Only 20 years young, Smith-Shawver reaches Triple-A

May 21st, 2023

ATLANTA -- AJ Smith-Shawver’s meteoric rise through the Braves’ system has drawn comparisons to Spencer Strider.

But it should be remembered, Strider was a college product when he went from Single-A to the Majors in 2021, his first full professional season.

Smith-Shawver, the Braves' No. 4 prospect per MLB Pipeline, is a high-school product who didn’t begin pitching on a regular basis until his senior year in 2021 at Colleyville (Texas) Heritage High School. Two years after first acquainting himself with the mound on a daily schedule, the 20-year-old now finds himself at Triple-A Gwinnett, one step from the Majors.

“The kid has a really good arm,” Braves manager Brian Snitker said. “It’s just going to be about consistency and throwing strikes and location. The stuff is real. He’s a strong kid. There’s a lot to like with him.”

Smith-Shawver made his Triple-A debut on Friday after only 26 professional starts. To put this in perspective, Steve Avery was one of the quickest risers the Braves have seen in a high-school Draft selection. He made 36 pro starts before he reached Triple-A at 20 years old.

The results were encouraging, as Smith-Shawver allowed two runs on four hits over five innings against Memphis on Friday. He struck out five and issued one walk. His fastball touched 97.7 mph and averaged 95.4 mph. One of the runs came courtesy of a homer by Jordan Walker, who ranks as the Majors' No. 1 overall prospect per MLB Pipeline.

Walker’s homer accounted for the first run allowed this year by Smith-Shawver, who tossed 14 scoreless innings over three starts for Rome and then seven more scoreless innings over two starts (one rain-shortened) for Double-A Mississippi. He struck out 39.5 percent of the batters he faced before making the move to Triple-A.

Smith-Shawver grew up playing various sports with his neighborhood pal, Royals shortstop Bobby Witt Jr. There was some thought he might head to Texas Tech to be their quarterback, but the Braves enticed him to enter the pro baseball world by giving him a $997,500 signing bonus after taking him in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft.

Triple-A Gwinnett
Recently acquired utility player Chad Pinder recorded consecutive four-hit games on Thursday and Friday. The veteran was released by the Nationals earlier this month. Before joining Gwinnett on Wednesday, Pinder hadn’t played in a game since May 2. Now, after having a chance to get back in the swing of things, he could become a candidate to fill the backup-infielder role being handled by Charlie Culberson.

Double-A Mississippi
Outfielder Jesse Franklin V, the Braves' No. 14 prospect per MLB Pipeline, recently returned from Tommy John surgery. He has gone 6-for-32 with a double, two home runs, five RBIs and 13 strikeouts. Speaking of strikeouts, Drew Lugbauer struck out in 48 of his 98 at-bats entering Sunday, but the free-swinging first baseman has also tallied a team-high seven homers.

High-A Rome
The R-Braves are getting solid offensive production from both of their catchers. No. 23 prospect Drake Baldwin has hit .229 with six homers and a .849 OPS, while Adam Zebrowski has hit .287 with six homers and a .970 OPS.

Single-A Augusta
JR Ritchie, the Braves' No. 3 prospect per MLB Pipeline, got off to a good start, but he has been sidelined for the past two weeks with a right elbow ailment that is still being evaluated. The organization used last summer’s first-round Draft picks to take Ritchie and Owen Murphy, who has posted a 2.83 ERA through his first six starts for Augusta. He allowed one run over a season-high five innings against Myrtle Beach on Friday.