It’s that time of the year, and with nothing much happening as far as MLB action, many of us have been focusing on this year’s Braves prospect class. This week Chase and Jake released our full 2021 Braves Top 30 list, so with SportsTalkATL’s rankings officially complete, it’s time to start analyzing all of the young talent.
After examining the top 30 from top to bottom, including a look at a few players that didn’t quite make the list, here are my picks for potential risers or under-the-radar Braves prospects to keep an eye on. We’ll start with the guys outside of the site’s Top 30…
Justin Dean, OF
The 24-year-old Dean made Talking Chop‘s top-30 list this week (at no. 19) and in recent seasons was even featured as part of FanGraphs‘ version. However, the influx of talent in the last few drafts has caused many of us to overlook the speedy outfielder (also, the lack of a 2020 MiLB season played a part). At 5’6″ and 185 pounds, the former 17th round pick is a bit undersized, and so far, he hasn’t made it out of the low minors, spending all year in Single-A Rome in 2019. But a .284 AVG, 9 home runs, and 47 stolen bases in 109 games there two seasons ago shows that Dean is certainly due for a promotion. If he puts up those type of numbers in the high-minors in 2021, he’ll be back in the Top 30.
Cam Shepherd, INF
Despite being drafted two years in a row in 2018 and 2019 (though opting to stay in college each time), Shepherd signed with the Braves as an undrafted free agent last summer thanks to a severely shortened 2020 MLB Draft. In a normal year, there’s reason to believe the now-23-year-old would’ve gone higher, considering in four seasons at Georgia, he put together a .262 AVG (.768 OPS) to go along with 22 homers and 45 doubles while playing in the top-notch SEC. We’ll have to wait and see, but Shepherd looks like a solid future big-league utility-man.
Hayden Deal, LHP
He’s a little old for a prospect (26-years-old), but Deal has now put together a couple of impressive seasons in Rome (2018) and High-A Florida (2019). His K rate took quite a dip once advancing from Single-A to the Florida State League (9.4 K/9 down to 7.5), but with just 2.4 walks per nine two seasons ago, it’s evident he has plus-command on the mound (also shown by his career 2.3 BB/9 in three minor league seasons). As a lefty, Deal’s fastball stays in the low-90s MPH, but his cutter is reportedly a dominant offering and one that has led to his current run of success. Given his age, the former undrafted free agent needs a big 2021 to stay relevant as a potential prospect, and I believe he has it in him.
Jefrey Ramos, OF
I’ve been much higher on Ramos than anyone else, but it’s hard to critique 16 home runs and a .245 AVG as a teenager in Rome back in 2018. The soon-to-be 22-year-old Dominican wasn’t quite as impressive in 2019 while with the Fire Frogs, though he still managed 9 homers and a similar .241 AVG in 128 games. With over 100 games in each of Single and High-A, Ramos has a chance to showcase his talent in the upper-minors this coming season. If he can put up similar numbers in Double-A Mississippi, he just might crack the Braves Top 30 come mid-season.
Now onto our ranked prospects who I believe will move up our Top 30 this season…
#27. Ricky DeVito, RHP
DeVito just missed Talking Chop‘s top 30, making their Honorable Mention list this week. However, we here at SportsTalkATL are a bit higher on 2018’s Big East Pitcher of the Year. The former Seton Hall star rode his mid-90s MPH to a solid 3.44 ERA in his first pro season in 2019, tallying 36.2 innings across the Gulf Coast League, Danville (Rookie ball), and Rome. At just 20-years-old, there’s still plenty of development left in DeVito’s right arm, and in 2021 he should improve upon the pedestrian 5.9 strikeouts per nine he posted in Rome to round out the ’19 campaign. This is a guy that posted a 2.60 ERA to go along with nearly 10 strikeouts per nine during his collegiate career (141.2 IP). Look for him to steadily move up the Braves rankings over the next few seasons.
#26. Tyler Owens, RHP
Maybe you haven’t heard Owens’ name much but trust me, there are many in the industry that believe the former 13th round pick (from the 2019 draft) has real high-leverage reliever type potential. The guys at TC even have Owens as the Braves no. 16 prospect, while FG leans more our way, listing him at 29th in their final rankings last year. Regardless, there’s a lot to look forward to with this 20-year-old, and his electric upper-90s MPH fastball and solid slider make him a candidate to potentially become the Braves future homegrown closer. Owens pitched to a 4.28 ERA in the GCL and at Danville in 2019, striking out 10.5 batters per nine as a 19-year-old.
#25. Jesse Franklin, OF
Another potential star prospect outfielder, Franklin hit .262 with 13 homers and 55 RBI for Michigan in his final collegiate season, earning a 3rd round selection by Atlanta in the 2020 draft. Obviously, we haven’t seen the 22-year-old Franklin face pro pitchers yet, but the excitement is already there for the Seattle native. This time next year, we’ll have a much better understanding of what the Braves have with Franklin… and I think it’s yet another star outfielder in the making.
#23. Mahki Backstrom, 1B/OF
What more is there to say? As a 17-year-old kid, Backstrom slashed .300/.402/.457 with 7 XBH in 23 games in the GCL two seasons ago after being drafted in the 18th round of the 2019 MLB Draft. It’s a crying shame he didn’t have a chance to build off those numbers last season, but you better believe he’s chomping at the bit in 2021 (even reportedly adding on a ton of muscle over the last year). Now 19 and one of only a few top-tier first base prospects in the system, we could see Backstrom move through the organization rather quickly. And if he continues to rake, you better believe he’ll shoot up the Braves Top 30 (TC has Backstrom at no. 12 currently).
#21. Vaughn Grissom, SS
Another youngster, Grissom is a 20-year-old shortstop coming off a strong age-18 season in 2019 when he hit .288 with 11 XBH in 44 games in the GCL. Save for Braden Shewmake, there really isn’t much talent at shortstop within the Braves organization, and Grissom has an opportunity to bring some excitement to that position with a strong 2021. For what it’s worth, the former 11th round pick was invited to Atlanta’s alternate site last season, and he reportedly impressed everyone in camp. That’s great news for a prospect still in the lower levels of the minors.
#15. Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
I’m really high on Hernandez, and so is the site as we have him just inside the top 15 to open 2021. Many outside of Braves Country don’t look at the 24-year-old as a true prospect, but regardless if he’s starter material or not, Hernandez is absolutely dominant on the mound. Like many Atlanta prospects listed here, Daysbel had a huge 2019, pitching all season for the Fire Frogs and posting a stingy 1.71 ERA to go along with 12 strikeouts per nine and a minuscule 0.3 homers allowed per nine in 52.2 innings (35 relief appearances). If this season is any type of continuation of two years ago, we could see the young Cuban appearing in Braves games soon.