Athletic AJ Smith-Shawver Could Be Braves' Next Breakout Prospect
The Braves were shut out of the Top 100 Prospects this year for the first time since Baseball America began the exercise in 1990.
Atlanta's best candidate to emerge and appear on next year's list could be 20-year-old righthander AJ Smith-Shawver.
Drafted in the seventh round in 2021 out of high school in Texas, Smith-Shawver had a 5.11 ERA in 17 starts with Low-A Augusta last season. But he struck out 103 hitters in 68.2 innings and showed prolific arm strength that has led many to identify him as a potential riser for 2023.
At 6-foot-3, 205 pounds, Smith-Shawver offers a three-pitch mix. His fastball sits in the upper 90s, while his slider and changeup give him high upside as a strikeout artist.
His slider is further along as his putaway pitch. As is often the case, command will determine whether he remains in the starter mix.
This season Smith-Shawver will work a heavier load. He completed six frames in only one start in 2022. He completed five innings just six times. And the Braves shut him down following an Aug. 5 start.
Still in the ripe stages of developing as a starter, Smith-Shawver's next step will be piling up more innings this summer.
It’s important to note Smith-Shawver was a two-sport star at Colleyville Heritage High, even declining the chance to play football and baseball at Texas Tech when the Braves signed him over slot for $997,500.
Typically, teams presume a multi-sport amateur has upside he can reach when he shifts his sole focus to one sport. Former Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown, now the Astros’ general manager, noted as much when Smith-Shawver was selected.
There’s perhaps no prospect in the Braves’ system with greater upside than Smith-Shawver. He started attracting attention for his tools, and if those translate to success in 2023, he could be the next Braves prospect to crack the Top 100 Prospects.
— Shortstop Cal Conley has drawn past praise from the Braves. This year is another chance for him to continue growing offensively. He hit .251 with a .738 OPS over two Class A levels last season.
— Righthander Blake Burkhalter will arguably be the most exciting prospect debut in the Braves’ system. They drafted the former Auburn closer in the second round last summer, and his repertoire and experience could lead to a quick ascension. He struck out seven in 4.1 innings with Low-A Augusta last summer.