Braves: MLB insider weighs in on Atlanta’s best trade chips for Bryan Reynolds

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Mark Bowman recently did a mailbag and talked about some of the pieces the Braves could potentially use in a Bryan Reynolds trade:

Bow makes some really good points about tempering expectations for Reynolds. Here’s what he had to say:

Do you think we will upgrade at SS or LF now? Is Bryan Reynolds a possibility at all? @BSum94

While I do think the Braves could still upgrade at one or both of these positions, I don’t know if Reynolds will be moved this winter. He did ask to be traded, but the Pirates don’t have to appease his request.

Regardless, after the Sean Murphy trade, I don’t know if the Braves have the pieces necessary to land Reynolds. In terms of prospects, the Braves’ most attractive pieces are AJ Smith Shawver, Jared Shuster, Owen Murphy and JR Ritchie. Not all four of these young pitchers will all necessarily become a part of Atlanta’s rotation in the future. But expect the club to protect its top pitching depth while planning for the potential departures of Fried and Morton over the next few years.

The Braves’ most recent success has been influenced by the success of homegrown pitchers. Look for them to continue following this blueprint.

Bryan Reynolds has plenty of control, and a trade would likely require all four of these pieces. Before Atlanta’s most recent offseason, these guys made my top ten prospects in my rankings. Now, they’re probably the entire top four. Here’s what MLB Pipeline has to say about each:

#6 RHP AJ Smith-Shawver:

Smith-Shawver was a teammate of Bobby Witt Jr.’s at Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, but was known more for his work on the gridiron than the diamond for much of his high school career. A highly-touted quarterback recruit who had the chance to play football and baseball at Texas Tech, Smith-Shawver instead joined the Braves organization when they went well over slot to sign him for $997,500 in the seventh round of the 2021 Draft. He was showing his stuff can miss bats during his full-season debut in Single-A in 2022, though there’s work to be done with his command.

The 6-foot-3 Smith-Shawver has big stuff coming from a big, projectable athletic frame and the Braves think he’s just scratching the surface since he really didn’t pitch that much in high school before his senior season. He’s already added velocity, with a fastball that sat in the low-90s at Colleyville but now touches 98 mph with armside run. He’s now focusing on a hard slider that could be above-average in time and he’s already shown some feel for his changeup.

Being devoted to baseball has already paid dividends as Smith-Shawver’s starting to learn to harness that stuff and repeat his delivery. His athleticism will be a huge asset in that endeavor, though his development comes with the usual high risk/high reward label that accompanies high school right-handers.

#3 JR Ritchie

Bainbridge Island in Washington state can be found across Elliott Bay from Seattle and is home to roughly 25,000 people. A player hasn’t been drafted from the island since Brian Coleman went in Round 55 back in 1990. Ritchie, an athletic right-hander who first stood out as an underclassman on the summer showcase circuit in 2020, showed a combination of stuff and feel for pitching to become the first Bainbridge resident to get drafted in over 30 years, going No. 35 overall to the Braves and signing for a slightly over-slot bonus of $2.4 million rather than head to UCLA for college.

Ritchie showed off three or four outstanding offerings this past summer, and it was largely more of the same this spring. He’s touched as high as 97 mph but typically sits in the 93-95 mph range with his fastball. His go-to breaking ball had been his curve, and he still throws it, but he featured a sharper low-80s slider that missed a ton of bats against good competition. He throws his changeup with good arm speed and similar velocity as his slider.

Ritchie can throw strikes with all of his offerings and has a simple and repeatable delivery that points to future strike-throwing. His stuff and feel for pitching helped him win state Gatorade player of the year honors and point to a future as a starter in the pro game.

#2 Owen Murphy

A legitimate two-way prospect, Murphy led all pitchers with 10 strikeouts in four scoreless innings and went 4-for-9 with a home run at the PDP League last July before pulling double duty on the U.S. 18-and-under national team in September. Gatorade’s 2022 Illinois state player of the year, he posted a 0.12 ERA with 137 strikeouts in 58 1/3 innings while also batting .548 with 18 homers. While he could have gone as high as the fifth round as a third baseman, he trended up as a pitcher and landed in the first round, signing for an under-slot $2.56 million with the Braves as the No. 20 overall pick.

Murphy’s fastball velocity increased over the summer, and he’s now sitting in the low 90s, with his heater playing as a plus pitch at times because of its shape and riding action. He backs it up with a mid-80s slider with depth, and he also can turn that offering into a tighter cutter. He lands his slider more consistently than his mid-70s curveball, and he’s beginning to develop a mid-80s changeup that’s a bit firm but features some fade.

Murphy has advanced feel for multiple pitches and a strong competitive makeup. He’s athletic and repeats his three-quarters delivery, allowing him to provide plenty of strikes. The only knock is that he lacks projection at 6-foot-1 and 190 pounds, which may limit his upside to that of a mid-rotation starter.

#1 Jared Shuster

After two relatively nondescript years at Wake Forest, Shuster turned in an outstanding performance in the Cape Cod League in 2019 and carried it over to a dominant start to his 2020 season before the shutdown. The Braves liked his combination of improved stuff and feel for pitching enough to take him No. 25 overall and sign him for a below slot $2.2 million. He pitched well enough to earn a promotion from High-A to Double-A in his first full season, though he got hit upon the move to the new level. He mastered that level in 2022, earning a promotion to Triple-A and heading to the Futures Game to boot.

Shuster’s velocity had ticked up in 2020 and he was touching 97 mph before the shutdown. While he hasn’t continued that as a pro, sitting more in the low-90s, he does command the pitch well. He has the best changeup in the system, thrown around 80 mph with excellent tumble. He’s willing to throw it in all counts and routinely misses bats with it. His slider, which had been a bit of a question coming out of the Draft, has improved, and it elicited a good amount of swing and miss as well.

Shuster has continued to throw strikes throughout his climb up the ladder. He’s learned how to repeat his delivery well and improved his pitch sequencing. He might not have the highest ceiling in the world, but his feel for pitching gives him the chance to be a solid big league starter.

Trading all of these guys would give the Braves next to zero legitimate prospects who could become MLB starters, unless someone takes a big leap. However, that’s the price you have to pay when you acquire an all star switch hitter who has three more seasons of team control.
Photographer: Joe Robbins/Icon Sportswire

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