What a year, both on the field and off the field for one of baseball’s most storied franchises! The gut punch delivered in the 2020 NLCS to the fellas from Cobb County, at the hands of the Los Angeles Dodgers, left Braves Country looking for revenge as the 2021 season commenced. The Braves started out of the gates sluggish, playing into August before eclipsing the .500 mark. Ronald Acuna Jr. tore his ACL in July, Hank Aaron passed away, and Major League Baseball made the controversial decision to take away the All-Star Game from Atlanta. Through it all, the Braves found a way to overcome all of the adversity, defeating the Houston Astros in 6 games to win the 4th World Championship for the franchise. On the minor league front, the Braves are still in the process of rebuilding the farm system, as GM Alex Anthopoulos inherited signing restrictions from the John Coppolella regime. There are a few bright spots in the system, however, it’ll be a few more years before this system is in the top 10 again.
Here is a quick explanation of the tier system we use here at Prospects1500:
Tier 1: Players with high expectations of both making the majors and playing at an All-Star level for a number of years
Tier 2: Players with an above-average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 3: Players with an average expectation of making the majors and being a solid contributor
Tier 4: Players who have the potential of making the majors, or have a high likelihood of making the majors but provide minimal impact
Tier 5: Players of interest, worth keeping an eye on, who have an outside chance of making their team’s 40-man roster
Levels listed for each player are the highest levels player reached in 2021
1. Michael Harris, OF, 20, High-A
“Money Mike” has sky-rocketed up Braves prospects lists, and for good reason. Harris is an elite defender with more than enough plate production to be a top-of-the-order stalwart. With more speed than power, it’s easy to envision 15 HR/30 SB seasons. Harris also has the ability to show that he can hit in clutch situations, with a blistering .343 average with runners in scoring position during 2021.
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) May 16, 2021
2. Vaughn Grissom, SS, 21, High-A
Grissom is a similar player to Harris, only he makes his home on the infield. Whether his defensive position ends up as a SS or 2B remains to be seen, but it’s the contact ability with the bat that has the prospect community abuzz. A solid plus, borderline plus-plus hit tool, combined with an incredible ability to get on base (.418 OBP in 2021), makes for a very capable 2-hole hitter. Just imagine him and Mr. Harris hitting in front of Acuna, Riley, Albies and Freeman (hopefully).
3. Shea Langeliers, C, 24, AAA
It’s clear that the Braves front office values defense, and Langeliers is a shining example of that. He displayed elite defensive skills behind the dish at Baylor University. The Braves selected him 9th overall in the 2019 Draft with the hope that his bat would develop alongside his fielding ability. That has come to fruition, as he displays enough of a viable hit tool paired with solid power. Shea is, no doubt, the catcher of the future in Atlanta. As such, I’d look for Atlanta to make a trade involving William Contreras.
4. Spencer Strider, RHP, 23, MLB
The Braves have long been known for development of pitching. Strider leads the pack of an impressive set of up-and-coming arms. He was drafted in the 4th round of the 2020 Draft out of Clemson, and has displayed his ability to strikeout batters (14.6 K/9 in 2021). He may end up as a dominant closer for the Braves as he currently only throws a fastball and slider. That lack of a 3rd pitch often spells doom for a starting pitcher. I’d expect the Braves will start him in AA and see if he can at least develop a marginal 3rd pitch, and if not, make the move on him to a high-leverage relief role.
Spencer Strider’s 10 four-seamers in his MLB debut ⤵️
99, 99, 100, 98, 99, 99, 98, 98, 98, 98 pic.twitter.com/iEBJUBNFrJ
— Bally Sports: Braves (@BravesOnBally) October 2, 2021
5. Drew Waters, OF, 23, AAA
Waters has been rumored to be available by trade upon the conclusion of the ’21 season. This is due to the emergence of other outfielders in the system, as well as growing concerns over contact ability with Waters. Waters strikeout rate ballooned to an ugly 35.1% at AAA last year. As a 22-year-old in Triple-A, he deserves a bit of a pass, however, it is a situation that deserves monitoring. If the Braves can pair him with Contreras and trade them for a solid SP to help with their title defense, moving to another organization could benefit Waters’ prospect of making it to an everyday role at the big league level.
6. Cristian Pache, OF, 23, MLB
Pache has long been viewed as a better real-life player than fantasy player. While that still rings true, he just turned 23, so he gets a pass from me. The ELITE defensive ability is still there, and the bat is good enough for a few 15/10 seasons hitting at the bottom of the order. I don’t think there’s a single MLB team that would turn that production + defense down for someone that could occupy the 8th or 9th batting slot.
7. Jesse Franklin, OF, 23, High-A
Fellow Prospects1500 writer Kurt Moody (@DET_Guru_Kurt) loves his fellow Michigan men, and I’d say Franklin is no exception. He possesses a good blend of power and speed, with the floor of at least an off-the-bench late inning weapon. There are current contact concerns with the bat, and it’ll be Franklin’s ability to reduce his strikeouts that will ultimately determine his trajectory into a back-end everyday outfielder or part-time bench bat. 4th OF type seems like the most likely outcome at this stage.
8. Ryan Cusick, RHP, 22, Low-A
Cusick was garnered with some Tyler Glasnow comps heading into the draft. He’s a mountain of a man at close to 6’6″ and 235 pounds. As expected, he possesses a big fastball that has been clocked as high as 101 MPH. The curveball and changeup are his two secondary pitches. The 16 IP he threw after being drafted are promising, with a 34/4 K/BB effort. As with most guys that throw hard, the ability to control where the ball is going is a big key to their development. So far, so good.
Braves 2021 first-rounder Ryan Cusick shoved in his pro debut in Low-A!
3.0 IP, 1 H, 0 R, 0 BB, 7 K, 48 P
— Farm To Fame (@FarmToFame_) August 13, 2021
9. Jared Shuster, LHP, 23, AA
The professional debut started off well for Shuster in High-A Rome. AA Mississippi was more of a challenge for him, and I’d expect that will be his starting point in the 2022 season. Shuster projects as a middle-of-the-rotation lefty, with decent control, and enough strikeout ability to eat some innings. One area of development I’m watching is his ability to reduce giving up home runs.
10. Bryce Elder, RHP, 22, AAA
After tearing through High-A and AA, Elder earned a promotion to AAA Gwinett. That’s impressive for a 22-year-old. While there, he posted a 2.21 ERA with 40K in 36.2 IP. The 3.7 BB/9 and 17 Wild Pitches are a bit concerning, but he does a really good job of limiting home runs and staying out of the big innings.
11. Joey Estes, RHP, 20, Low-A
I believe the Braves got themselves a steal in the 2019 Draft, taking Estes in the 16th round out of Paraclete HS in Lancaster, CA. If you missed it, Jarrod Vickery (@jvickery55) has a great interview article with Estes. If the sub-3 ERA and 127/29 K/BB ratio over 99 IP don’t get you excited, then I’m not sure what will!
— Josh Norris (@jnorris427) August 21, 2021
12. Tucker Davidson, LHP, 25, MLB
There will be a competition for the 5th starter spot in Atlanta, and I expect Davidson to be squarely in the middle of that battle. He clearly has nothing left to prove in the minors after a stellar performance at AAA. Limits hits? Check. Limits walks? Check. Limits HRs? Check. While he’ll never be confused with a rotation ace, he definitely has the chops to stick in a big league rotation for 5-7 years.
13. Kyle Muller, LHP, 24, MLB
Currently a starter, I think Muller settles into a role as a late-inning reliever, designated to face the opposing team’s best left-handed hitters. He’s far from a soft-throwing lefty, though. The 6’7″ 250-pound frame adds some extension to his mid-nineties fastball with a slider and curveball as his secondaries. I’d like to see him implement the changeup more, which would allow the fastball to play up a bit, however, there is only a 5.4 MPH difference between the two.
14. Braden Shewmake, SS, 24, AA
This feels like a make-or-break season for Shewmake. Likely to repeat the AA level, he’ll be age-appropriate for the league and will look to improve upon the .228 batting average. Shewmake was a good hitter at Texas A&M, and his performance will go a long way toward determining whether his ceiling is that of a potential everyday regular or a bench-only bat.
15. Freddy Tarnok, RHP, 23, AA
The jury is still out on the eventual long-term role for Tarnok. I see him as a spot starter, long relief type, especially against right-handed dominant lineups. He possesses good strikeout ability with a bit of an elevated walk rate as well.
16. Spencer Schwellenbach, SS/RHP, 21, College
The Braves drafted Schwellenbach as a pitcher in the 2nd round of the 2021 Draft out of Nebraska. Schwellenbach was awarded as the Big 10 Player of the Year and possesses a fastball that can reach upward of 97 MPH, with a devastating slider and decent change-up. He also played SS for the Cornhuskers and doesn’t come with a ton of arm usage from the pitching mound. I’m sure the pitching coaches are excited to get to work with him as begins his developmental path. Schwellenbach’s development will have to wait as he’s recovering from Tommy John Surgery, but a return to the field could see him swiftly rise up rankings.
— Kevin Sjuts (@kevinsjuts) April 10, 2021
17. Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP, 24, AAA
18. Trey Harris, OF, 26, AA
19. Indigo Diaz, RHP, 23, AA
20. Ambioris Tavarez, SS, 18, Unassigned
21. Victor Vodnik, RHP, 22, AA
22. Brooks Wilson, RHP, 25, AAA
23. Darius Vines, RHP, 23, High-A
24. Daysbel Hernandez, RHP, 25, AAA
25. Tyler Collins, OF, 18, Rookie (FCL)
26. Thomas Burrows, LHP, 27, AAA
27. Mahki Backstrom, 1B, 20, Rookie (FCL)
28. Jared Johnson, RHP, 20, Low-A
29. Kadon Morton, OF, 21, Rookie (FCL)
30. Justin Dean, OF, 25, AA
31. Cal Conley, SS, 22, Low-A
32. William Woods, RHP, 23, High-A
33. Yariel Gonzalez, 3B, 27, AAA
34. Luke Waddell, SS, 23, AA
35. Dylan Dodd, LHP, 23, High-A
36. Brandol Mezquita, OF, 20, Rookie (FCL)
37. Hayden Deal, LHP, 27, AA
38. Justyn-Henry Malloy, 3B, 21, A
39. Alan Rangel, RHP, 24, AA
Indigo Diaz was nominated for Prospects1500’s Minor League Reliever of the Year award, with a ton of strikeout stuff. Ambioris Tavarez hasn’t played but was the prize international free agent for the Braves in the 2021 class. Tyler Collins performed well in Rookie ball as a high school drafter out of McKinney, TX. Brandol Mezquita is a 2018 international signee that is starting to put it together at the plate. He possesses moderate power, speed, a good hit tool and the ability to get on base. Alan Rangel was added to the 40-man squad after an excellent 2021, showcasing good strikeout ability as a starter.
40. Greyson Jenista, OF/1B, 25, AA
41. Trey Riley, RHP, 23, High-A
42. Bryson Horne, 1B, 22, Low-A
43. Stephen Paolini, OF, 21, Low-A
44. AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP, 19, Rookie (FCL)
45. Willie Carter, OF, 24, Low-A
46. Landon Stephens, OF/1B, 23, Low-A
47. Jefrey Ramos, OF, 22, AA
48. Nolan Kingham, RHP, 25, AAA
49. Tanner Gordon, RHP, 24, High-A
50. Gabriel Liendo, SS, 19, Unassigned
Trey Riley is a potential bullpen piece that displays an ability to prevent hits, but won’t strike out many. Landon Stephens‘ calling card is power, although he did show some hitting ability in college at Miami (OH). Gabriel Liendo just turned 19 and has yet to play for the Braves, after being signed as a SS out of Venezuela in the 2021 international class.
Born in Arizona. Raised in the Midwest, and with lots of baseball. When I’m not writing about baseball or purchasing my next baseball card, I can be seen coasting down the highway to yet another travel baseball tournament with my wife and son. I love the Braves, bat flips and outfield assists.