Braves top prospect shows he’s ready to be in Atlanta with brilliant performance

MLB: JUN 04 Braves at Diamondbacks

For all of the concerns about the Braves rotation following the injury to Spencer Strider, there have been absolutely no issues through the first month.

Max Fried has found his footing, tossing 15 scoreless innings over his last two outings. One being a complete game shutout against the Marlins, which he finished in just 92 pitches; the other being a six inning no-hit bid earlier this week against the Mariners. The elder statesmen of the group — Chris Sale and Charlie Morton — have been brilliant of late, while Reynaldo Lopez has really taken a liking to his new role as a starting pitcher for the Braves. Even Bryce Elder has been lights out since receiving the call, and the depth of Atlanta’s pitching staff doesn’t stop there.

The Braves chose to ease top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver into the season, most likely to ensure he doesn’t gas out in the latter months, like we saw last year with Bryce Elder. Smith-Shawver didn’t pitch a ton in Spring Training and was on a strict pitch count to begin the season. All of those factors contributed to his early season struggles, but as he continues to get stretched out, ┬áthe potential that has everyone excited about this kid is beginning to shine.

In Smith-Shawver’s first two outings of the year, he pitched just three combined innings and surrendered six earned runs on six hits and four walks. In his last three starts, he’s given up just four earned runs over 14.2 innings with 15 strikeouts, including a performance last night in which he went five scoreless innings with five strikeouts.

Smith-Shawver’s fastball is topping out at 100 MPH, and he’s showcasing a legitimate four-pitch mix. There is undoubtedly still some work to be done, but the early season progress is extremely encouraging. He has frontline starter potential, and with Strider out, he’s another arm that could help soften the blow.

Right now, there’s no reason for the Braves to rush Smith-Shawver. All five guys in the rotation have been pitching marvelously, so it may be a while before we see him in Atlanta. However, you can’t hold down an arm like that forever. If Smith-Shawver keeps sharpening the tools, the Braves will have no choice but to find a spot for him on the major-league roster.

Photo: Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire

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