Braves dip into prospect well again, call up No. 4 Smith-Shawver

May 31st, 2023

OAKLAND -- The Gwinnett Stripers arrived in Norfolk, Va., on Tuesday morning with right-hander AJ Smith-Shawver in tow. Little did Smith-Shawver know he wouldn't be there for long.

The Braves called up Smith-Shawver, the organization's No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, ahead of Tuesday's 2-1 loss to the A's. To clear room on Atlanta's active roster, left-hander Lucas Luetge was designated for assignment.

Two years ago, Smith-Shawver was a senior in high school. Now, he's a big leaguer.

"It's kind of surreal," he said. "The Braves had a lot of people that helped me develop and really guided me. I didn't really know exactly what I was doing when I first got into it, and I think the guys around here, around this organization, really gave me the right tools to compete and gave me the opportunity."

Smith-Shawver did not arrive in Oakland until around the second inning on Tuesday, so his debut is still to come. The initial plan is for the 20-year-old righty to join the bullpen -- though manager Brian Snitker did not rule out Smith-Shawver making a start at some point this season.

"We're going to pitch him out of there for a while, kind of like we did with Spencer [Strider] last year," Snitker said. "Try and get him multiple innings when we can. I think his future's going to be starting, but this is a way to kind of break him in."

Smith-Shawver doesn't have much experience pitching in relief, but he's embracing the role.

"I'm excited for the new opportunity to come out of the 'pen," he said. "Any way that I can help."

Smith-Shawver is the latest young Braves player to take a fast track through the Minor Leagues. The comparison to Strider, who made the jump from Single-A to the Majors in his first full professional season, is rather fitting given Smith-Shawver's own accelerated rise through Atlanta's farm system.

"I don't think in my best-case scenario I could've planned it out to be like this," Smith-Shawver said. "I think it's really worked out pretty well for me this year, and it's great to see that they're going to give young guys like me opportunities."

After spending all of 2022 with Single-A Augusta, Smith-Shawver began '23 with High-A Rome and vaulted all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett, where he made two starts before his callup, by May. Across three levels of the Minors this season, Smith-Shawver went 2-1 with a 1.09 ERA and 45 strikeouts over 33 innings.

"He's gotten results," Snitker said. "His stuff's been really good, reports have been really good and all that. As we've seen, stuff and skills play up here."

Smith-Shawver was selected by the Braves out of Colleyville Heritage (Texas) High School in the seventh round of the 2021 Draft. A two-sport athlete best known for his accomplishments on the gridiron, Smith-Shawver did not begin pitching regularly until the summer of 2020.

The hard-throwing righty flashes a fastball that sits in the mid-90s and has reached 98 mph, plus a hard slider and a changeup that is coming along. Smith-Shawver's electric stuff, as well as his demeanor on the mound, have convinced the Braves that he can take the next step and contribute at the big league level.

"He's one of those kids that doesn't seem like he's as young as he is," Bryce Elder said. "He's mature, his body's mature, he's mentally mature. I really look forward to seeing him pitch. I think he's going to be successful this year and have a really long career."