Drafted in the 27th round out of Michigan State in 2019, Diaz burst on the scene in 2021 by striking out 83 in 45 innings while posting a 1.20 ERA in 32 relief appearances. The 23-year-old began at High-A Rome before reaching Double-A Mississippi in mid July.
The 6-foot-5, 250-pound righthander was electric last season. No pitcher with at least 40 innings struck out a higher rate of batters than Diaz, who fanned 16.6 per nine innings and 47% of batters faced.
With a mid-90s fastball and work-in-progress breaking pitch, Diaz looks the part of a future high-leverage reliever. He could earn a spot in the Braves’ bullpen by midsummer.
Estes isn’t as far along as Diaz, but he surpasses him in terms of upside.
Drafted in the 16th round in 2019 out of high school in Lancaster, Calif., Estes surprised with a 2.91 ERA in 20 starts at Low-A Augusta. He struck out 127 against 29 walks over 99 innings, showing improved command.
The 20-year-old has a fastball/slider combination and track record for throwing strikes that lend hope he will become at least a big league reliever. Estes has worked on an offspeed pitch that should help accelerate his path to the bigs and improve his chances to make it in the rotation.
The Braves are known for pitching development, but their best prospects are now position players. They still have numerous intriguing young pitchers, even if the system currently lacks a blue-chip arm, such as Mike Soroka or Max Fried.
— The Braves re-signed righthander Jasseel de la Cruz, who was non-tendered in November. The 24-year-old spent last season in Triple-A, posting a 7.03 ERA in 20 games (15 starts). He was more impressive in 2019 when he had a 3.25 ERA across three levels. De la Cruz could still find his way to the majors this season.
— One position player to follow when camp opens is outfielder Jesse Franklin, the 2020 third-rounder out of Michigan. Franklin is somewhat a jack of all trades, master of none. He impressed the organization since his time at the alternate site and looks the part of a future major leaguer. Will he continue developing power? He hit 24 homers in a tough High-A Rome park last year.