How soon can we expect AJ Smith-Shawver to be pitching for the Atlanta Braves?

When projections meet real life - you get a true #1 prospect.

Atlanta Braves Photo Day
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AJ Smith-Shawver Background

The 2021 MLB draft was a big one for the Braves. Their first pick of the draft was Ryan Cusick, pitcher out of Wake Forest, who was a key component in the trade that brought first base cornerstone Matt Olson over to Atlanta. Their second round pick was on two-way player Spencer Schwellenbach who is entering his fifth season in the Braves organization and looks completely healthy and dynamic for the Rome Emperors.

In the third round the Braves took Dylan Dodd who has already contributed to the big league team, and looks to have rebounded with his velocity this year. The Braves then used the 4th and 5th round pick on a pair of college shortstops, Cal Conley and Luke Waddell, who have provided valuable depth in the minors with their high floors. In the sixth round the Braves selected Justyn Henry-Malloy who they later turned into a key bullpen piece in Joe Jimenez. That brings us to the 7th round, where the Braves would select likely their most interesting player of the draft, a young high school pitcher out of Texas, AJ Smith-Shawver

At the time of his draft, Smith-Shawver was a two way player with mammoth power and a big arm, but was also a prized quarterback prospect with a huge arm. The Braves threw roughly $1,000,000 at AJ to get him to sign, and it has worked wonderfully for the Braves so far. At the time he was a projectable pitcher due to his size, and repeatable mechanics, but with someone with so little experience as a pitcher, he was a bit of a wildcard - but exactly the type of wildcard you take, especially in the 7th round. 

AJ Smith-Shawver Scouting Report

Smith-Shawver is a four pitch pitcher who has continually improved all four pitches each year. His fastball routinely sits in the high-90s with his fastball. At the start of games AJ will be 96-99, and has touched 100 multiple times, but by pitch 50-60 that velocity sits around 94-96. As for movement on his fastball - he gets about 1 foot of induced vertical break, and half a foot of horizontal break so when he’s commanding his fastball it is a very good pitch.

He combos that with a wipeout slider that sits 83-85 with about 2300 RPM and nearly 35-37” of induced vertical break and 3-5” of horizontal break. Smith-Shawver also has a traditional 12-6 curveball that he slings anywhere between 74-79 MPH with nearly 5’ of induced vertical break and a foot of horizontal break. Lastly, Smith-Shawver’s quickly developing fourth pitch is, what I personally call, a splitter or split-change. The split-change gets 32-36” of induced vertical break and 10-13” of horizontal break.

What has AJ Smith-Shawver Done in 2024?

This is now AJ’s second stint at Triple-A Gwinnett and to put things into perspective at 21 years of age, he is over 6 years younger than the average age of his competition. Said another way, this “projectable raw arm” has developed far quicker than anyone could have seen. He came into the season with one big question - can he command his fastball so that all of his other pitches are amplified? 

After starting the season off a bit rocky as hitters had a collective 1.260 OPS against him in his first two starts, not only has he completely turned it around - he has begun to answer the big question for him. Over his last three starts Smith-Shawver has a 2.45 ERA, .600 OPS against, 9.2 K/9, while having a 3.1 BB/9, and having a line drive rate of just 21%. Smith-Shawver has confidently thrown all four of his pitchers, especially over his last two starts, for strikes and looks to be primed for a successful run down in Gwinnett. 

What to Monitor for Smith-Shawver

It’s easy to over react when a pitcher looks this good but it’s important to remind yourself that Smith-Shawver is still really new to pitching, especially full time, and being able to repeat these success stories is incredibly important. Repetition, repetition, and more repetition is the biggest goal for Smith-Shawver now.

He has shown an ability to command all four pitches, throw all four confidently, and pitch effectively out of the windup and stretch - now we want to monitor if he can continue to repeat this success over a period of time. If Smith-Shawver can consistently pitch like the way he has over his last two starts it’s only a matter of time before he finds himself in Atlanta, for good. 

What Can We Expect for Smith-Shawver?

The sky is the limit when it comes to AJ. Not only does Smith-Shawver have four plus pitches, he can throw each for strikes, to left handed hitters and to right handed hitter, at any point during an at bat. His command has continued to develop, but with his pitch mix, he doesn’t have to have plus command to be effective in the big leagues.

If Smith-Shawver were to hit his ceiling you have a true top of the rotation type of talent. Someone that will demand the ball when the toughest situations arise and have the talent and work ethic to be successful in those situations. With the Braves rotation the way it is, when AJ is ready, it makes a lot of sense to slot him in as a sixth starter and limit innings not just for himself, but for Chris Sale, Charlie Morton, and Reynaldo Lopez - allowing the Braves to have a well rested starting staff going into the playoffs. Even if it does not work out this season, expect AJ to compete for a spot in the rotation in Spring Training of 2025 and to not look back. 

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