In a farm system that ranks among the worst in baseball, can the Atlanta Braves afford to dip into that limited talent pool to improve the big league roster? As of now Fried, Strider, and Elder (?) are the only locks for the 2024 rotation. We will know in coming days if Charlie Morton will occupy another slot when the Braves make a decision on his $20 million option.
Even if Morton returns and Elder slots among the top five arms, that still leaves an important spot in the rotation, and a lot of innings to cover. Here, we discuss which of the Braves limited upside prospects can fetch a MLB rotation caliber arm and if they're worth parting ways with.
Atlanta clearly has a lot of belief in Smith-Shawver as they aggressively promoted the 20 year-old through three minor league levels in the span of just over two months. The young right-handed pitcher has only been pitching for a few years now, after his documented late introduction to the mound in high school.
Once AJSS reached the big leagues it was clear he needed more seasoning in the minor league levels. His high-velocity fastball and above average breaking ball wasn't missing bats at the rate they were when he zoomed across the Braves minor league levels. Obviously, the uptick in talent faced will do that to a young kid.
With that said, the Braves still liked his arm enough to include him on the NLDS roster. There was even rumblings about him making a game three start, before Atlanta ultimately handed the ball to Bryce Elder. There is a lot to like about Smith-Shawver's stuff, but the question here is do the Braves consider him an untouchable prospect.
If you were to ask me that answer is no. The Braves have a few high-end pitching prospects in their system, with AJSS being one of them. In my eyes they can't afford to trade both AJSS and Hurston Waldrep this offseason. However, I feel Smith-Shawver is an easier pill to swallow if the Braves were to deal him. And should AJSS be the final big piece to a potential Dylan Cease (or any big name starting pitcher) deal, I think the Braves have to take their medicine.
This is the one guy the Braves will probably actively be shopping themselves. However, Grissom has gotten a taste of big league lifestyle and has already graduated from the Braves prospect rankings. It's not that Atlanta doesn't believe in Grissom's talent, it's just they truly don't have a spot for him.
The Braves have come out and said they view Grissom as an infielder. When you hear that and look at Olson, Albies, Riley, and Arcia manning down the starting infield spots, it's hard to envision where Grissom can find playing time.
Unlike the pitching prospects we will touch on in this piece, Grissom has truly graduated past minor league competition. In 102 games with Triple-A Gwinnett last season, Grissom slashed .330/.419/.501 and set the team record in doubles and OBP.
The only question mark Grissom presents is his glove. That was the sole reason he lost the starting shortstop gig in Atlanta to Arcia. With plus-hitting middle infielders being at a premium this offseason, there just might be a team willing to overlook Grissom's questionable fielding. Should that team have an arm ready to be inserted in Atlanta's rotation, I think a deal get's done.
Lastly, we get to the 2023 first round pick out of Florida. Hurston Waldrep quickly made a name for himself in Braves circles when he got all the way to Triple-A despite just being drafted 24th overall in June. The buzz around Waldrep's name came from the unreal strikeout numbers he was putting up in his first taste of pro ball.
A mid-to-upper 90s fastball, paired with a devastating split-finger pitch helped Waldrep pile up the Ks. There's even talk of him joining the Atlanta rotation as early as summer of 2024. Although, the command is a MAJOR question mark. For that reason consider me in the camp of ready to deal just about all prospects when it comes to acquiring proven Major League talent. However, that doesn't mean I'm ready to throw Waldrep in a deal for the first available MLB arm, and neither will the Braves.
When you get to prospects like Waldrep with this much upside, you have to error on the side of making sure the return won't haunt you if Waldrep goes on to become the next Adam Wainwright. We're not looking for one year of J.D. Drew if we're parting with this much talent.
Ultimately, the Braves willingness to trade any of these top prospects, or other guys like Owen Murphy and Spencer Schwellenbach for that matter will become more apparent as the offseason progresses. The Morton decision is the first of many dominoes that have to fall. Then you get to if the Braves make a run at a pitcher like a Sonny Gray in free agency.
Whichever way those previous events end up breaking will determine how motivated Atlanta is to trade one of these players to add to the MLB roster. Once we get there and have a clearer picture of what names could come back to the Braves in that scenario, we will be the first to analyze if that deal is worth making.