Breaking Down the Atlanta Braves' 2023 Minor League Rosters
By Eric Cole
While the Gwinnett Stripers have been playing since last week, the rest of the Atlanta Braves' full season minor league affiliates get started today which is quite the welcome sight. Don't get us wrong, we love the Stripers, but we are glad all of the Braves' prospects are going to be back in action.
Yesterday, all of the Braves' minor league rosters were announced and we are going to be taking a look at those rosters including who to keep an eye on. Gwinnett isn't going to be included here as 1) they have already been playing for a week and we have covered them a bit already and 2) Gwinnett has a lot of quad-A type guys that are already familiar/have big league experience. In a lot of ways, they almost serve as an extended bench for the Braves. We will obviously be updating you on how things are going with them, but for this specific season intro piece, we are going to focus on the younger guys.
It is fair to say that this isn't the strongest Double-A team that the Braves have fielded recently, but don't expect that to remain true for long as there are some stronger than you think prospects in Rome and Augusta that could/should make their way to Mississippi fairly quickly (more on them in a bit). The best pitching prospect on the team at the start of the 2023 season is Roddery Munoz who features a high octane fastball that gets hit more than it should and swing and miss slider. Victor Vodnik has seen his stock fall of late and is back in Double-A after spending the bulk of the 2022 season in Gwinnett. Other notable pitching prospects include Luis De Avila, Alan Rangel, and Alex Segal.
The position player side of things is more interesting in a lot of ways. Cal Conley is the guy that is the highest ranked if you are looking at the bulk of the rankings and is coming off a very strong performance in the Arizona Fall League. We are a bit less bullish on him as his approach at the plate can be a bit suspect along with his tendency to make questionable decisions regarding throws, but he has the talent to remedy both of those issues. Luke Waddell is back after missing a big chunk of the season with an injury. Before his season ending at the end of May 2022, he was one of Mississippi's better hitters.
Other position players to keep an eye on include Cade Bunnell who had one of the quieter 15 home run seasons you will see and he flourished after getting promoted last year, Cody Milligan who can basically play any position on the field and can really hit even if the power isn't there, Drew Lugbauer who strikes out too much but will probably hit a bunch of home runs again, and Javier Valdes who struggled controlling the running game but was one of the bigger offensive surprises in the system last year.
This is a flat out fun Rome Braves roster this year with intrigue on both sides of the ball. We will start with the pitching again and that discussion has to begin with AJ Smith-Shawver who has a real case as the top overall prospect in the Braves' farm system. His fastball is a plus pitch that touches the upper 90's and his slider is another potential plus offering. He is a bit raw with his command and is coming off an injury that ended his season prematurely, but do not sleep on this guy as he is a DUDE. The rest of the pitching staff is somewhat speculative with guys like JJ Niekro and Ian Mejia being the highlights, at least to start the season.
The position player side is where things get more interesting. If you have been following along this offseason, I won't miss an opportunity to talk about Ignacio "Nacho" Alvarez. He is a premium defender over at third base (and we may end up seeing him see some time at short again) and has some of the best bat to ball skills and strike zone awareness in the Braves' system. He needs to work on impacting the ball more and we would love to see him turn on some pitches pull side, but he has the chance to do some good work. Geraldo Quintero showed some hitting ability last year, but his defensive home is to be determined as he struggled last year (particularly when playing third base).
Other guys to keep an eye on include catcher Drake Baldwin who was the Braves' third round pick last year, Kadon Morton who has a bunch of tools and also has struck out way too much to get to those tools reliably, Brandol Mezquita who was showing out for Augusta last year before getting dinged up, Kevin Kilpatrick who had a strong pro debut after getting picked by the Braves in the 17th round in last year's draft, and Stephen Paolini who, like Morton, has struggled to get to let his impressive physical tools play in games because of a lagging hit tool.
If you are looking for the minor league roster in the Braves' system that has the most upside, look no further than the Augusta GreenJackets. We'll start with the pitching staff again and it is loaded with top draft picks Owen Murphy and JR Ritchie leading the way. Spencer Schwellenbach will finally make his pro debut in 2023 and while his transition from a shortstop/reliever in college to a starter as a pro while coming off of Tommy John surgery won't always be easy, if our reports on his stuff post-surgery are close to accurate, he is a prime candidate to break out in a big way during the 2023 season and he may not be in Augusta very long.
Another name I want to highlight here is Didier Fuentes. Last season, Fuentes was in the Dominican Summer League and posted a 2.25 ERA with 50 strikeouts in 44 innings of work. Now just 17 years old, the Braves thought enough of him to put him in full season ball. We don't know much about him yet, but he is now high on our list of guys to get our eyes on.
The position player side is also loaded with talent. We finally get to have an extended look at Ambioris Tavarez who was the Braves first significant international signing after being in IFA jail. David McCabe looked like one of the better bats the Braves' drafted in 2022, but a meh pro debut combined with playing the same position as Nacho Alvarez has him starting the season in Augusta for now. Tyler Collins is a top end speedster who the Braves gave a significant overslot bonus on day two of the draft, but we didn't get to see him play much last year as he was out with an injury. We are quite excited to see him in action in full season ball finally.
Jesse Franklin V was not assigned to a full season roster to start the 2023 season. Franklin had to undergo Tommy John surgery last season, so we can probably expect to see him this season although we don't have information as to how his rehab is going. Adam Maier is another guy working his way back from injury. The Braves gave him big money as an overslot pick in the 2022 draft despite needing a UCL brace procedure, so it will be interesting to see when he ends up making his debut. There are also international guys like Diego Benitez, Douglas Glod, and others that would have been sweet to see make full season debuts early, but starting their careers stateside in rookie ball was always the most likely outcome.