get lucky as a prospect is already obviously MLB ready like 2022 Kyle Muller (oops!). Usually we do not, like the 2021 version of Kyle Muller. I do tend to place a little more value on the future but not to a ridiculous extent (an example of the ridiculous is Kevin Maitan, whom mlb.com had as the Braves #1 guy back in 2017 before he had even played a professional game). I prefer to hit the brakes until we see some single A results, so I tend to rank last year’s J2 class lower than other people’s prospect lists.
Injuries matter. Baseball history is littered with “can’t miss” guys who never got out of AA. I love the fact we got Cole Phillips in this year’s draft but am still cautious as to where I can project his future. Let’s get him back on a mound first!
Acquiring the talent means little if the developmental staff fail to get the best out of it. My town’s milb team used to be a Rockies affiliate and I have shared several of their developmental horror stories in Braves Journal comments over the years. Keep in mind that over the last decade Atlanta has done very well with teaching guys better ways utilize what skills they already have but has largely failed when trying to change any prospect’s overall profile – the guys with lousy control never got any; nobody ever gains significant velocity or a new pitch (Tucker Davidson went outside the org to Driveline); and too many of the hitters pound the ball into the ground. Christian Pache is not a good example of a swing change! Nobody told Michael Harris to lower his hands until he got to the bigs. This concerns me!
Process is more important than on the field results. Cal Conley was getting terrible results but the team moved him up to A+ anyway because he was making all the right adjustments. I love this approach from my team.
On to the players! Listed by Name, Position (age as of 6/30/23) highest level of play
1. AJ Smith Shawver, RHP (20) A. AJ was a highly projectable 7th round draft pick in 2021 who went to the Florida complex and struck out almost 18 guys per 9 innings… while walking close to 11. With a fastball that now sits 96 (touches 99) and a wipeout 90 mph slider he ranks among the best pitching prospects in baseball because he has the (small) possibility of becoming a Verlander or Degrom. In his 17 starts he had some that were unfair (13 strikeouts in 4.2 innings!) and some where it all blew up but the chance of a breakout is very real and exciting. ETA 2025
2. Owen Murphy, RHP (19) A. Murphy was our somewhat surprising first round pick this year, #20 overall. While he does not possess a blazing fastball he does get consistently good to great extension on his pitches and has incredible spin on his fastball which makes it a weapon, especially up in the zone. He also has 2 excellent breaking balls and was mixing in an occasional change in his five starts at Augusta. ETA 2025
3. Cole Phillips, RHP (19) HS. One of our 2nd rounders this season, Phillips had Tommy John in April and thus fell in the draft. Pre-injury he was a top-5 overall guy as he was consistently 96-98 touching 100+ with a better breaker (slider) than most high school pitchers. He also profiles as having plus command. Will miss part of 2023 rehabbing which costs him a few notches in my rankings as a healthy Cole Phillips would be my #1 guy. ETA 2026/27
4. JR Ritchie, RHP (19) A. 2nd round pick this year from a Washington high school, so relatively low mileage on the arm. Currently working 92-3, he touched 99 in school and the Braves think they can get him back there by increasing his extension and modifying his stride. Already has the makings of a good changeup and plus breaking ball and has good command/control for his age. The mechanical changes will take time, so he is likely to need a full year at every level. ETA 2026
5. Roddery Munoz, RHP (22) AA. Identical twin Rolldy is also in the system but somehow missed out on the offspeed pitches. Hard thrower who needs to work on his balance through the pitching motion which currently keeps him from repeating his delivery consistantly. His secondary offerings (slider and change) also flash plus so if he gets the delivery together he could get to the bigs quickly. Was placed on the MLB 40 man roster in November to protect him from the Rule V draft. ETA 2023/24
6. Jared Schuster, LHP (24) AAA. Our first round pick in 2021, #25 overall. Schuster had a great start to the 2021 college campaign having added 5-6 mph on his fastball from the season before while keeping his nasty change. His velocity dropped back down to 89-91 after signing and he only gained about 1 tick back this year. This is concerning! However there is still a chance he regains the oomph and a big bodied leftie with plus command and 96 in his pocket is something to dream on. He is going to spend the whole year at AAA and is hopefully spending the offseason at Driveline. One way or the other I doubt he makes this list again…. ETA 2024
7. Cal Conley, 2nd Base (23) A+. A switch hitter with gap power from both sides, Conley led the Arizona Fall League in extra base hits this year. He had a terrible time during his first year and a half in the system as the team tried to rework his swings to get him to hit more fly balls and he only OPSed about 580 during this time. Everything started to click, however, in mid June and he led our entire system in OPS from then until the end of the season. If the change is permanent we have a hell of a utility player. ETA 2024
8. Blake Burkhalter, RHP (22) A. Another 2nd rounder this past year from Auburn. Caught everyone’s eye with a huge performance at the College World Series but dropped to the 2nd round because he has a violent delivery and was a reliever in college. The Braves see him as a starter, however, and are working to smooth the delivery some in the offseason. Already has a starter’s repertoire and could be a huge success if he successfully transitions (with closer possibility if he can’t). ETA 2025
9. Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP (22) NCAA. Our 2021 2nd round pick won the John Olerud award as the best 2-way player in college although the Braves plan to develop him solely as a starting pitcher. He needed Tommy John the week after the draft and spent this past season in extended spring training and fall instructs where he showed an upper 90’s fastball and a “ridiculous” slider along with a decent change. It will likely be a couple years before we know what we have here. ETA 2025/26
10. Dylan Dodd, LHP (24) AAA. He could be Jared Schuster’s twin if you only compare repertoire and minor league results so far. Would be a pretty good choice for a team’s 4th or 5th starter right now but unlikely to be that for Atlanta. Ranked here because everyone above him has way more upside but I can see Dodd being the one to accrue the most MLB WAR from this whole system. ETA 2023
11. Ignacio Alvarez, 3B (20) A. Truly a great baseball name! Alvarez was a later draft pick this past year who received a big bonus and then turned heads at both the complex level and in low A ball by displaying all the tools except for speed. Need to see how he does in a larger sample but the combination of batting eye (17.5% bb) and contact (11.8% strikeout) was outstanding. Has the arm and quickness to play third but needs serious improvement on his footwork and he may be consigned to an outfield corner long term.
12. Victor Vodnik, RHP (24) AAA. Vodnik has a big fastball and a plus change but has battled Covid and injuries the last couple of years. When right, he profiles as a middle innings relief guy with closer upside. Ranks this high due to proximity to the bigs. ETA 2023
13. David McCabe, 3B?? (23) A. a 4th round selection out of UNC-C, McCabe’s power is his carrying tool, although he showed a pretty good eye at the plate as well by walking in 13% of his plate appearances (22% strikeout rate). His defense was pretty bad at 3rd and seemed to have a deleterious effect on his production at the plate as the season wore down. As speed is not among his talents, a move to 1st or DH is likely in the near future. He is a switch hitter. By the way, 6 other McCabes have played in the show and David will need about 2 WAR to be the best of them. ETA 2025
14. Adam Maier, LHP 7th round selection this year out of Oregon. He had the best breaking ball (slider) in college last season before going down with elbow trouble and falling in the draft. He’s a low mileage arm out of Canada and although he has only average fastball velocity now, scouts think there is more to come as he cleans up his mechanics on the mound. He also showed an inconsistent but sometimes plus change before going down with the injury. Could be top of the list in 2 years. ETA 2025/26
15. Didier Fuentes, RHP (18) DSL. Another great name. A $75K signing out of Columbia, Fuentes had by far the best showing among our 2022 J2 class. Has an electric fastball which was enough to rack up a 5:1 strikeout to walk ratio with good component numbers in an admittedly spotty league. Will move up to the complex this season and we can properly evaluate him at that time.
16. Darius Vines, RHP (24) AAA. A sleeper who always did just enough to keep moving up the system until his pitchability could catch up with the tools – plus fastball, great change, good control. He could really use a good breaking ball. Looks like a decent 5th starter/opener or long man in the pen. I foresee a future on the Gwinnett shuttle. ETA 2023
17. Diego Benitez, SS (18) DSL. Our big money splash in the international waters from last year, Benitez is a big kid who already displays good hitting mechanics although he had trouble making hard contact last summer. He reportedly grew an inch and a half last year which does throw off one’s timing at the plate (Chipper had the same issue back in the day). Scouts expect him to grow off short and eventually wind up at 3rd or 1st. Ranked here based on scouting and pedigree compromising with the so-so performance. I would like to become excited here ;) ETA 2027
18. Kadon Morton, OF (22) A+. A player who really needed the 2020 season. Morton is a toolsy guy with the prototypical rightfielder’s body. Unfortunately, before this past season, those tools never translated to skills or on field results, likely the result of not getting enough repetitions. His 130 OPS+ from June on however, might just presage a breakout. I have a feeling baseball is going to see a ton of older rookies in 3 or 4 years; guys who used to be toolsy prospects but were hindered by missing critical play in 2020 and then took their time getting it all together. Collecting these players as minor league free agents in 2024 or 2025 might be the new market inefficiency! We shall see. ETA 2025
19. Makhi Backstrom, 1B (21) A. Same story as Morton only with a 135 OPS+ and limited to first base only. Will face a major test this season as much of his value is derived from his excellent control of the strike zone and that game gets harder to play the further one moves up the leagues. Needs to show some real home run power as well as he set his career high with 10 this year. BTW, both these guys struck out about 30% of the time and our system has a horrible track record at fixing that flaw! ETA 2025
20. Geraldo Quintero, 2B (21) AA. A 5’6” player built like a fire hydrant, Quintero is possessed with that most important of baseball traits: a plus, possibly double plus hit tool. He also has good wheels and would have been the archetype for Dick Williams’ annual escapades with his centerfielder/second baseman back in the 1970’s and 80’s. The kid needs to add some power to have a future in mlb. ETA 2024
21. Douglas Glod, OF (18) DSL. Shockingly similar to Quintero only younger, with more power, and already moved off the dirt (I must note that some scouts see all-star potential here). I am likely the low man on this rating but I’ve been hurt before! Let’s see him at the complex/low A level and reevaluate next year. ETA 2027
22. Alan Rangel, RHP (25) AAA. Dropped from the 40 man roster, he has re-signed with the Braves as a minor league free agent. Rangel had a disappointing year in 2022 after being protected from the Rule V Draft last offseason. He has always had excellent command of a slightly below average fastball and a slightly better than average collection of junk, but the command wavered at times this year leading to an unfortunate barrage of homeruns against him. Has fallen behind Darius Vines in the competition to be the new Lisp. ETA 2023
23. Drake Baldwin, C (22) A. Our third round selection out of Missouri St this past season, Baldwin is an athletic catcher who projects to have an above average hit tool with decent power. He has a relatively weak arm but decent speed so a conversion to outfield or 3rd base may be in his future despite good game calling and framing. I would like to see him over a full season. I would normally rank a current year third round selection much higher in a system this weak but really want a defensive position first. ETA 2025/26
24. Ambioris Taverez, OF (19) Complex. Finally got into some games after missing 2021 for unstated reasons (rumors include long covid and thoracic outlet surgery). Looked rusty as a result and played poorly on both sides of the ball. I’m not giving up yet as scouts say he has the best power potential in the system but 2023 will be key for him. ETA 2026
25. Brandol Mezquita, OF (21) A+. He is kind of a mystery man in that he either has shown good plate control along with an excellent batting average or he has exhibited excellent power with a low average and on base percentage. Obviously will need to do both simultaneously to find a big league career. In his favor he was the only one of the players released during Coppygate that re-signed with the Braves so he will always be my hero. ETA 2025
26. Cody Milligan, UT (23) AA. Drafted as a catcher, Milligan saw significant time at all 3 outfield spots as well as 2nd base this past season. He rated well defensively at all 4 positions. He has no power at all (2 hr all season) but is still a useful offensive player due to a line drive approach and an ability to barrel up just about any pitch. He will never be a mlb regular but could spend 10 years in the show as a swiss army knife type of utility guy. ETA 2024
27. Lisandro Santos, LHP, (24) AA. Great fastball, good slider and nothing to go with them means the bullpen is his likely destination. Struck out almost 16/9 in high A while walking about 5. While he was the Braves farmhand most likely to get selected in the Rule V Draft this year, I can’t see him sticking at this point. ETA 2024
28. Luke Waddell, 2B (24) AA. As a positive note, Waddell has a plus/plus hit tool which will likely carry him to the show at some point. Unfortunately, all his other tools are suspect with the arm being so bad as to cost any non-routine double play. Likely needs to adopt a couple other positions and become an empty high average utility guy like Cesar Hernandez or what Nick Madrigal should be. Could rate higher but his upside is “1-2 WAR utility guy” and while the talking heads on the Baseball Channel call these guys, “the glue holding the team together,” reality says they are pretty interchangeable. ETA 2024
29. Braden Shewmake, SS (25) AAA. Had a “Bob Horner” start to the year before righting the ship and playing well until tearing the PCL in his left knee to end his season. If rehab goes well he is in the mix to make a team (not ours) as an average utility infielder or perhaps be a starter on a bad team. ETA 2023
30. Jesse Franklin, RF (24) AA. Power hitting outfielder who strikes out too much. Off to a decent start at Mississippi, he scragged his elbow and required Tommy John surgery. He will be looking to shake off the rust this year. Franklin’s combination of plus power paired with slightly below average contact skill does not have a good track record for producing major leaguers although the Cardinals and Giants seem to hit on one every couple of years. He is actually named Jesse Franklin V and should he make the team I’m coining the nickname, “one for the thumb.” ETA 2024
31. Adam Shoemaker, LHP (20) A. Huge Canadian lefty who is currently a soft tosser but projects for much more according to the scouts. Currently has an average curve and change and should stay a starter provided he can break wind with his heater. ETA 2026
32. Tyler Collins, CF (20) Complex. Barely played this season after having a great year in 2021. No injuries were reported. Has a plus hit tool, good plate recognition and good speed so I’m giving him a mulligan here but he really needs to produce in 2023. ETA 2026
33. Austin Smith, RHP (24) A+. Minor league closers have a ghastly record of MLB success but every once in a while someone manages a few years of plus production. Smith has a 98 mph fastball and a slurve that the team wants him to speed up and use as a true slider. Double A is usually the touchstone for these sorts. ETA 2025
34. Jair Cassanova, OF (19) Complex. Already physically mature and scouts doubt he can stay in center long term but he is above average in the hit, power, and throw tools so he will get some chances. ETA 2026
35. Jared Johnson, RHP (21) A. He bulked up and got his fastball to sit 97-98 before needing Tommy John. He has always had good command and control and was developing an improving slider before the injury. Would rank about 15th if healthy. Relief only profile. ETA 2026
36. Stephan Paolini, OF (21) A. A toolsy 5th round selection back in 2019, Paolini made strides towards actually developing as a ballplayer this season. The team has been reworking his swing for 2 years now and it finally began to show promise down the stretch. Long shot at this point but will get chances as the developmental staff still believe in the tools. ETA 2026
37. Nolan Kingham, RHP (26) AAA. The lost year really cost this guy as he was on the verge of actual prospect status and then needed all of 2021 to find his groove again. He doesn’t strike out or walk many guys while keeping the ball on the ground and would have been the platonic ideal of a 5th starter in 1980. Unfortunately, modern baseball is not kind to this profile and for 2023 he would be best used as the garbage time long reliever. ETA 2023
38. Tyler Tolve, C (23) A+. Put up a second straight year of good (116 OPS+) production for a catcher and did much better at controlling the running game this season as he was all the way up to dreadful. The kind of guy who now mostly toils in AAA as 3rd catchers are no longer a thing on modern mlb rosters. ETA 2025