Atlanta Braves 2022 Top 10 MLB Prospects Chat
Carlos Collazo: Welcome to today's Braves top 10 chat, everyone! Thanks for joining and as always thanks to all of you for subscribing and allowing us to do everything that we do here at Baseball America. There are a ton of good questions today, so let's dive right into it!
- Hi Carlos, I appreciate the chat! I was wondering if Joey Estes was in consideration at all for the top 10. Do you think he's on trajectory to make a push to be on the list by midseason or next year?
Carlos Collazo: Hey Frederick, thanks for joining us and thanks for your question to kick us off! Estes was tremendous this year, and as a 19 year old his performance certainly will move him up the Top 30 but I can’t say he was seriously considered for the top 10. There were three names I really debated on for the No. 10 spot specifically (we’ll probably get into those names for future questions) but he was not among them. What holds him back from that range right now for me are proximity, reliever risk expressed by a number of external sources and a lack of legit wipeout stuff. It wouldn’t surprise me if he did continue to improve and his stuff continued to tick up in the future, but I would want to see him continue doing this at more advanced levels, and while the strike throwing is quite good, at times he showed a tendency to throw too many strikes. Getting ahead in the count and doing a better job with his finishing pitches will be something to watch for him moving forward. Still, what a year for him and he’s certainly trending up.
Dave (Grayson, ga):
- Any FCL sleepers to look for? Brandol Mezquita, Royber Salinas, Ronaldo Alesandro?
Carlos Collazo: Mezquita specifically is a name I am intrigued with. He performed well in a 42-game sample in the FCL (.308/.402/.452, 3 HR, 8 2B, 15 SB), has some good tools on both sides of the ball and seems to have a good understanding of how to approach the game, offensively, which is always encouraging to me. He and Kadon Morton were two players in the FCL this year who also impressed the Braves during instructs.
- What range do you think this system ranks in baseball?
Carlos Collazo: The Braves are certainly trending down in the organization rankings, but for all the right reasons! A number of their highly-regarded prospects just powered the Braves to a World Series championship and that is certainly the goal. However, you can see the impact of those graduations (and to a lesser degree the impact of the international sanctions) on the quality of the system. The depth that Atlanta had previously isn’t quite there, although I will say a number of lower-level players did have strong seasons this year and the Braves continue to make savvy late-round draft picks. After the trade deadline, the Braves ranked 14th in our org rankings and I think a middle of the pack system seems about right. Somewhere between 10-20 seems like a fair ranking for this group. There are still a number of players in the top 10 who should provide value for the big league club sooner rather than later and Michael Harris has done an excellent job and looks like a potential impact player—beyond the top 12 or so you really start to look around and question where more hitters are going to come from. Given their core of young MLB players, I don’t see that being a huge issue and so far Alex Anthopoulos hasn’t shown a willingness to trade away any of the org’s better prospects. It’s a solid group. It’s not the Rays, Tigers, Orioles or Mariners. It’s also not the White Sox.
Andy (Dallas, GA):
- How close was Vaughn Grissom, Freddy Tarnok, and Joey Estes?
- Can you give us a handful of names that were the toughest to cut from the top 10?
Carlos Collazo: Let’s take both of these questions, here, as they are getting at the same thing. Andy, you’re exactly on two of the players who were heavily considered from me inside the top 10 in Vaughn Grissom and Freddy Tarnok. When I was going over the list in my head initially, I figured Grissom would be there and then after I started putting it together on paper I had Tarnok in that No. 10 spot and had his report written up and ready to lock it in. I switched to Jesse Franklin late after getting more feedback, but I think all three of these players have strong arguments to be included and I wouldn’t fault you for including them or preferring one to another. If this list was strictly based on my own opinion I might go with Tarnok—I really like his stuff and think his ceiling as a player is quite high. He’s got a power fastball, has improved his curveball and has a real four-pitch mix. For Grissom, you could make a case that he had the best offensive season of any of the team’s hitting prospects. He puts the barrel on the ball an awful lot, but I would like to see how he performs against upper-level pitching before I get too carried away. He also will need to tap into more power in the future to get to an everyday sort of role, considering his defensive limitation. If he were a better athlete or had a clear everyday defensive position or just was able to get to his power a bit more freely now I think I would be more excited about him. However, it would not be surprising at all for that in-game power to be one of the last steps for him in his development. We’ve seen that enough that it shouldn’t be surprising when it happens now.
- Thanks for the great work that you all do! Freddy Tarnok seemed to have a nice breakout season in '21. How far was he from the Top 10? What do you see from him over the next few years? Thanks!
Carlos Collazo: Thanks for the kind words, Will. And thanks for your question. Hopefully some of it was answered previously, but I am excited enough about Tarnok to go a bit deeper into him. The reports on his curveball this year are extremely loud. Previously I questioned what sort of breaking ball he was going to be able to get to, and at times the slider seemed like the better option, but he now has a curve that is one of the best in the system. That’s a big question answered. Next I would like to see him continue refining his control/command and to a lesser extent, either sharpen up his slider or re-discover a changeup that previously was one of the best in the org but regressed this year. I think you’d probably rather have the banger curve than the out-pitch changeup in a vacuum but having both would be pretty cool too, obviously.
- How does Michael Harris compare to Ronald Acuna as a prospect?
Carlos Collazo: We’ve talked a bit about some of the guys towards the back of the top 10 but how about the top player on the list?? Thanks, Brian, for asking this one so we can get into Harris a bit. I would not compare the two players. I don’t think they’re very similar at all outside of the fact that both can claim to be Braves top prospects and outfielders. Acuña’s toolset across the board was better. He had three 70 grade tools on his card after all and when he was 20 years old (the same age Harris was this year in High-A) he was in the majors getting MVP votes and earning the Rookie of the Year Award. I think Harris is a really good prospect. I think it’s a disservice to him to compare him to Acuña, who is one of the elite players in the game. I have a 60/High grade on Harris in these rankings, which is great! That’s an occasional All-Star sort of player and it would be a massive win for the Braves to get him to that level after drafting him in the third round (when many teams preferred him as a pitcher). Still, Acuña is quite obviously a franchise player and that’s an entirely different sort of phylum we’re talking about. It shouldn't be a knock on Harris to say he's not that.
Jason Heyward (Wrigleyville):
- Is it just me, or does the scouting report on Michael Harris remind you of, well, me? High OBP, smooth in the field, hits the ball hard but doesn't elevate.
Carlos Collazo: Another Braves prospect comp for Harris! I’ll say I never made this comparison in my mind and I haven’t heard it yet from anyone I’ve talked to but Jason Heyward certainly seems more realistic than Acuña, at least in terms of impact and overall role. It is crazy to think that Jason Heyward made just one All-Star team and that was in his rookie year. Wow. I would’ve guessed he appeared in multiple. Another guy who was in the bigs as a 20 year old. Hmmm this comp. Not sure. I would have guessed that Heyward was a much more passive hitter than Harris in the minors with better walk rates, though comparing the two in the lower levels (which is the only place Harris has been so far) their walk rates are quite similar. Harris showed a tendency to expand the zone and hit pitches that weren’t necessarily ‘good pitches to hit’ because his plate coverage and barrel skills are just that good. I would like to see him be more selective at the next level and look for balls to drive and he showed enough adjustments later in the year that I think that’s certainly in his wheelhouse if he’s making a concerted effort to do that. I’ll be curious to see his walk rates in Double-A/Triple-A. I was surprised with the defensive evaluations I heard from Atlanta officials specifically. That group is very high on the sort of defender Harris can be, with some even comparing him to Pache—which I never would have expected to hear. External reviews were less effusive, but still quite good and I think the biggest question for him as a defender is how does his body progress as he gets older? It’s a thicker lower half, but he is a plus runner now with tremendous instincts, route-running ability and athleticism in center field.
Walt Hriniak (retired):
- With Pache, Shewmake, and Waters all seeming to stall offensively, should we be concerned about bat development at an organizational level?
Carlos Collazo: I don’t think so. Certainly those guys all had down years with the bat, but this is the same group of player development people who worked with Austin Riley—who just turned in a career year and should get MVP votes. Similarly, players like Michael Harris, Vaughn Grissom, Shea Langeliers and Jesse Franklin looked quite good with the bat. I think it’s easy to sort of pick and choose a group of players and create a narrative that might not exist. More than anything, I think this might just be the nature of prospects. Sometimes they just don’t pan out or make the jumps you think they’re going to in the timeline that you wanted or expected. Not to say you should give up on any of these three players—they are all still quite young. Additionally, I think the lost 2020 season is still looming in the background for a great many players throughout the minors and it’s almost impossible to know how much those lost at-bats slowed down development for hitters—particularly those with flaws that can only improve in big ways by logging ABs. Not everyone is Ronald Acuña or Jason Heyward. Sometimes it takes a bit longer. I’d still be patient and trust the Braves PD system. They’ve been quite good IMO.
- What reports did you get about Jared Schuster's velocity? If I remember correctly, it spiked in the shortened 2020 season at Wake and there were questions about its sustainability. What do you think of him long term?
Carlos Collazo: I heard Shuster was working more in the 89-94 mph range that is more consistent with his pre-2020 college velocity than the jump in velo he showed during the shortened season in his draft year. Whether or not he was going to be able to hold that velocity over a full season, or whether it would translate to the more rigorous pro schedule were big questions and so far the answer seems to be that he isn’t going to sit with a FB around 93-95. It does seem like the pro schedule has been a bit of a challenge for him to get used to in that regard. I think his changeup and slider could be good enough that he doesn’t necessarily need a ‘wow’ fastball to be a solid No. 5 type, though, particularly from the left side. The changeup is good enough that there are people who told me it’s better than Ian Anderson’s which is extremely loud praise. Ultimately, he’ll need to establish his fastball enough for the changeup to be dangerous against advanced hitters. Whether that comes from more precision with his command or an uptick in velocity with more strength in the future… I am not certain. I think he probably needs one of those to happen though. It sounds like the shape of the fastball is fine.
Drew Waters (Will arrive in Atlanta in 2022?):
- After an up and down 2021 am I still considered the front runner to crack into Atlanta's outfield in 2022? Have I made any progress with my plate discipline and pitch recognition or are they both still below average and continue to be a challenge for me to become an average hitter in the majors?
Carlos Collazo: I think what the Braves chose to do at the trade deadline tells you everything you need to know about how they felt about Drew Waters’ readiness. On paper entering the year, you would have thought Atlanta was in a good position to fill outfield holes from within, with both Pache and Waters at the upper levels of the minors. Neither proved ready offensively to step into those spots and instead the Braves brought in four outfielders from outside of the system. There’s still work to do with Waters’ plate discipline. It sounds like he needs to do a better job understanding what pitches he can and cannot do damage on. He made marginal gains in his walk and strikeout rates this year in his first full season of Triple-A (9.2% to 10.2% in BB rate, 36.1% to 30.9% in K rate) but the lost 2020 season really impacted him. He has all the physical tools you want to see but whether or not he’s able to cut down that strikeout rate and advance his offensive approach is going to be the biggest question for him still. Perhaps he’s just going to be a player who always has a higher K rate than you want—with his long levers factoring into that as well—but he still needs to improve in that area from where he’s at right now. Still, with Waters/Pache/Harris the Braves have three really good defensive center fielders in their farm system.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Name a position player who is a sleeper from the low minors (FCL or Augusta),
Carlos Collazo: How about a guy who hasn’t yet played at either level in Ambiorvis Tavares? He’s the first big international acquisition the Braves have made since their sanctions in that market and while he’s virtually a complete unknown due to not playing yet, I have heard some good things. He impressed at instructs specifically in regards to his body, his aggression at the plate and his ability to make adjustments. I am very curious to see what he looks like when he’s finally assigned. Others who make sense here include the previously mentioned Mezquita and Morton, as well as Tyler Collins who the Braves gave overslot money in the 8th round this past year and had an impressive pro debut in the FCL. Justyn Henry-Malloy is interesting as well and put up solid numbers at Augusta. Lower-level hitting depth does seem to be one of the weaknesses of the org at the moment.
Karl of Delaware (Georgetown, Delaware):
- Of the pitchers moving from the FCL to the full season clubs in 2022, who are your favorites?
Carlos Collazo: I am not sure where these guys are going to start the year in 2022, but of the arms who pitched in the FCL this year I would start with AJ Smith-Shawver and Adam Shoemaker. The way the Braves are talking about Smith-Shawver reminds me of how they talked about Spencer Strider before he blew up so watch out for him. A bit of a freak athlete with tons of arm talent.
Ni Zo-Ma (Taiwan):
- Vaughn Grissom, No. 11? and I saw he and Shewmake both have very flat swing plane. Will that affect their power potential or like Wander, it suits better in modern pitching strategy like you guys mentioned here https://www.baseballamerica.com/stories/wander-francos-secret-weapon-against-mlb-pitching/?amphtml ? Thanks
Carlos Collazo: I wouldn’t lump either of these guys in with Wander, in any way, but you do bring up a good point about power questions for both of Atlanta’s top infield prospects. For Shewmake, I also have some weight/strength questions that go back to his time in college that would concern me about projecting his future impact. I have that less so with Grissom but he has always had the critique about not elevating the ball, going back to his prep days. The swing plane/launch angle adjustment seems like something teams are better at figuring out with players, so I have some measure of confidence that they’ll be able to make adjustments there. Shewmake’s first month was bad enough that it tanked his entire season, statistically, but he was good with the bat from June-August before slowing down again in the final month.
Keith H (Syracuse NY):
- The Braves choose not to field a DSL team this year, which means some of their signings have gone 2 years without competing in pro games. Any idea what was behind the decision to do so? Thanks
Carlos Collazo: I brought in our international expert, Ben Badler, for this one. He’s got a pretty cut and dry answer for you: “Lack of players from their recent signing classes and cheap ownership.”
Dave (Grayson, GA):
- With the Braves having the smallest instructional league roster and being the only organization without a DSL team, combined with their scouting and PD COVID cuts, should fans be concerned about the money they spend on player development?
Carlos Collazo: I suppose the previous question serves as an answer for this one as well.
Dave (Grayson, Ga):
- After Beau Philip unsurprisingly had a poor season hitting, has there been any talk of converting him to pitching?
Carlos Collazo: I have not heard this specifically but the idea still fascinates me, as it did back when he was drafted.
- How would compare Michael Harris and Alek Thomas. Harris seems to have more pop and bat discipline while Thomas is the better defender and slightly lesser hitting prospect than Harris. How do you see it?
Carlos Collazo: In a chat that’s had a few comps thrown around for Harris I like this one the best even though the body types are much different. It’s a fascinating one and the players are easier to compare in my mind because of their age/level. Thomas had one of the better minor league seasons this year, period. I have much more confidence in him getting to a plus hit tool because he’s shown it at higher levels, but I think Harris probably has the edge in raw power and arm strength. Both sound like plus defensive center fielders. I would push back on the plate discipline comment. I don’t view Harris as better in that regard and if I had to choose one, I would lean towards Thomas.
- In your doubling as BA's draft guy, what'd you think of Spencer Schwellenbach? These teams know way more than me, but to spend that high of a pick on a conversion guy who won't throw a pitch in pro ball until he's 23 ... I'm a little confused here.
Carlos Collazo: Teams know more than all of us, myself undoubtedly included here. In 2020 I was surprised with the Spencer Strider pick but it was because the Braves had better information than me and a much deeper understanding of Strider’s baseball IQ and makeup. That pick looks tremendous right now. There’s no doubt that the Schwellenbach pick carries some risk and the injury makes it tougher, but his arm talent is truly special. He was throwing a fastball in the upper-90s with command and a solid slider with basically no focus on pitching at all. Giving that sort of arm talent to one of the better pitching factories in baseball seems like a good pairing to me. If the conversion part specifically worries you, just look at Atlanta’s track record with two-way players. It is extremely impressive.
- Any early returns on the young high school arms AJ Smith-Shawver and Adam Shoemaker?
Carlos Collazo: Do not be surprised when Smith-Shawver rockets up this list in a year. He sounds tremendous, all-around. He’s shown a fastball in the 96-99 mph range with good life, as well as three distinct secondary pitches and advanced feel for his changeup. He’s one of the best pure athletes in the system as well and I cannot wait for him to get out and throw more innings. Shoemaker I think will move a bit slower, but he has a chance to throw pretty hard and spin a good slider. Both are intriguing but I might already be fully aboard the Smith-Shawver hype train.
- Are penalties done now in signing international players? Can the Braves start building their system up again? Feels like with penalties and just team success/lower draft positions (and graduating prospects) that our farm system is quite a bit weaker.
Carlos Collazo: Yes, the Braves are now in the clear on the international front. You’re undoubtedly right that the system has trended down. I wouldn’t guess that the group is about to rebound any time soon because there are still some graduations looming in the top 10 and once we get beyond that group there are many more questions—on top of whatever prospect trades the Braves feel necessary to make to continue being competitive at the big league level.
- It's a consensus that rauchman is the best catching prospect in baseball. Followed by Moreno and campusano. Would langeliers fall outside the Moreno/campusano group or is he in the ballpark of the top 4 or 5 catching prospects in baseball?
Carlos Collazo: Based on everything I have heard from the industry I would lump Gabriel Moreno in with Adley Rutschman as the elite catching prospects in the game. Even if I personally view Rutschman as the clear-cut top catching prospect in the game, there are plenty of scouts who LOVE Moreno. It’s tough to crack the top five catching prospects list, because the group we currently have is incredibly deep and strong. You have Keibert Ruiz, Francisco Alvarez, Tyler Soderstrom, Luis Campusano, Joey Bart, Henry Davis, Diego Cartaya and Shea Langeliers. I’d have to dive into all these guys more to give you a top 5 I feel comfortable with but if you wound up with Langeliers outside of that group it shouldn’t be a huge surprise. It's one of the strongest demographics on the top 100 right now, relative to what's average for each one.
James (North East, MD):
- Given that Langeliers is #2 in this list, please compare him with Rutschman and Moreno. How close is he to these two?
Carlos Collazo: As mentioned previously, I think those two players are in a different tier. But I continue to be higher than what I've seen elsewhere on Langeliers' offensive ability. His exit velocity numbers are quite loud and his in-game home run production is impressive on its own right, but even more so when you consider the park he played in this year. He's more than just a catch-and-throw guy, clearly.
Keith H (Syracuse NY):
- Alan Rangel and Travis Demeritte were some what surprising adds to the 40 man roster. Any insight on what elevated their prospect status this year? Thanks
Carlos Collazo: Don't have much on Demeritte, who isn't prospect eligible anymore, but I heard Rangel's impressive season was due to increased usage of a changeup that is quite good. He had shown pretty good control in Rome for a few years, but it seems like going more to that pitch and a solid curveball allowed him to miss more bats and finally earn a promotion up the ladder. He had one of the better minor league pitching seasons of the organization. Despite repeating Rome for years he's still just 23 years old. Very interesting arm in a system with plenty of those.
- I'm curious what the reports were on Indigo Diaz. Smoke and mirrors, or is he a potential closer type? The numbers are unreal, just curious if the scouting reports matched them.
Carlos Collazo: Yeah, pretty loud season from him, right? Of pitchers with at least 20 innings under their belt he led the Braves in K/9 (16.6) and K% (47.40%). It’s not smoke and mirrors, he has a legit fastball in the mid-90s that has impressive riding life and plays well up in the zone, but he is mostly a one-pitch guy at the moment. He’s shown flashes with his breaking ball but needs to make that pitch more consistent moving forward. He’s a straight reliever prospect which is why he’ll rank more towards the middle of the system for me. Very loud season though. I wouldn’t put a closer/high-leverage reliever role on him just yet, I don’t think. Without trying to throw cold water on him, I think the numbers are a bit louder than the scouting reports I have heard.
- What’s the prognosis for Braden Shewmake?
Carlos Collazo: One of the tougher players for me to place on this list. There's no getting around his down offensive season, but at the same time he changed his defensive profile from a year ago as well... Next year will be important for him. I would like to see some more physicality. Given the current SS with the Braves they can afford to be patient with him after pushing him to Double-A pretty quickly initially.
- Feels like forever since we've had a big strikeout starting pitcher come up through our system. If Cusick can maintain his improvements in command, think he can improve on that future estimated mid-rotation role? His profile and early returns seem promising.
Carlos Collazo: Yeah, his strikeout rate was pretty absurd in his brief pro debut. I am still a bit skeptical of the control but that's also because I've spent several years talking to amateur scouts who saw him at Wake Forest and never loved his control/command. There's no doubting he was much better in his pro debut, but I want to see it a bit more against better hitters and in a longer period of time before I fully buy into that. In addition to that command taking a jump, I think Cusick needs to further refine his secondaries before I would feel comfortable putting anything beyond a mid-rotation role. And, again, a mid-rotation arm shouldn't be seen as a knock. That's what Ian Anderson is. He's great! That's a huge success!
- Hey Carlos....long-time reader here. Who is the next Matt Wisler in the Braves' farm system? Thanks!
Carlos Collazo: Man, how on Earth does one compare to Matt Wisler? You truly cannot, I don't think. That said, I'll go with Bryce Elder and his slider.
- I know he's not a prospect anymore, but how do you see the Contreras vs Langeliers situation shaking out over the next couple years?
Carlos Collazo: I believe since I've been doing the Braves system I've always had Langeliers ranked just ahead of Contreras and I would probably just default to that ranking. I think Langeliers will be a better defender with a better arm and he has shown impressive power this year... If only one of these guys was a lefthanded hitter that would make this discussion much easier and you could just get them both in the lineup regularly. I'll lean towards Langeliers though.
Kyle Weatherly (Timmonsville, South Carolina):
- What do you see as the ceiling for Kyle Muller?
Carlos Collazo: Hard for me to go much beyond a mid-rotation starting role given the strike throwing, right? Stuff is excellent.
Michael Harris (Top 20 in Baseball?):
- Michael Harris really blossomed in 2021 and established himself as a true 5 tool player. Do you think he ends up cracking the top 20 prospects in all of baseball sometime in 2022? Who's the best comp for him now? Is he a stockier version of Christian Yelich?
- Thanks for the chat! Michael Harris's development has been exciting to follow - with another strong season in 2022, think he can be a top 20 prospect in baseball? Top 10?
- Thanks for chatting with us today Carlos! With 55s and 60s across the board, is Michael Harris a potential top 15-20 prospect sometime in 2022 if he continues to show the same production in the upper minors? Who does Harris remind you of in the majors right now?
Carlos Collazo: I guess with three similar questions about Harris it would be rude of me to not answer them all. Yes, if he continues to make strides as a hitter and starts tapping into the sort of power that I have heard scouts expect of him, it would not be surprising for me if he wound up slotting into the top 25 at some point next year. His toolset is impressive and he has better bat-to-ball skills than Drew Waters, who has already been in that sort of range previously, so I don’t see why Harris couldn’t or won’t get there as well.
- Who has the biggest impact the next 3-4 years...strider or langeleirs
Carlos Collazo: Shea.
- Any Freddy Tarnok buzz from the scouts you spoke to? That K rate is exciting, but do you see him as a long term reliever?
Carlos Collazo: I think he throws enough strikes to start, and I think he will continue to improve there. I'm high on him, personally.
- Victor Vodnik end up a reliever?
Carlos Collazo: Probably, yes.
BigBen (South Dakota):
- With Ambioris Tavarez leading the 2021 class, is there going to be a renewed presence of international signees on Braves top prospect lists and in the farm system from your feelers in the industry?
- I know he hasn't done anything stateside yet, but did you happen to hear anything on Ambioris Tavarez? I'm just excited the Braves finally have another international prospect worth caring about.
Keith H (Syracuse NY):
- Any word on how Ambioris Tavarez is progressing? Did any other names from the Braves DSL group come up during your calls?
Carlos Collazo: Lots of questions about Tavarez, which is unsurprising given the state of Atlanta's international player pool and the history there. I think there are probably going to be a lot of expectations put on Tavarez from outside just given the price tag and that he's the first big signing since the sanctions, but it's truly hard to speak on him too much until he... you know... plays. Everything I have heard so far on him is encouraging but I can't go too far out on a limb yet. As far as whether the Braves will more active now on the international market, it would be hard for them not to be, right?
Carlos Collazo: Alright, everyone I think that's about it. Hopefully I have given you some decent answers to the questions you had on the system and for specific players. Again, thank you to everyone for taking the time to hang out here today, it's been fun. And thanks as always to our subscribers. You guys are the reason we can do all of this and we're extremely appreciative of your support. Hit me up on Twitter (@CarlosACollazo) if you have more questions you want to throw at me—Have a good one!