We continue our Braves MiLB affiliate MVPS (and LVPs) with the High-A Rome Braves. Rome finished the season with a 64-68 record. While that’s not inspiring, what is inspiring is there were several top prospects that donned Rome Braves jerseys this year and many impressed and moved on. Like Mississippi, the Braves org seems to put more stock in Rome than their other affiliates, and while the system is still thin, there was some real meat on the bones in Rome. In today’s pieces we will pick the Rome Braves MVPs and LVPs.
Rome Braves MVPs, Offense: Drake Baldwin and Ignacio Alvarez
Drake Baldwin was taken in the 3rd round of the 2022 draft as a catcher and has stayed in that position since becoming a Brave. His bat really came on strong this year, carrying an .851 OPS with 16 HRs. And while it’s easy to get excited about the dingers, it’s even more exciting that Drake is a remarkably patient batter racking up 67 walks and carrying a .385 OBP. There’s been talk that Drake might not stick at catcher, but he did catch 25% of the would be base thieves this year and that’s pretty fantastic. Drake got the call to AAA at the end of the year, and could be a candidate to replace Travid D’Arnaud in 2025.
Outside of Vaughn Grissom, Ignacio Alvarez (no one calls him Ignacio… he goes by “Nacho”) might be the most interesting position prospect in the system. Only 20 years old, Alvarez played the entire year at Rome, which suggests the Braves want to take their time with this one. Coming into the year, Alvarez only had 1 HR to his name but he hit 7 this year and 6 of those came in a 40-game span. Scouts believe he has 10-15 HR potential but the real kicker is that he’s an excellent SS that provides some serious patience at the plate. Overall, he slashed .284/.395/.391 and will likely get a full season in Pearl come 2024.
Rome Braves MVPs, Pitching: Hurston Waldrep, Spencer Schwellenbach, AJ Smith-Shawver
They only got 3 starts each, but 3 guys that could be mainstays in the Braves MLB rotation sooner rather than later showed up and showed out in Rome. Waldrep, who was just drafted in June of this year, saw stints at A-, A+, AA, and AAA, In his 3 games at Rome, Waldrep carried a 0.75 ERA in 12 dominant innings, striking out 17 while walking 5.
Schwellenbach was drafted in 2021 and need TJ surgery right away. He finally got to pitch professionally in April in Rome and was promoted to Pearl in late August where he threw 13.2 innings and a 1.91 ERA, striking out 14 while only walking 1.
Smith-Shawver decided to 1-up both these dudes, throwing 14 innings of 0.00 ERA baseball, striking out 23 while only walking 4.
If you as a Braves fan NEED to believe that our pitching will likely be ok, these guys are the origin story.
Rome Braves LVP, Offense: Stephen Paolini
After being considered one of the best under the radar picks in the 2019 draft, Paolini has never really showed any of that promise. This is his 4th year in the Braves system and will likely be his last. His OPS in 2023 came in at .661 and his career OPS will likely end right above .600.
Rome Braves LVP, Pitching: J.J. Neikro
J.J. Neikro is 25 and, let’s be honest, isn’t likely to make the bigs. His 4.89 ERA in 84.2 innings as a 25 y/o in A+ ball just isn’t going to pop the cork. What I’ve heard is he’s a big “character” guy and I hope that means he’ll either make his way into the org as a scout or as a coach. I hope so…
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