Smith-Shawver's fastball finding another gear at Triple-A

April 29th, 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.

ATLANTA -- One year older and further developed, is showing the high-octane fastball that we didn’t see much of during his short big league stints last year.

Per Statcast, Smith-Shawver has already thrown 15 pitches that have registered at 98 mph or higher this year with Triple-A Gwinnett. His three highest-recorded velocities of the year -- 99.8 mph, 99.7, 99.2 -- were all produced on Wednesday in Norfolk, when he allowed three runs and got seven strikeouts over five innings.

Smith-Shawver threw 507 fastballs over the seven appearances (28 innings) he combined to make between the regular season and playoffs for Atlanta last year. Just seven of those pitches registered 98 mph or more. Four of those seven pitches were thrown during his last regular-season start against the Cubs on Sept. 28. The other was thrown during Game 3 of the National League Division Series against the Phillies.

There’s never been any reason to question Smith-Shawver’s arm strength. He was a highly touted high school quarterback who had a chance to follow in Patrick Mahomes’ footsteps as a two-sport athlete at Texas Tech University. There’s a video on Reddit that shows him throwing a football 81 yards in a non-competitive setting.

So it’s not overly surprising to see the 21-year-old Smith-Shawver gain velocity as he continues to acquaint himself with the art of pitching. He always liked baseball, but the expectation was he would end up concentrating on football at a higher level.

Pitching was put on the back burner for Smith-Shawver when a growth plate caused some shoulder discomfort during his first couple of years of high school.

This changed in the summer of 2020, when a number of football camps were canceled because of COVID. Smith-Shawver used the free time to play on a travel baseball team. He was one of the best third-base prospects in Texas. But he became a coveted pitching prospect when he stepped on a mound in Oklahoma and was clocked at 93 mph.

The Braves took Smith-Shwaver in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft the following summer and gave him nearly a million dollars to commit to a baseball career. Less than two years later, the young hurler was in the Majors.

Atlanta will likely need Smith-Shawver to rejoin its rotation at some point this year. But for now the Braves are just bringing him along slowly, keeping his pitch count at 50 or below in both of his first two starts for Gwinnett. He has allowed four earned runs over the 9 2/3 innings he has combined to complete within his past two starts.

Smith-Shawver, who ranks as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect per MLB Pipeline, impressed with a much-improved changeup during Spring Training. He still needs to be more consistent with his secondary stuff and command. As the velocity increase has shown, he’s still a work in progress.

But it has also shown why so many talent evaluators have labeled him to be a special arm.

Double-A Mississippi
struggled in his first two starts, but he has spent the past two weeks showing why the Braves were thrilled to take him in the first round of the 2023 MLB Draft. The 22-year-old hurler, who ranks as the Braves’ No. 2 prospect, has allowed one run over six innings in each of his past two starts. He allowed just the one run during Friday’s 88-pitch outing against Montgomery despite issuing four walks and allowing three hits, including two doubles.

High-A Rome
(No. 5 prospect) has positioned himself for a promotion while posting a 1.13 ERA and recording 37 strikeouts through his first four starts (24 innings). Murphy recorded 11 strikeouts while throwing 88 pitches over five innings against Asheville on April 19. He then tallied 10 strikeouts over 89 pitches and completed seven scoreless against Winston-Salem on Thursday, allowing only one hit.

Single-A Augusta
(No. 23 prospect) has a 1.25 ERA and a 0.74 WHIP through his first four starts (21 2/3 innings). The 6-foot-8 right-hander has limited opponents to a .111 batting average. He was taken in the fourth round of the 2023 MLB Draft.