The 2021 regular season is coming to an end, both at the major and minor league levels. Last week I began a team awards series for the Braves, in which I named Charlie Morton as Atlanta’s Cy Young pitcher for this year. Today I will do the same for the Braves minor league system.
Who has been the best minor league pitcher for the Braves organization?
Braves 2021 Minor League Team Awards: Cy Young
Like the major league version of this award, this wasn’t all that close. No other prospect starting pitcher has accomplished what Bryce Elder — ranked no. 8 on my Midseason Braves Top 30 list — has in 2021. Other than perhaps reliever Indigo Diaz, none have flown through the minor league system with such dominance. Last year’s fifth-round pick is looking at a potential 2022 MLB debut. For a system already rich with talented arms, Elder’s ascent within the minors this season has been one of the most exciting storylines to follow.
— MLB Pipeline (@MLBPipeline) July 11, 2021
Elder’s 2021 stats (all levels combined)
23 starts, 128.2 IP, 2.80 ERA, 10.2 K/9, 3.5 BB/9
For Elder, 2021 started with a quick and easy assignment at High-A Rome. The righty averaged 11 strikeouts per nine innings and posted a 2.60 ERA in 45 innings (nine starts) there. It was evident from his very first outing, though, that the 22-year-old was much too advanced for lower-minors competition.
On June 29, Elder made his first Double-A start with the M-Braves. At the time, it was his worst performance of the season as he allowed four runs from seven hits in just four innings. His debut in the upper-minors was far from ideal, but Elder made up for that one poor outing by quickly becoming one of Mississippi’s staff aces.
Over his next eight Double-A starts, Elder pitched to a 2.77 ERA and struck out nearly 30% of the batters he faced. By the middle of August, following a five-start stretch in which he lasted exactly seven innings in each outing and allowed just two earned runs over his final 12 frames with the M-Braves, it was time for another challenge. Surprisingly, the Braves promoted Elder to Triple-A Gwinnett.
On August 20, the Braves rising prospect debuted for the Stripers, striking out six in five innings to go with two runs from three hits. Elder has been with Gwinnett ever since, and to this day — with just a handful of games remaining — the righty hasn’t allowed more than three runs in a single start. Heading into a new minor league week (Tuesday), Elder’s Triple-A ERA sits at a cool 2.28, and his K rate is holding steady at just over ten strikeouts per nine. At every level, this kid continues to impress.
So for the 2021 minor league season, there’s no other Braves pitcher more deserving than Elder. For him to not just dominate the High-A ranks but also maintain that performance up the ladder to Triple-A is incredible all by itself; him doing so while only in his first full pro season is unheard of. There have been several strong performances by Braves prospect pitchers in 2021. But in terms of the system’s Cy Young, that honor has to go to Bryce Elder.