Smith-Shawver has taken fast track to Braves rotation

June 9th, 2023

This story was excerpted from Mark Bowman’s Braves Beat newsletter. To read the full newsletter, click here. And subscribe to get it regularly in your inbox.

Asked about the impressive MLB debut  had just made during Sunday’s win over the D-backs, Eddie Rosario turned to interpreter Franco Garcia and asked, “New pitcher?”

Rosario isn’t alone. Smith-Shawver, who ranks as the Braves’ No. 4 prospect, per MLB Pipeline, has snuck up on countless folks while making his meteoric rise this year. The 20-year-old began this season with High-A Rome, and he will now make his first MLB start tonight against the Nationals.

“It’s just time to step up and execute pitches,” Smith-Shawver said.

If progressing through three levels in less than two months isn’t impressive enough, then consider this. Smith-Shawver pitched in front of 1,605 fans when he made his season debut for Rome at Bowling Green (Ky.) on April 16. He’ll pitch in front of approximately 40,000 fans tonight.

Asked what he would have thought if he’d have been told this two months ago, Smith-Shawver said, “I probably would have laughed at you.”

Pitching in front of a big crowd certainly didn’t faze Smith-Shawver as he tossed 2 1/3 scoreless and hitless innings while coming out of the bullpen to make his MLB debut against a talented D-backs lineup in Arizona on Sunday. This was par for the course for the youngster, who has allowed a run in just two of the eight appearances he’s made this year.

Pointing out Smith-Shawver has risen from High A to the Majors in a couple months is providing just a portion of the story. The right-hander has been pitching for just three years. He didn’t start pitching on a regular basis until his travel ball coach asked him if he wanted to give it a try while they were playing in Oklahoma during the summer of 2020.

Up until this point, Smith-Shawver had primarily played third base for his high school and travel teams.

“My coach was like, 'Just go out there and throw an inning, no big deal,'" Smith-Shawver said. “I didn’t think I could throw that hard. It was just kinda crazy. It just came out and it was [95 mph]. I was like, ‘Huh, I didn’t think I had that.'"

This might not have been a surprise to the many Texas high school football coaches who struggled to defend against this strong arm that had created an opportunity for Smith-Shawver to play quarterback at Texas Tech. But the baseball world hadn’t previously seen what this arm could do off the mound.

“I didn’t even make varsity baseball until late in my sophomore year and I was mainly just the DH,” Smith-Shawver said. 

The Colleyville Heritage varsity team that found a late-season spot for a sophomore won the 2019 Texas 5A state championship. The roster was highlighted by Bobby Witt Jr., whom the Royals went on to grab with the second overall pick in that summer’s MLB Draft.

Witt and Smith-Shawver grew up three minutes apart. Though separated by a couple years, they hung out a lot during their childhoods. The Royals shortstop was one of the first to reach out after the Braves pitcher was unexpectedly called to the Majors on May 30.

Smith-Shawver totaled just 110 professional innings before reaching the Majors and now he’s set to join the rotation of a legit World Series contender. Nobody saw this coming three years ago, or even two months ago.