ATLANTA -- One of a baseball front office’s greatest accomplishments would be to win a World Series while possessing the game’s top farm system.
After winning last year’s World Series, the Braves didn’t enter this season with one of the game’s top farm systems. But they may have had something better: With Ronald Acuña Jr., Austin Riley and Ozzie Albies, they already have proven stars under 25 years old locked up long term. The team’s future was further brightened by the emergences of Michael Harris II and Spencer Strider, who now stand as the top two candidates for the National League Rookie of the Year Award.
The Braves’ farm system has recently produced Harris, Strider, All-Star William Contreras, Vaughn Grissom and Shea Langeliers, who was used to acquire Matt Olson in March. It’s not currently stocked with Top 100 prospects, but it does appear it may soon contribute some more valuable gems to the big league scene.
3 players who forced their way onto the radar this year
RHP AJ Smith-Shawver
Any current conversation about the Braves’ farm system has to start with Smith-Shawver, a 19-year-old prospect who didn’t even start pitching regularly before his 2020 summer season. Still, the Braves took him in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft and gave him a $997,500 signing bonus, which was $795,900 over slot value. Smith-Shawver endured some growing pains as he posted a 5.11 ERA for Class-A Augusta this year. But he struck out 34.4 percent of the batters he faced and had a 13 percent walk rate during his first full professional season. Those are encouraging numbers for the young pitcher, who ranks as the Braves’ No. 8 prospect per MLB Pipeline. He has been extended beyond the fifth inning just once and he was shut down in early August. So while he garnered attention this year, he is still very early in his development.
OF/3B Justyn-Henry Malloy
Malloy struggled at Vanderbilt, thrived during his only season at Georgia Tech and spent this past summer tasting success at three different levels within the Braves’ organization. The 6-foot-3, 212-pound prospect hit 17 homers and constructed a .862 OPS over 591 combined plate appearances for High-A Rome, Double-A Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year. He can play third base, but has been used only as a left fielder during this year’s Arizona Fall League. He ranks as the Braves No. 11 prospect.
LHP Dylan Dodd
Dodd stumbled while making just four appearances in 2021 and then thrived at multiple levels as he experienced his first full professional season this year. The lefty had a 3.44 ERA over 16 starts for Rome and a 3.11 ERA over nine starts for Mississippi. He had a 28.3 percent strikeout rate and 6.7 percent walk rate at the Double-A level. His consistent command should help him continue to make a quick rise toward the Majors. He ranks as the Braves’ No. 16 prospect.
2 possible breakout players to watch in 2022
RHP Royber Salinas
Salinas overpowered hitters over five starts for Augusta and then continued to miss bats while posting a 4.11 ERA over 20 starts for Rome. The right-hander produced a 33 percent strikeout rate and had a 13.7 percent walk rate for Rome. He ranks as the Braves’ No. 19 prospect.
RHP Darius Vines
Vines struck out a little more than one batter per inning and had a 7.4 percent walk rate while combining to make 27 appearances (25 starts) for Mississippi and Triple-A Gwinnett this year. He had a 3.95 ERA at the Double-A level and constructed a 3.21 ERA over the 33 2/3 innings he completed after being promoted to Triple-A. If he continues to show good command, he could join Atlanta’s bullpen at some point next year.
1 big question for next season
Kyle Muller and Bryce Elder both made big spot starts for the Braves down the stretch this year. Elder was the better choice over the season’s final weeks. But next year should be a big year for Muller, who currently ranks as the Braves’ No. 1 prospect. The Braves gave him time to develop by keeping him at Triple-A most of the year. Now, they’re hoping this benefits him much like it benefited Kyle Wright this past year.