By most accounts, the Braves still have a top-five farm system in baseball – even though they have already watched so much young talent graduate to the majors – led by young stars such as Cristian Pache, Ian Anderson, and Drew Waters. All three of them could debut in 2020, and a few other familiar names like Bryse Wilson and Kyle Wright will also make their impact at the major league level. However, this article isn’t about those guys. This is about the next group of players that you will want to know the names of – ones that won’t play in Atlanta in 2020 but will have a lot of hype surrounding them going into 2021.
This is currently the highest-rated prospect on this list, as Shewmake comes in at #9 on MLB.com’s prospect list for the Braves. The 2019 first-round selection out of Texas A&M was not the sexy pick many fans were hoping for, and Atlanta received some grief for it, but he had a spectacular first taste of professional ball and could move up the system very quickly.
Starting his career in Rome, Shewmake hit .318 with 39 RBIs and a .862 OPS in 51 games for the low-A Braves and was promoted to AA Mississippi to end the season. He struggled there, hitting a measly .217 with a .506 OPS, but it was in a small sample size of 14 games. Look for Shewmake to start 2020 in Mississippi, and he will have the opportunity to move up to Gwinnett by the end of the year if all goes well.
Shewmake’s a lanky shortstop with deceptive power that he will continue to grow into as he ages. His ability to play anywhere in the infield is a plus, and he’s always been a high-average guy, dating back to his days at Texas A&M, where he hit .313 or better in each of his three seasons. If he’s able to build off his promising first stint of pro-ball, he should be in the Braves top five prospects by this time next year.
You could say Ynoa had his breakout year as a prospect in 2019, as he began the year in high-A ball and eventually spent a couple of short stints in the majors, a jump you rarely see in one season. However, his meteoric rise to the MLB was more out of intrigue than anything else.
Ynoa features a fastball that can touch triple digits and can snap off a high 80s slider to back it up. Given the Braves well-documented issues in their bullpen, it was worth the experiment to see what Ynoa could do, but his promotion wasn’t exactly warranted.
Following a successful stint with the Florida Fire Frogs, where Ynoa had a 3.27 ERA and 13.1 K/9 in just three appearances, he struggled at every other stop, posting an ERA higher than five at the AA, AAA, and MLB levels. With that being said, the fireballer will only be 22 this season and could be in for some monumental improvement.
Jasseel De La Cruz
After an injury-plagued 2018, De La Cruz made a name for himself among prospect circles in 2019. He began the year in Rome and only made four quality starts before receiving a promotion to the Florida Fire Frogs, where it only took him four more starts until he was promoted to Mississippi. And one of those outings might be the most impressive in Braves’ minor league history. De La Cruz tossed a complete game no-no while in Florida and did so in just 89 pitches.
Following his promotion to Mississippi, De La Cruz was not nearly as dominant, but he still put together respectable numbers in AA. In 17 appearances (16 starts), the righty had a 3.83 ERA with 73 strikeouts in 87 innings.
Right now, De La Cruz relies primarily on his fastball and slider – both of which are plus pitches – but if he wants to take the next step in his development, he will need to find a reliable third option. Look for that to be an area of focus in 2020.
C.J Alexander is one of those late-round selections that immediately started to overachieve in his transition to professional ball. After being picked in the 20th round of the 2018 draft out of the State College of Florida (no, that is not Florida State), Alexander dominated rookie ball to the tune of a .412 average and 1.118 OPS in nine games before moving to the Appalachian League, where he hit .354 with a .927 OPS in 22 games, which led to him skipping low-A ball and going straight to Florida.
With the Fire Frogs, Alexander continued to impress, slashing .325/.386/.450 in 21 contests. Unfortunately, however, his momentum was halted in 2019 by multiple injuries, most notably Tommy John surgery, which kept him off the field for a couple of months. He only competed in 43 total games last season and hit a forgetful .117 between Florida and Mississippi, but I wouldn’t count Alexander out just yet. If he can stay healthy, I expect him to work his way back into relevance among Braves prospects.
Frankly, I’m a bit shocked Bryce Ball isn’t getting a bit more love in prospect rankings. He easily made our most recent top 30 Braves prospects list but isn’t on MLB.com’s top 30 Braves list, which doesn’t make much sense.
After dominating in his junior year at Dallas Baptist, smashing 18 home runs in just 63 games, Ball was taken in 24th round by the Braves and picked up right where he left off. He began his career in the Appalachian League, where he was later named the MVP after hitting 13 homers with a 1.086 OPS in 41 games.
Ball was eventually promoted to Rome, where his dominance continued. In 21 contests, he hit four homers with a .913 OPS. He should likely begin 2020 in Florida or possibly even Mississippi. Based on C.J. Alexander’s tumble in year two, it’s understandable to still be cold on Ball, but he is definitely a prospect to keep an eye on heading into this season.