Braves prospect report from Spring Training
NORTH PORT, Fla. -- The Braves are getting an up-close look this spring at some of the advanced college hitters they took in in the 2019 Draft. That group includes Shea Langeliers and Braden Shewmake, the club’s first-round picks, as well as 24th-rounder Bryce Ball.
“They’ve certainly acclimated themselves in big league camp, and our staff has enjoyed working with them so far. It’s an impressive group,” said Braves assistant general manager Ben Sestanovich, who oversees the organization’s player development department.
While exactly how long they remain in big league camp is yet to be seen, the fact that Langeliers, Shewmake and Ball all received non-roster invitations prior to their first full seasons reflects the confidence the Braves have in their talented college trio.
“Those guys probably didn’t expect to come to big league camp just yet, but, here they are,” said Sestanovich.
Langeliers, an elite defensive catcher whom the club selected with the No. 9 overall pick last June, and Ball, who clubbed 17 homers in 62 games after signing for above-slot value, both finished their pro debuts at Class A Rome. Shewmake received a late bump up to Double-A Mississippi after beginning his career alongside Langeliers and Ball in the South Atlantic League.
“The first summer out, it’s about getting acclimated and getting your legs under you in terms of what pro ball demands,” Sestanovich said. “For us, really whatever we do in that first summer is about setting up guys to be successful in their first full season.
“Obviously they all went out and had good debuts -- certainly good enough to merit coming to big league camp to get a more extended look in front of our big league staff and front office.”
Suffice it to say that all three players have made the most of the opportunity so far.
Langeliers, Atlanta’s No. 5 prospect (MLB No. 70), and Ball, No. 21 on the new Braves Top 30, have both homered this spring while appearing in five and nine games, respectively. Shewmake, the club’s No. 7 prospect, has played in parts of eight games, tallying three hits and two RBIs while also scoring three runs.
“They’ve come into camp here and have looked like they belong,” added Sestanovich. “They’re all very advanced -- what you want to see.”
Prospect to watch in 2021
While the Braves targeted college players early in the 2019 Draft, they also managed to land a pair of promising high school guys in third-rounder Michael Harris and Vaughn Grissom, the club’s 11th-round pick.
A two-way player who could have gone on to both pitch and hit at Texas Tech, Harris was thought of more as a pitcher by most teams, though Atlanta liked his switch-hitting bat and his athleticism. He raked in the Gulf Coast League and finished his pro debut in the full-season Midwest League, hitting .277/.344/.393 with 14 extra-base hits between the two stops.
“Harris has huge tools,” said Sestanovich about the Braves’ No. 14 prospect. “He was a pretty good amateur pitcher and came out and had a really nice pro debut. I know our amateur scouting group was really excited about getting him in the draft and seeing him immediately have some success in his pro debut.”
Grissom, meanwhile, produced a .288/.361/.400 line over 44 games in the Rookie Gulf Coast League after he received an above-slot $347,500 bonus to sign out of the Florida prep ranks.
“He had a very solid debut for a high school kid,” Sestanovich said about the Braves’ No. 23 prospect. “He has some bat-to-ball ability, can play shortstop. He worked very hard this offseason and has been here early working out.”
By now, baseball fans -- and especially Braves fans – are well aware of Drew Waters’ bright future. Last year, in his age-20 season, the Braves’ No. 2 prospect (MLB No. 26) hit his way from Double-A up to Triple-A, compiling a .309/.360/.459 line with 56 extra-base hits and 16 steals across the upper Minors.
But the switch-hitting outfielder has continued to make strides in this year’s big league camp, focusing on refining his swing and improving from the right side of the plate.
“[Waters] does not think he should have as big of splits as he does, so he worked a lot on his right-handed swing this off season, trying to use his legs more, and has continued to do so here in camp.” said Sestanovich. “He really likes his left-handed swing and wants his right-handed one to get close to being to his lefty one.”
Something to prove
Alex Jackson finally reached the Major Leagues last year in his sixth professional season, appearing in four games with the Braves. But he went hitless in 13 at-bats, striking out five times, and batted just .229 at Triple-A Gwinnett, albeit with a career-high 28 home runs.
A first-round pick -- No. 6 overall in 2014 -- of the Mariners who the Braves acquired after the '16 season, Jackson has made significant gains with his defense behind the plate since joining the organization, but underwhelmed with his production.
“Obviously Alex has worked very hard on his defense to become, in a lot of way, elite behind the dish,” noted Sestanovich. “The biggest stuff has been on the receiving side. He’s made big adjustments on that front working with Sal Fasano.
“It all comes down to consistency,” he said about the Braves’ No. 22 prospect, a career .233 hitter with a 29.6 percent strikeout rate in the Minors. “He’s got huge power, but there are some strides for him to take offensively from a consistency standpoint, because when he does hit the ball, there’s a lot of damage in there.”