Braves: Ryan Cusick impresses in first pro start, while several other 2021 draftees are now active in the minors

Vaughn Grissom call up

The Braves 2021 draft class is beginning to get its feet wet in pro ball. The most recent debut came on Thursday when Atlanta’s top pick from this year’s draft — righty Ryan Cusick — made his first pro start with Single-A Augusta, working three scoreless innings and allowing just one hit to go with seven strikeouts.


But Cusick isn’t the only one to start his career with the Braves this month. Many more, including a few who seem to be already enjoying their time in the minor leagues. Obviously, it’s only been a few games for most of these young players, and some have yet to receive an assignment, but below I went down the entire list of 2021 picks (including the two UDFA) and provided a summary of how they have performed so far.


Round 1 / Pick 24:  Ryan Cusick (RHP)

Single-A Augusta

Cusick made his anticipated pro debut on Thursday, tossing a one-hitter over three innings for Single-A Augusta. The Wake Forest product struck out seven in that outing and needed just 48 pitches to work through the 10 opposing batters he faced. The Braves likely keep Cusick on a short leash workload-wise, but Thursday’s efficient performance shows he’s right where he needs to be as the organization’s top pick.


Round 2 / Pick 59:  Spencer Schwellenbach (RHP)


Earlier this month, it was reported that Schwellenbach would need to undergo Tommy John surgery, which explains why the Braves were able to sign him to an under-slot deal following his selection in the 2021 MLB Draft. At this point, it may be later into next season before we see Schwellenbach on the mound as a pro. Although given his talent, the wait should definitely be worth it.


Round 3 / Pick 96:  Dylan Dodd (LHP)


Atlanta went under-slot again when they signed Dodd for $122,500 in the third round of the 2021 draft. However, Dodd has yet to receive a minor league assignment in the Braves system. According to Talking Chop, the southpaw pitcher “has the makings of a backend starter or at the very least a usable lefty reliever.”


Round 4 / Pick 126:  Cal Conley (SS)

Single-A Augusta

Conley was a big-time pick for the Braves, coming out of Texas Tech, and as a shortstop, he belted 15 homers while posting a .329 AVG in his final collegiate season. Signed at $422,500, Atlanta quickly assigned Conley with a Single-A assignment this month, and so far, he has held his own, recently hitting his first home run as a professional player.


The 22-year-old is slashing .208/.296/.333 through Thursday and looks to be the GreenJackets’ primary lead-off hitter and starting shortstop moving forward.


Round 5 / Pick 157:  Luke Waddell (SS)

High-A Rome

As a fifth-year senior coming out of Georgia Tech, Waddell signed an under-slot deal for $247,500 with the Braves and has since been assigned to High-A ball with the Rome. Through five games so far, the 23-year-old is hitting .222 with a double and an RBI as the R-Braves shortstop and second baseman. Waddell was a hitting machine with the Yellowjackets, ending his collegiate career with a .308 AVG and 30 more walks than strikeouts (92 BB / 62 SO) in 172 total games. With the M-Braves Braden Shewmake the only shortstop currently in the upper-minors in Atlanta’s system, landing both Conley and Waddell should give the system much more depth at the position.


Round 6 / Pick 187:  Justyn-Henry Malloy (3B)

Single-A Augusta

In this year’s draft, Henry-Malloy went about $40,000 over-slot, coming out of Georgia Tech as a 21-year-old junior. The 6-foot-2, 212-pound corner infielder also played two seasons at Vanderbilt before his 2021 campaign with the Yellowjackets. Henry-Mallow is a kid that knows how to get on base, and though his hit tool is still a bit of a question mark, he appears to wield enough power and athleticism that he should be able to develop into a fine professional ballplayer. The New York native was tasked with Single-A recently, and so far, he’s hitting .200 with a double and a pair of RBI in five games with Augusta.

Round 7 / Pick 217:  AJ Smith-Shawver (RHP)


This was a huge pick by the Braves, signing a prep arm and handing him a nearly $1-million signing bonus. Smith-Shawver actually had a chance to play football and baseball at Texas Tech, but with a bonus worth almost $800,000 more than his seventh-round slot, the kid decided to go pro as a baseball player. Talking Chop’s scouting report has Smith-Shawver already reaching 96 MPH with his fastball, to go along with a 50-grade curveball and a changeup that the righty is still trying to develop. Smith-Shawver hasn’t been assigned to a minor league team, and I’m sure it’ll be several years before we know exactly what the Braves have with him, but this could be a big-time prospect in the system.


Round 8 / Pick 247:  Tyler Collins (OF)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

Collins is another prep player that went over-slot, signing for nearly $450,000 as an eighth-round pick instead of going the college route, where he was committed to Oklahoma State. For his first assignment, Atlanta sent Collins to the Florida Coast League (rookie ball), where the 18-year-old has flourished. Collins is hitting .429 with a double and three RBI for the FCL Braves in three games so far.

Round 9 / Pick 277:  Liam McGill (C)


Even though many believe his time as a pro catcher will be short, McGill appears to have the power and hit tool to become a solid pro hitter. As a huge under-slot signee (only $7,500) from a smaller college, Atlanta took a small risk on a player that posted a .962 OPS in five amateur seasons. With Bryant University in 2021, McGill finished with a ridiculous .471 AVG and 19 XBH (9 HR) in 37 games. Even though he doesn’t have an assignment yet, this could be an underrated pick for the Braves.


Round 10 / Pick 307:  Dylan Spain (RHP)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

Like McGill above, Spain signed well under-slot, in the end receiving a $17,500 signing bonus as Day 2’s final pick by the Braves. At 23-years-old, this wasn’t a very well-known prospect coming into the 2021 MLB Draft; however, Spain has the size (6-6, 205 lbs.) to one day become a solid pitcher in Atlanta’s system. The Braves assigned Spain to the FCL team, where he has pitched three scoreless innings out of the bullpen, including four strikeouts and no walks.


Round 11 / Pick 337: Adam Shoemaker (LHP)


Shoemaker was the Braves’ first pick during Day 3 of this year’s draft, coming out of Canada. The 18-year-old is reported to have plenty of upside as a left-handed pitcher, reaching the mid-90s MPH with his fastball while wielding an above-average slider. At 6-6, 205 lbs., this is another young arm that could become a legit starting pitching prospect in Atlanta’s system; however, Shoemaker has yet to receive a minor league assignment.


Round 12 / Pick 367:  Andrew Hoffmann (RHP)

Single-A Augusta

In my opinion, this is one of the Braves’ best picks of the draft. Hoffmann is still just 21-years-old but has two impressive college seasons under his belt, the last of which came at Illinois, where he put together a 2.87 ERA in 11 starts during the 2021 campaign. The kid has the size (6-5, 210 lbs.) and the track record of making an impact as a top-tier pitching prospect instantly, plus he’s already been assigned to full-season ball, where he has made one start for the GreenJackets. I’m keeping a close eye on Hoffmann.



Round 13 / Pick 397:  Adam Zebrowski (C)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

Playing for a smaller college doesn’t necessarily mean a player is any less talented, and Zebrowski has proved that especially after he slugged 20 homers and knocked in 70 runs in 38 games for St. John Fisher College in 2021. The Braves obviously saw enough in the 20-year-old as Atlanta gave Zebrowski a $125,000 signing bonus and assigned him to the FCL earlier this month. The young catcher has hit well in rookie ball, currently carrying a .500 AVG in the two games he has played so far for the FCL Braves.


Round 14 / Pick 427:  Caleb Durbin (SS)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

This is another 2021 draftee that came from a small school as Durbin hails from Washington University (and no… not the Huskies). Obviously, that big of a jump competition-wise will present quite the learning curve for this kid, but Durbin was nearly impossible to get out in his final collegiate season, striking out just twice in 190 plate appearances spanning 40 games in 2021. For $50,000… I guess it’s worth it to find out what the 21-year-old can do. The Braves have Durbin playing with the FCL Braves right now, where he’s currently 0 for 4 in the two games he’s played in.


Round 15 / Pick 457:  Christian Robinson (OF)

Single-A Augusta

Robinson became a key player for Stanford in 2021, hitting .318 with 20 XBH (8 HR) in 50 games, which earned him a 15th-round pick by the Braves and a $125,000 signing bonus. Evaluators are a bit leery about his hit tool, but if his most recent campaign with the Cardinal is any indication, he appears to have made some impressive strides at the plate. As a 21-year-old college bat, Atlanta has Robinson in Single-A ball, whereas the 6-2, 211-pound outfielder is struggling a bit. So far, the kid is just 3 for 20, but it may take him a bit to get things going during his first taste at the pro level.


Round 16 / Pick 487:  Kris Anglin (LHP)


There’s not much to go on with Anglin, who originally planned to play at Texas Tech in 2021 but wound up at a Texas junior college instead. As a lefty-pitcher with average size, it’s likely he slots in as a potential back-end starter/reliever. We’ll see how the Braves plan to develop him when he receives a minor league assignment.


Round 17 / Pick 517:  Tyler Tolve (C)

Single-A Augusta

Tolve is yet another kid from a small school as he played three seasons at Kennesaw State (Georgia), where he put together a strong collegiate career posting an .838 OPS in 104 total games. The combination of solid play behind the plate and an above-average ability to get on base earned him a $125,000 bonus as a 17th-round pick by Atlanta. The Braves started Tolve in rookie ball, but he was moved up to Single-A after just one game with the FCL Braves. With the GreenJackets, Tolve is hitting .250 with a homer and four RBI in five games.



Round 18 / Pick 547:  Austin Smith (RHP)

Single-A Augusta

As an 18th-round pick just finishing up his first year at Arizona, Smith is considered a reliever and a bit of a project, according to Talking Chop. Even so, scouts report he has a high-90s MPH fastball, so as long as he can develop plenty of command and control, he should be a weapon out of the bullpen. The Braves assigned Smith to Augusta, where he has pitched in three games, tallying 3.2 scoreless innings and striking out five.


Round 19 / Pick 577:  Samuel Strickland (LHP)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

Hailing from my home state (Alabama), Strickland was drafted as a senior at Samford University, where he reportedly saw his fastball creep up to 95 MPH (per Talking Chop). There’s a chance the 22-year-old lefty can stick it as a starter, but the expectation is that he slots in as a high-leverage reliever. The Braves have started Strickland in rookie ball, though in his very first (and only) game, he allowed five runs from three hits and never was able to get an out.


Round 20 / Pick 607:  Ty Evans (OF)

Did not sign

Evans was merely a fallback option for the Braves in the event some of their other picks didn’t sign. It’s reported that Evans will enroll at the University of Florida.


UDFA:  Anderson De Los Santo (INF)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

De Los Santos is a 19-year-old middle-infielder that went undrafted but wound up signing with the Braves. The kid is currently in rookie ball, where he’s 0 for 5 so far in two games with the FCL Braves.


UDFA:  JJ Niekro (RHP)

Rookie (FCL Braves)

The “other” UDFA, Niekro, is a 23-year-old righty who will likely develop as a reliever in the Braves minor league system. With the FCL Braves, Niekro has pitched three scoreless innings and struck out three.

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