Braves: Minor leaguers who could make their MLB debut this season

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With so many Braves’ prospects right on the cusp of breaking into the majors, the 2020 season looks set up to become a busy one in terms of big-league debuts. Between outfielders Cristian Pache and Drew Waters, and starting pitcher Ian Anderson, there’s at least a handful of Braves’ prospects that will most likely get a taste this season.

There are numerous possibilities, especially relative to last season when only five Braves’ minor leaguers debuted.

  • Austin Riley, OF/3B | 80 games
  • Jacob Webb, RHP | 35 games
  • Alex Jackson, C | 4 games
  • Jeremy Walker, RHP | 6 games
  • Huascar Ynoa, RHP | 2 games

Already a sign that more debuts could take place this season, our own Harrison Coburn shared the Braves’ list of non-roster Spring Training invites late last month… featuring 26 players — six more than in 2019. With so much talent now playing in the upper minors, let’s look at which Braves’ minor leaguers could debut this coming season, as well as several that still have a ways to go. Here I’ve broken down this list into three groups — likely, possible and not likely:

Likely debuts (6)

  • Cristian Pache, OF
  • Drew Waters, OF
  • Ian Anderson, RHP
  • Philip Pfeifer, LHP
  • Tucker Davidson, LHP
  • Patrick Weigel, RHP

These six players are all currently on the Braves’ 40-man, benefitting from a much easier path to the majors than the rest of the field (at least logistically). Those first three are no-brainers (Pache, Waters, Anderson), as we’ve been talking about 2020 debuts for those guys for a couple of years now.

Pache has the best chance of making an MLB debut this season, given that he’s both the organization’s top prospect and plays a position that could very quickly open up if current center fielder, Ender Inciarte, isn’t able to bounce back from his 2019 struggles. However, I wouldn’t overlook Pfeifer, Davidson, or Weigel, who could just as well get the Max Fried Treatment, earning some playing time out of the Braves’ bullpen. As a matter of fact, I’d be surprised if we didn’t see at least one of those three making relief appearances at some point in 2020.

Anderson is the organization’s prized starting pitching prospect, so I don’t believe the Braves will do any shuttling-back-and-forth shenanigans. I expect GM Alex Anthopoulos to wait until he knows for sure that Anderson is ready for the big leagues before bringing him up. And given that the righty had a little trouble in Triple-A Gwinnett at the tail-end of last season, I don’t see Anderson debuting until September unless the Braves experience some horrible injury luck early on in the year.

Possible debuts (4)

  • Thomas Burrows, LHP
  • Corbin Clouse, LHP
  • Kurt Hoekstra, LHP
  • Jonathan Morales, C

Pitchers Burrows and Clouse, as well as Puerto Rican catcher Morales, were all non-roster invites in 2019, though neither of them got a chance to debut during the regular season. I could see all three of the lefty pitchers above getting the call in 2020 IF an injury bug pops up and starts taking out Braves’ relievers left and right (which as we know… is very possible).

Though what’s hurting Burrows, Clouse, and Hoekstra (a converted infielder with a 95 mph fastball and filthy slurve), is the fact that the Braves already have at least six other arms they could backfill as relievers in the event there’s an injury epidemic, as there’s currently only room for ONE of Kyle Wright, Bryse Wilson, Sean Newcomb, or even Felix Hernandez as the Braves’ no. 5 starter. Then of course, there’s Weigel, Davidson, and Pfeifer (listed above) that can offer even more reinforcement. It’s a bit of a stretch, but in the event of an emergency, we could see perhaps one of those three “possible” listed players make their debut.

The 25-year-old Morales is listed here simply because he’s the most experienced catcher in the Braves’ system, behind Alex Jackson (who made his debut in 2019). If for some crazy reason, Travis d’Arnaud, Tyler Flowers AND Jackson got hurt, I would assume the Braves would turn to the more seasoned Morales — who has a career 42% caught-stealing rate and a .254 AVG — as opposed to prematurely bringing up William Contreras, Shea Langeliers or even Logan Brown. And in case you forgot, utility man Charlie Culberson can even do some catching in a pinch.

Not likely debuts (6)

  • Kyle Muller, RHP
  • Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP
  • Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
  • Victor Vodnik, RHP
  • Trey Harris, OF
  • Braden Shewmake, SS

This group should technically be a rather large one, given that there are numerous Braves’ minor leaguers that are “not likely” to make an MLB debut in 2020. But I wanted to keep this particular list limited to players that I could see as “possible” candidates in 2021.

None of these guys have even made it to Triple-A yet, which isn’t necessarily a set-in-stone prerequisite, but given that these six players are also somewhat young… it would be much more ideal for them to spend a little time in Gwinnett. Muller and Harris have a strong chance of starting the 2020 season with the Stripers, as the former held a 3.14 ERA in 22 starts at Double-A Mississippi last season and the latter was the organization’s Batter of the Year, posting a .323 AVG with 14 home runs across three levels, including Mississippi as well. I believe the Braves will be careful with Muller, similar to how they’ve been with Anderson thus far.

The 22-year-old Shewmake had an incredible start to pro-ball last season, hitting .300 in 65 total games across Single-A Rome and Mississippi, though he hit just .217 in 14 games at the latter level. Because he had such a short stint in Double-A in 2019, I expect Shewmake to start there in 2020, suggesting he’s perhaps still two years away from cracking the majors (if he continues to progress well). Ditto for Cruz, who at 23-years-old (turns 24 in June) tallied 16 starts at the Double-A level in 2019, posting a respectable 4.03 ERA.

Then Hernandez and Vodnik are my two wild cards. These are two hard-throwing right-handed relievers that are trending exceptionally well. Neither has made it past the High-A level, but after Hernandez finished with a 1.71 ERA in 52.2 innings in Florida last season, I expect the 23-year-old to be in Mississippi to start 2020 (he also pitched in the AFL in ’19). Vodnik just got done dominating Single-A Rome in 2019, and at 20-years-old, he admittedly has aways to go. But if he can put up similar numbers this season (9.2 K/9, 3.2 BB/9, 2.94 ERA in 67.1 IP in ’19), than Vodnik could be knocking on the door a lot sooner than we initially expected, especially given that he was a 14th round (!) pick two years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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