Youthful gamble paying off for Smith-Shawver

February 23rd, 2024

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman's Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

NORTH PORT, Fla. -- still enjoys tossing a football now and then. But the Braves’ top prospect has never regretted his decision to choose baseball over the opportunity to be Texas Tech University’s quarterback.

“Every time I think about it, I’m like, ‘Man, I’m happy with what I did,’” Smith-Shawver said. “I miss [football]. I throw the football a good bit in the offseason just to keep the arm moving. So, I get my fix.”

Smith-Shawver toyed with the idea of playing both football and baseball at Texas Tech. Patrick Mahomes Jr. had done the same thing during his freshman season with the Red Raiders. But he felt it was in his best interest to bypass college and go straight to the professional baseball scene.

“I wanted to sign, because I wasn’t a bookworm by any means,” Smith-Shawver said. “I also thought the development in pro ball was going to be a lot better.”

There’s certainly no reason to question the decision made by Shawver, who received a $997,500 signing bonus after the Braves took him in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft. He was just 20 years old when he made his MLB debut last summer, and he was still a month shy of the legal drinking age when he pitched in front of the Phillies’ raucous fans during last year’s National League Division Series.

“I’ve made pretty good strides each year,” Smith-Shawver said. “I’m much more developed than I was at this time last year. It’s super exciting just to learn and try new things.”

Smith-Shawver ranks as baseball’s No. 69 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline. He began last season with High-A Rome and found himself at the big league level by May 30. The young right-hander posted a 4.26 ERA over six appearances (five starts) for Atlanta.

It looks like Smith-Shawver could begin this season with Triple-A Gwinnett. But the early signs from camp have been encouraging, so there’s certainly a chance the highly regarded prospect could spend more time with Atlanta this year.

“I’ve been watching his sides and he’s been starting to take that next step, just with his growth and maturity,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “The experience he got last year was huge. You can see a kid that is just maturing. The biggest thing for him is just experience. He’s still really, really young with limited experience. But he’s had a lot of experience for his age.”

Smith-Shawver’s rapid rise might have been a product of spending much of his childhood playing a variety of sports with his good friend Bobby Witt Jr., who is two years older. Witt’s tremendous potential recently earned him an 11-year, $288.8 million deal with the Royals.

“I'm so excited for him,” Smith-Shawver said. “He's earned every bit of that. I think the Royals made a really good decision to sign him, because just watching him over the years, he does everything the right way. He’s going to keep getting better.”

Smith-Shawver hasn’t yet earned that financial security, but folks are also very excited to see what the next few years hold for him.