Atlanta Braves High-A affiliate may have the best pitching staff in the Minor Leagues

If you're not paying attention to the pitching going down in Rome, you better start.
Jul 8, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; National League Futures relief pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach
Jul 8, 2023; Seattle, Washington, USA; National League Futures relief pitcher Spencer Schwellenbach / Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

While it's easy to enjoy the excellent product at the Major League level in the Atlanta Braves, keeping an eye on some shining prospects is something worth doing. Yes the Atlanta Braves have the best record in baseball, but would you believe they have a group within the organization catching the eye of many baseball pundits?

I'm speaking of the pitching staff down in Rome, the High-A affiliate of the Braves. This is the first season for the team as the newly named Emperors, and fans in Rome are getting some world class pitching to watch this season.

Disclaimer: All statistics are a reflection as of time of writing on 04/20/2024.

Rome's rotation features some future stars

When you look at the Emperors' team pitching rankings they may not jump out at you. Playing in the 12 team South Atlantic League, Rome ranks in the middle of the pack in several team pitching categories. Their rankings are as follows: 3.88 ERA (6th), 11 HR allowed (7th), 1.27 WHIP (5th), .219 BAA (7th).

So what makes this pitching staff so special? It centers around the star-studded rotation featuring three of the organization's top ten prospects. Let's take a look at each guy, and what has spurred them all to fast starts in 2024.

Spencer Schwellenbach is the third ranked prospect in the Braves system, just behind well known arms AJ Smith-Shawver and Hurston Waldrep. He's a prospect that has battled injuries early on, but when he is on the mound he's been nothing short of special.

Schwellenbach's start to 2024 has been more of the same. The eldest pitcher in Rome's rotation is showcasing why he may not be in High-A much longer. Through three games Schwellenbach has pitched 16.1 innings to the tune of a 1.08 ERA, 0.78 WHIP, and held opponents to a .155 batting average.

He caught the eye of national baseball scouts last summer when he was named to the Futures Games in 2023. This year he looks to rise in the Braves farm system like Waldrep did last year. Although Spencer is dominating in Rome right now, don't be shocked if Schwellenbach is pitching in Double-A before his 24th birthday coming up at the end of May.

Next up is fifth ranked prospect and 2022 first round pick Owen Murphy. The 20 year-old RHP was my prospect to watch coming into the 2024 season, and he has surpassed even my high expectations thus far. He's not just posting some of the best numbers in High-A, Murphy is posting some of the best numbers in all of Minor League Baseball.

Murphy's 27 strikeouts in just three starts are the most in the South Atlantic League and tied with Paul Skenes (top 3 prospect in baseball and 2023 number one overall pick) for the second most punchouts in all of Minor League Baseball.

His season numbers are just absurd: 1.59 ERA, 0.82 WHIP, and .133 batting average allowed showcase his talents. Murphy doesn't get the same hype of other top prospects across baseball because he doesn't possess the big fastball that someone like Skenes does.

However, his plus four-pitch mix that comes with command, and ability to really spin the baseball has led to Murphy's ascension. If Schwellenbach gets the first promotion due to age, don't be shocked to see Murphy follow him to Mississippi if he continues his strong performance.

Lastly we get to the most recent draft pick in the Rome rotation, Drue Hackenberg. The 2023 second round pick out of Virginia Tech may not have the ceiling the previously mentioned guys do, but his power sinker/slider combo could be approaching the big league level before you know it.

Hackenberg is the lone guy in this group to have reached the Double-A level (his last start in 2023 was in Mississippi), and his college experience is playing well in Rome thus far. In only two starts with the Emperors so far, Hackenberg has a 1.86 ERA, 1.03 WHIP, and 11 Ks in 9.2 IP.

The great thing going on in Rome is they have a couple of high velocity relivers to keep your eye on as well. Jhancarlos Lara and Rolddy Munoz should pile up the strikeouts for the Emperors as their pitching staff looks as complete as they come in the minors.

It's still early and some of this high-profile names may be in Double-A sooner than later, but if you aren't paying attention to the pitching being displayed in High-A Rome you are missing out on some of the best arms Minor League Baseball has to offer.

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