Braves: AJ Smith-Shawver continues to thrive in Gwinnett

MLB: JUN 04 Braves at Diamondbacks

Prior to the season, everyone was concerned about who was going to be the Braves fifth starter. Well, that hasn’t turned out to be much of an issue with Reynaldo Lopez in the fold. The long-time relief pitcher for the Chicago White Sox won the job out of camp and has run so far away with it after just one month of the season that I’m not sure he’ll ever come back.

However, even deeper concerns arose when Spencer Strider went down for the season with a torn UCL. Now, the Braves don’t just need Reynaldo Lopez; they also need one of their younger arms to step up. Any organization that loses its ace after just two starts is going to be faced with a dilemma, but the Braves have amazingly avoided missing a beat, and it’s because several young arms are excelling, giving Alex Anthopoulos and Brian Snitker a plethora of options.

It began with Darius Vines last week, who delivered a couple of encouraging outings against two elite offenses in the Houston Astros and Texas Rangers. Bryce Elder then followed it up on Monday with 6.2 scoreless innings against the Marlins. Both of those guys could pitch every five days, and the Braves should feel confident in their chances, but the best arm of them all is still patiently waiting for his opportunity.

AJ Smith-Shawver was the Braves organizational surprise in 2023. He began the year in High-A and in just a couple of short months, he was making his MLB debut. The now 21-year-old is the Braves top ranked prospect by most outlets, and though his 2024 campaign got off to a shaky start, it may not be long before he makes his way back to Atlanta.

Through his first two starts (three innings), Smith-Shawver surrendered six earned runs on six hits and four walks. However, he bounced back nicely last week, tossing 4.2 innings of one-run ball, and he looked even better last night. Smith-Shawver struck out seven over five innings, featuring a fastball that was cruising in the high-90s. Despite giving up three runs on a couple of homers, it was his longest outing of the season as he continues to ramp up his workload.

As of now, there’s absolutely no need for the Braves to rush Smith-Shawver. Bryce Elder is more than capable of being the team’s fifth starter, perhaps for the entire season. But this is an organization that has shown if you perform, an opportunity will come. AJ Smith-Shawver doesn’t look like he’s too far away from forcing the Braves’ hand.

Photo: Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire

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