Could Braden Shewmake surprise us all and win the Braves' starting shortstop battle?
By Eric Cole
Coming into spring training, the biggest storyline for the Atlanta Braves was what things were going to look like at shortstop in 2023 and beyond. However, the questions at the time were whether or not Vaughn Grissom was going to be able to solidify himself at the position, whether Orlando Arcia would end up as a short-term solution if Vaughn couldn't do it, or if the Braves would bring in a short-term external option like Elvis Andrus as a stop gap.
What most didn't expect is that another internal option could thrust himself into the mix, but that appears to be what has happened with Braden Shewmake. Earlier today, MLB dot com beat writer Mark Bowman commented on Twitter on the fact that today was going to be the third day in a row that Vaughn Grissom hasn't played.
Could Braden Shewmake end up at the top of the 2023 Atlanta Braves depth chart at shortstop?
I will go ahead and say that I have been pretty skeptical of Shewmake during his time in the minor leagues. In our prospect rankings from this offseason, I had him as the #12 prospect in the Braves' farm system. Shewmake had a lot of promise coming out of the draft as an early pick that had a track record of hitting in the SEC.
However, what ended up happening as a pro has been...less than inspiring so far. After posting an almost .800 OPS in his pro debut season, his hit tool regressed, the power that folks hoped he would be able to add was very inconsistent, and he dealt with injuries over the next two seasons.
One thing that DID go well, though, was his defense. One concern that some (including myself) had was that Shewmake wasn't a true shortstop defensively and could end up as a tweener/utility type. However, while he struggled at the plate, he turned into an excellent defender at shortstop and there is no doubt in my mind that he could play there every day defensively...it just comes down to whether or not he would hit and stay healthy.
Shewmake's big spring has him in position to surprise us all
After his 2022 season came to an abrupt end after a collision in the outfield resulted in a knee injury that required surgery, there were some real questions about Braden coming into spring training and no one realistically thought that he could be a factor at shortstop to start 2023. However, things can change quickly and it looks like the competition is closer than we predicted.
Coming into Friday's spring training game, Shewmake has slashed .292/.346/.458 in 11 games this spring while continuing to play strong defense at short. Importantly, the Braves had already added Shewmake to the 40 man roster to protect him from the Rule 5 draft this offseason.
The end result is a shortstop battle that is seemingly much closer than we thought it would be. To be clear, Grissom has been perfectly serviceable at shortstop and has hit well this spring as well. The safe bet is that he ends up winning the job. However, Shewmake is probably the better defender at short right now and his progress at the plate has made things a lot more interesting than we thought coming into camp.