Braves: Five make ZiPS Top-100, Shuster in ESPN’s Top-10

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Prospect rankings have been coming out all over the internet the last few weeks, and this week FanGraphs held its annual Prospect Week, meaning there’s a TON of prospect analysis to go around for any and all that enjoy keeping tabs on the sport’s next wave of talent. We here at SportsTalkATL have released our own Braves Top 30 list, and throughout the offseason we’ve shared other site’s opinion of Atlanta’s system, including ESPN‘s team farm rankings released earlier this week. Today that continues, as on Friday more prospect content was made available: FanGraphs‘ ZiPS Top 100 Prospect List as well as ESPN’s Team-by-team Prospect Rankings. Below, starting with the latest ZiPS list, I’ll cover both.

ZiPS 2021 Top-100 Prospects

Constructed by ZiPS creator, Dan Szymborski, this is Year 6 that FanGraphs has released a prospect version of the projection system. You may be familiar with ZiPS as it relates to projecting major league players, but over the years Szymborski has began using the system to narrow down expectations for the game’s biggest prospects. To read about how ZiPS works, check out this write-up.

As far as this season’s ZiPS, regarding prospects, the Braves did very well. Five Atlanta prospects cracked the top 100, featuring Ian Anderson (#5), Cristian Pache (#15), Braden Shewmake (#29), Drew Waters (#42) and Tucker Davidson (#75). Now, you may ask, how come five Braves made it in the ZiPS version but only three made it on FG’s actual Top 100? Well, obviously FG’s top 100 is constructed by an actual human (Eric Logenhagen), while the ZiPS list is strictly based on projection. It’s only logical that there would be a difference between the two, especially given there wasn’t even a minor league season in 2020. Projections systems can’t calculate the improvements of players when they’re idle, though an expert such as Logenhagen can scout and research things like swing changes, defensive improvements or pitching adjustments.

Here’s that same list of Atlanta prospects, with each player’s ZiPS and actual top 100 rank (or “List” rank):

  • Ian Anderson (ZiPS: 5th / List: 13th)
  • Cristian Pache (ZiPS: 19th / List: 8th)
  • Braden Shewmake (ZiPS: 29th / List: NA)
  • Drew Waters (ZiPS: 42nd / List: 47th)
  • Tucker Davidson (ZiPS: 75th / List: NA)

Regardless, I think it’s interesting to examine the differences between ZiPS and the more-human rankings done by Logenhagen. It’s pretty fair to say that Anderson’s incredible performance last season helped him out-do his actual prospect ranking according to ZiPS, as the projection system was most likely impressed with his real numbers. Pache having less of an impact at the big league level (even though he played fine) makes his ZiPS rank seem about right.

The big surprise is Shewmake, who of course didn’t play at all in 2020, but is a player with a bright future. And ZiPS isn’t the only system that loves Braden as awhile back I wrote about how Steamer/600 (another FG’s projection) thinks Shewmake would be the best hitting Braves prospect if given a full-season of playing-time right now (even better than Pache or Waters). With ZiPS now capable of implementing collegiate statistics, Shewmake’s impressive career at Texas A&M helps paint a pretty picture of what he could become as a pro.

It’s good to see that ZiPS still has faith in Waters, despite a lot of baseless criticism regarding the outfielder. I won’t delve too much into it, but there’s absolutely no reason to lose love for Waters, even if his approach at the plate could use a little work (he’s 22 years-old!). The last Atlanta prospect that made the ZiPS list is Davidson, and I think him being included in the bottom-25 is fair, given he has garnered a lot of attention over the last couple of seasons but has pitched just 1.2 innings in the majors thus far. For a projection system to still have that much faith in a guy means Tuck really is something special.

Overall, I’m really pleased with how the Braves fared with the ZiPS list. The Atlanta prospect system has been hurt by a ton of graduations and a shortened 2020 draft, so it’s nice to know that the top-end of the prospect class is still a top-notch group.

ESPN 2021 Team-by-team Prospect Rankings

With Kiley McDaniel making the switch from FanGraphs to ESPN last year, prospect content at the Worldwide Leader in Sports instantly got much better. McDaniel has been a busy man these last few weeks, releasing his top 100 and the aforementioned farm system rankings. On Thursday he published all of his team prospect rankings for the American League, and Friday he did the same for the National League.

Here’s his top 10 prospect rankings for the Braves, with each player’s FV rating included as well as their top 100 rank in parenthesis:

  1. Ian Anderson, RHP, 60 FV (12)
  2. Cristian Pache, CF, 60 FV (16)
  3. Drew Waters, CF, 55 FV (34)
  4. Shea Langeliers, C, 50 FV (95)
  5. Bryse Wilson, RHP, 50 FV (117)
  6. Braden Shewmake, SS, 45+ FV (147)
  7. Michael Harris, RF, 45 FV
  8. Tucker Davidson, LHP, 45 FV
  9. William Contreras, C, 45 FV
  10. Jared Shuster, LHP, 40+ FV

First, a disclaimer on Future Value (FV), straight from McDaniel’s write-up: It’s graded on the 20-80 scouting scale. A low-end every-day player is a 50, which correlates to 2.0 WAR; a well above average position player, No. 3 starter or high-end closer is a 60, or somewhere around 3.0 WAR. I refrain from tossing out an 80 on minor leaguers because that would imply one is expected to be one of the top players in baseball.

Now No. 1-9 are pretty standard. Langeliers cracking the top 5 is a bit surprising depending on your preference between him and Contreras, but all in all the list looks about like any other Braves top 10. However, I think we can all agree that the tenth spot is interesting.

Here’s what McDaniel had to say about Jared Shuster: 

“Shuster was the Braves’ first-rounder last summer, taking a step forward in the spring with more arm speed, but keeping the plus changeup and command that had him on follow lists before a breakout. His breaking ball is fringy now, and it’s the pitch to watch as he develops.”

Considering he finished his collegiate career at Wake Forest with a 6.17 ERA, it was already a given that believing in Shuster was going to require more than simply looking at his numbers. And that appears to be what McDaniel has done, praising his arm speed improvements from this spring. The fact that Shuster is a big-bodied (6’3″, 210 lbs.) lefty also bodes well for his projected growth as a prospect. We still don’t know a whole lot about him, but receiving such a high ranking from a national prospect expert is definitely a good sign. 

Other takeaways from ESPN’s rankings: McDaniel states that Shewmake has more range at shortstop than many believed him to have as an amateur with Texas A&M, which is yet another reason to be super excited about him soon becoming a big league contributor. That 2019 draft is looking better and better for Atlanta. 

Perhaps not very surprising, but great nonetheless, McDaniel picks outfielder Harris as his breakout pick for the Braves system in 2021. McDaniel predicts Harris will crack the top 100 this coming season, thanks to above-average raw power and a plus-arm out in center field. 

McDaniel’s praise of Kyle Muller was good but sort of disappointing at the same time. He states that Muller’s fastball velocity has risen, calling him a “velocity monster”, though he also opined that Muller’s curveball and command fits better in one and two-inning stints, perhaps suggesting he’s more of a multi-inning reliever rather than the front-end starter we’ve all been hoping for. That sucks. 

McDaniel gives the “shorter stints” treatment to Jasseel De La Cruz as well, which is a bit more expected at this point. McDaniel also puts the potential-reliever tag on Victor Vodnik, Spencer Strider, Ricky DeVito and Tyler Owens. All four are hard-throwing righties, and other than Strider, have been regulars within the Braves top 30 rankings for a few seasons now. 

Despite having very little to work with, it’s been a great couple of weeks of prospect coverage, and I think most of the analysis points to what’s still a very strong Braves system. With no 2020 minor league season, all of these reports, rankings and projections shouldn’t be taken as gospel. Overall, as they have for years now, Atlanta continues to wield plenty of pitching surplus and an exciting up-and-coming group of hitters. And even more than in recent seasons I believe the Braves organization also possesses more depth top to bottom. Either way… we’ll see just how talented this system is real soon.


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