If you follow the Braves farm system, you’re well aware that a young superstar is budding in the minors, but I don’t even think the most optimistic believer would have said AJ Smith-Shawver will make his debut this season, let alone before the calendar switches to June.
However, the Braves announced today that they are calling up their top prospect. In a corresponding move, the struggling Lucas Luetge has been designated for assignment.
The Braves traded for Luetge this offseason after he had two stellar seasons with the Yankees, but he’s been a mess ever since coming to Atlanta. He spent time on the IL and posted a gaudy 10.24 ERA over nine appearances. I’m slightly surprised they pulled the cord so quickly, but this move is all about Smith-Shawver, who is the most exciting pitching prospect the Braves have had since Spencer Strider, not that his debut was all too long ago.
The way the Braves have moved him up the system over the last two months tells you all you need to know about the potential the organization sees in him. He began the year in High-A Rome, where he was dominating the opposition to the tune of a 0.00 ERA over 14 innings with 23 strikeouts.
That’s a fast move for a 20-year-old that was in high school just a couple of years ago, but the Braves haven’t slowed down. Smith-Shawver only tossed seven innings in Mississippi, where he also didn’t allow a run, before receiving his first opportunity in Gwinnett.
With the Stripers, Smith-Shawver finally gave up a run, but he apparently flashed enough in just two starts to earn the call. In his last time out, he made it through seven innings, allowing just two runs with eight strikeouts.
It’s one of the fastest rises you’ll ever see and a testament to the young kid’s stuff. He features a high-90s fastball with a ton of movement and a nasty wipeout slider that has been basically unhittable in the minors. Sound familiar?
I’m intrigued to see how the Braves choose to utilize him. They need help in the bullpen, but do they see the situation so dire that they would halt Smith-Shawver’s progression as a starter? It worked for Strider, so why not?
Regardless, this is just a ridiculously ballsy move by the organization and a sign of what they think about this young man’s talent. This is going to be fun.
Photo: David J. Griffin/Icon Sportswire