Braves: Keith Law has some intriguing takes on Atlanta’s farm system

Braden Shewmake

The Athletic’s Keith Law gave the Braves farm system plenty of love last week, ranking them sixth overall behind the Rays, Indians, Blue Jays, Marlins and Diamondbacks. This week, he came up with his list of Atlanta’s top 20 prospects, and while a lot of credit was handed out, there were also some head-scratching evaluations. Let’s get into it.

Cristian Pache (Braves Rank #1, Overall Rank #3)

This is by far the highest I have seen Pache ranked anywhere. According to most, he’s a borderline top-ten prospect in all of baseball. That’s still fantastic, but Law seems to think he’s in the running for the best prospect overall, citing his 80-grade defense and recent developments in the power department as why.

Braden Shewmake (Braves Rank #3, Overall Rank #64)

I often feel like Shewmake doesn’t get enough love, but that’s certainly not the case in Law’s rankings. He has him ahead of Drew Waters (we’ll get to that in a moment) and well within the top-100 prospects overall. Shewmake thrived in Rome to the tune of a .318 batting average and .862 OPS during his first stint of professional baseball, resulting in a quick promotion to AA Mississippi. That alone should tell you all you need to know about what the Braves think of his potential, and Law is on the same page.

William Contreras (Braves Rank #4, Overall Rank #70)

Most outlets have Shea Langeliers as the Braves top-ranked catching prospect, but Law is sticking with William Contreras, who held is own when called up last season out of emergency, going 4-10 at the plate. Law believes Contreras could become a promising defensive backstop while thriving offensively in the majors.

Drew Waters (Braves Rank #7, Overall Rank: N/A)

Without a doubt this is the most shocking part of Law’s rankings. He’s consistently been down on Waters and that didn’t change this offseason. Even though Waters thrived at the AA level, winning the Southern League MVP, Law doesn’t believe it’s sustainable, citing his high strikeout rate and inability to succeed against top-of-the-line stuff. Those are definitely things to monitor as he begins this season in AAA.

Kyle Muller (Braves Rank #9, Overall Rank: N/A)

This is also the lowest I’ve seen Kyle Muller. The humongous lefty has unreal upside, thanks to his fastball that can hit triple-digits. However, Law isn’t convinced that his control and secondary stuff is good enough for him to become a starting pitcher in the majors. That’s understandable given the 5.5 BB/9 he posted in 2019 with Mississippi, but he’s not the first young arm to have trouble with his command early in his career. I think Muller will be just fine and should be much higher than this.

Mahki Backstrom (Braves Rank #19, Overall Rank: N/A)

Welcome to the top-twenty, Mahki Backstrom. We’ve been pretty high on Backstrom this offseason (currently ranked 23rd on our Braves Top 30 Prospects List). He’s a powerful lefty with a sweet swing. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get to play last season, but Backstrom’s a guy that could boom up prospect lists everywhere if he picks up where he left off in 2019.

Omissions — Trey Harris

Law also omitted Alex Jackson and Bryce Elder, but I can’t really beef with him for that. Jackson strikes out too much, and we haven’t even see Elder play a professional game. However, he didn’t include Trey Harris, who was the Braves 2019 Minor League Player of the Year. I understand his reasoning; Harris is a former 32nd-round pick. He’s not the sexiest prospect, lacking tools that will wow scouts. But to this point in the minors, he’s raked to the tune of a .317 average and .874 OPS. If that continues into 2021, he — not Drew Waters — could end up being the next outfield prospect to make a major-league debut.

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