These are Braves to keep an eye on down on farm

April 5th, 2024

ATLANTA -- An incredibly fruitful farm system has given the Braves a chance to thrive throughout this decade with the likes of Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley, Ozzie Albies, Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider.

Each of these homegrown products have helped the Braves construct what has been one of the most successful stretches in franchise history. Each of these players can also be controlled through at least the 2027 season. So, it’s not too early to begin looking at who might soon join them in Atlanta.

Here is a look at the top players from each of the Braves’ Minor League affiliates.

Triple-A Gwinnett

Player to Watch: OF J.P. Martinez

Martinez was a MLB Pipeline Top 100 prospect in 2019, but he has not yet lived up to expectations. The Braves acquired the 28-year-old Cuban outfielder from the Rangers in January. Martinez homered twice and stole three bases through his first five games with Gwinnett. His power and speed could prove valuable if the Braves need an outfielder at some point this year.

Pitcher to Watch: RHP AJ Smith-Shawver

Smith-Shawver is MLB Pipeline’s No. 65 prospect and the No. 1 prospect in the Braves’ system. The 21-year-old hurler showed his potential while making six appearances (five starts) for Atlanta last year. The experienced seemed valuable when he arrived at Spring Training with more confidence and a much-improved changeup. He’ll make his season debut tonight, when he’ll be scheduled to throw 30-40 pitches. Keeping him fresh and healthy during the season’s early portion will prove valuable as the Braves know Chris Sale and Reynaldo López likely can’t be expected to be effective in October after handling a normal full-season starter’s workload this year.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: Darius Vines (No. 14), Dylan Dodd (No. 15)

Double-A Mississippi Braves

Opening Day: Tonight, 7:05 p.m. ET, at Pensacola

Player to Watch: SS Nacho Alvarez Jr. (No. 6)

Alvarez impressed during his first big league Spring Training this year and gave the Braves more reason to feel good about taking him in the fifth round of the 2022 MLB Draft. The 20-year-old prospect’s bat will get him to the Majors. Exactly what position he plays remains to be seen. He has a third baseman’s frame, but he has continued to show good range at shortstop. His progress this season will give the Braves a better idea of what to expect from him both offensively and defensively.

Pitcher to Watch: RHP Hurston Waldrep (MLB No. 86, Braves No. 2)

Waldrep helped the University of Florida reach the College World Series finals last year with the help of the splitter that made a good impression during his first big league camp this year. The young hurler must learn some of the intricacies of pitching. With the splitter alone, his floor is as a big league reliever. The splitter mixed with better fastball and breaking ball command would create the potential to be a front-line starter.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: Drake Baldwin (No. 11)

High-A Rome Emperors

Opening Day: Tonight, 7 p.m. ET vs. Hickory

Pitcher to Watch: RHP Spencer Schwellenbach (No. 3)

Without a clear high-ceiling position player beginning the season on this roster, we’ll just look at a pitcher. Schwellenbach didn’t start pitching at the University of Nebraska until spending his junior year as the team’s shortstop and closer. He was drafted in 2021 with the knowledge he’d miss 2022 after undergoing Tommy John surgery. So, this will be just his second full season. He posted a 1.98 ERA over the three starts he made for Rome after a late-season promotion last year.

Other Top 30 prospects on the roster: Jhancarlos Lara (No. 13) is currently recovering from an oblique strain

Single-A Augusta Green Jackets

Opening Day: Tonight, 7 p.m. ET, Columbia

Player to Watch: OF Isaiah Drake (No. 22)

Drake has great speed, but his first professional season could be challenging. The young outfielder was playing for North Atlanta High School at this point last year. The Braves will show patience as this exciting young outfielder acquaints himself to the professional game.

Pitcher to Watch: RHP Cade Kuehler (No. 8)

Kuehler’s professional career consists of two starts he made for Low-A Augusta last year. The 21-year-old hurler was taken in the second round of last summer’s Draft out of Campbell University. While he has produced impressive metrics with the fastball, he also features a splitter and a cutter, which has become his best pitch over the past two years.