Dead last, according to the prospect gurus. While I’m not sure about that, especially after watching the Braves 2 best pitching prospects deal this spring, depth is definitely a problem and rightfully so considering all of the young players that are currently in the bigs. While it’s absurdly difficult to create a top 30 prospects in the Braves farm, a list of players to keep an eye on is much easier to achieve. In today’s piece, we will discuss some players that every Braves fan should keep on their radars.

Jared Shuster, LHP / Dylan Dodd, LHP

Spring camp has been a rather eye-opening time for both Shuster and Dodd, two prospect arms that we now know will both appear for the Braves big league team within the first five regular season games. The pair of 24-year-olds have been incredible in Spring Training thus far, with the former carrying a 1.45 ERA (18.2 IP) and the latter a 2.00 ERA (18 IP). You can never have too much starting pitching over the course of a 162-game season, so we’ll see which of Shuster or Dodd (or both) stands out the most in the 2023, although both are worth following all year long.

Jesse Franklin V, OF

Franklin, a 3rd round draft pick out of the University of Michigan back in 2020, is coming off an unfortunate 2022 campaign in which an elbow injury allowed him to play in only 15 games. Now 24, the outfielder will surely be looking to build off his impressive 2021 season with High-A Rome, where he posted an .842 OPS with 24 home runs, 61 RBI and 19 stolen bases in 101 games. Weirdly, we haven’t seen any of Franklin in Spring Training this year. Regardless, though, he’s definitely a prospect to follow as he’ll likely begin 2023 with Double-A Mississippi before hopefully settling in as one of Triple-A Gwinnett’s top hitters.

AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP

Like Shuster and Dodd above, the 20-year-old Smith-Shawver has been solid so far in camp, recently tossing 3.2 innings of relief in a Braves win on Sunday, giving him a cool 1.59 ERA in 5.2 overall frames in Spring Training. The former 7th round pick (2021) is coming off a full year with Single-A Augusta in 2022, showing plenty of promise by averaging 13.5 strikeouts per nine across 68.2 innings. With a likely stint in Rome to begin 2023, it’ll be interesting to see if Smith-Shawver can maintain such strong strikeout numbers while also honing in his command; last season the righty walked 39 batters (5.1 BB/9).

Spencer Schwellenbach, RHP

Tommy John surgery left Schwellenbach shut down all last year, meaning 2023 will be his first time pitching in the Braves system. The former 2nd round pick is expected to debut as a pro in Rome this season, wielding an upper-90s MPH fastball and a plus slider. The rumor is his rehab has gone “overwhelmingly positive” so far, so it’s safe to assume an on-time start to the campaign. However, fresh off a TJ you know the Braves are going to be careful with him. Either way, keep an eye of Schwellenbach’s outings this year.

Ambioris Tavarez, INF

This could be the year we get to see a lot of Tavarez – the Braves international signee from back in January of 2021. The prospect shortstop is still just 19-years-old, and has yet to crack full-season ball. However, after a short stint with the FCL team (17 games) in 2022, Tavarez should wind up in Augusta in 2023.

Victor Vodnik, RHP

I feel like Vodnik makes this type of list every year, and it’s hard to believe the hard-throwing righty is entering just his age-23 season. Even so, it’s time for Vodnik to make a statement. The former 14th-round pick (2018) has dealt with injuries seemingly every season, and in 2022 that trend continued as he tallied only 34.2 innings with both Mississippi and Gwinnett. In fact, Vodnik’s single-season high in innings-pitched came way back in 2019 when he finished with 67.1 innings in Rome as a 19-year-old. A healthy, full season should go a long way for the righty, perhaps even allowing him to contribute with the big league club as well.

Brandol Mezquita, OF

The Braves position-player depth on the farm is pretty thin, meaning Mezquita has a chance to become one of the top prospect outfielders in the system, behind Franklin. The 6-foot Dominican hit well in his first taste of full-season ball last year, putting together a .746 OPS with 21 XBH (3 HR) and 14 stolen bases in 87 games with Augusta. However, once challenged in Rome, Mezquita struggled, finishing 2022 with just a .501 OPS in 17 games in High-A. The kid is still rather young, so this isn’t a make-or-break year for the Dominican. But given the current landscape of the org’s prospect depth, Mezquita could generate a ton of hype with a strong 2023 campaign.

Drew Lugbauer, 1B/DH

Turning 27 at the end of this season, Lugbauer isn’t really considered a prospect in the Braves system. However, the former 11th-round pick (2017) did set the single-season home run record for Mississippi last year, slugging 28 dingers and knocking in 82 runs. Sure, all that power comes with a lot of strikeouts, as Lugbauer posted a career-high 38.2% K rate in 2022, but you can’t say he isn’t fun to watch. Those long balls may be harder to come by once he faces better pitching in Triple-A this year, but for a guy who’s tallied double-digit home run totals in four of his five minor league seasons so far, Lugbauer should be a player to pay attention to in 2023.