Braves: What the projections say for the organization’s top prospects

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One aspect of baseball that makes the sport so interesting is its stats. Compared to the other major sports, baseball is certainly a numbers game, which’s even more evident during this time of the year. Projection systems like Steamer and ZiPS have become increasingly popular over the last several years as the more-advanced baseball blog FanGraphs has grown into a powerhouse site for MLB fans that enjoy the numbers side of the sport. 

Over at MiLB.com, Sam Dykstra has recently started up a series of articles examining just that, using FanGraphs‘ Steamer 600 projections for all 30 MLB organization’s ranked prospects. His posts have provided quite an intriguing look at what some of the top young prospects in the game could accomplish if given a full season in the majors. And on Wednesday, Dykstra covered the NL East division, which of course, featured our Braves. After reading his write-up, I’ve come up with a few takeaways. 

But first, a quick disclaimer: any statistics found below come directly from Dykstra’s piece at MiLB.com, which are derived straight from FanGraphs’ Steamer 600 projections. The system bases its projections on a standardized amount of plate appearances for hitters and innings pitched for pitchers, as well as each player’s current age. For more information regarding such parameters, please refer to Dykstra’s article, though I recommend reading his piece regardless. Anyway, onto the major takeaways from his findings regarding Atlanta’s prospects:

 

A surprise WAR leader on offense 

According to many, Cristian Pache is expected to have a spot on the Braves opening day roster, and unless GM Alex Anthopoulos signs a more experienced backup at catcher, it’s probably safe to assume Alex Jackson will be included in the majors as well. Then there’s outfielder Drew Waters, who may not yet have a place on the big league team but could very easily arrive in Atlanta at some point in 2021. However, given a scenario in which all three were allotted a full season in the majors this coming season, neither would be worth as much as shortstop Braden Shewmake — a player probably two seasons away from making an impact at the MLB level.

 

Braden Shewmake (2021 Steamer projection)

.249 AVG, 73 wRC+, 10 HR, 12 SB, 0.6 WAR

 

Over a 600 PA stretch, Shewmake is projected by Steamer to be worth 0.6 WAR — the most WAR by any Braves prospect (though just 0.1 WAR more than catcher William Contreras, who’s projected at just 450 PA). And it makes sense if you remember what Shewmake showed us two seasons ago, after being drafted by Atlanta 21st overall. All the Texas A&M product did in 2019 (his first pro season) was hit .300 with 23 XBH in a 65-game stretch across Single-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi.

The projections believe that knack for making higher contact will even continue versus big-league pitching. And though a sub-.250 AVG isn’t what you’d call “high contact” Shewmake’s projected AVG is only bested by Waters’ .252 mark and Terone Harris’ .260. 

A guy with great bat-to-ball skills and an even better glove at one of the up-the-middle positions provides a team with a rather valuable major league player… and that’s just what Shewmake’s expected to produce at this particular juncture in his development. Hell, maybe the Braves should see if he can play some third base. 

 

Regression or not, Ian Anderson is legit

I don’t necessarily like Steamer’s projection of Anderson for this coming season. Why he suddenly goes from a sub-2.00 ERA in 32 innings last year to nearly a 4.50 in 2021 is beyond me, even though some regression is surely anticipated. I get that you can’t simply project a rookie pitcher to perform like a Cy Young winner, but Anderson’s 2021 projection is way closer to average than I’d like it to be.

 

Ian Anderson (2021 Steamer projection)

4.29 ERA, 4.40 FIP, 9.4 K/9, 4.3 BB/9, 2.5 WAR

 

Over a 200-inning sample, Anderson is right there at the potential-All-Star threshold of 2.5 WAR as his walk rate and regressed results in the run prevention department keep him from being as crisp as he was in 2020. However, even if his first full season in the majors isn’t as impressive as his shortened taste of The Show last year, Anderson should end the year as one of the top arms on the Atlanta starting staff, and perhaps even among the best in the NL.

 

The pressure is on for Drew Waters

If it isn’t enough to be forced to continually compete with the likes of Cristian Pache as a prospect, Drew Waters lost a bit of excitement (probably unfairly) in 2020 simply because his former minor league teammate reached the majors sooner. Although, Steamer actually sees Waters as a more advanced player at the plate right now. And while that may not come as a surprise to some, it’s still interesting considering the current hype surrounding Pache.

 

2021 Steamer Projections (600 PA)

  • Waters: .252 AVG, 80 wRC+, 14 HR, 12 SB
  • Pache: .247 AVG, 77 wRC+, 14 HR, 10 SB

 

Of course, neither Waters nor Pache is looked at as an above-average offensive player in the majors at the moment, considering both are projected for a wRC+ roughly 20% below the league average. But you’d almost be crazy to complain about a .250 AVG with 10+ homers and stolen bases from either at this point, especially when you consider Ender Inciarte’s last couple of seasons in the Braves outfield (per-season average from 2019-20: .225 AVG, 3 HR, 6 SB, 66 wRC+).

 

Lots of love for Terone Harris

Posting a 152 wRC+ in your second pro season tends to draw attention to yourself, especially when you’re having that kind of success in the upper-minors like Harris did in 2019. Sure, his plate discipline took a bit of a hit once in Double-A Mississippi two years ago (just 4 walks in 156 PA), though it’s difficult to critique Harris’ performance there overall. In 41 games with the M-Braves, the former Mizzou star slashed .281/.318/.411 (111 wRC+) with 12 XBH, suggesting he’s most certainly ready for Triple-A pitchers in 2021. 

And Steamer is really high on Harris…

 

Terone Harris (2021 Steamer projection)

.260 AVG, 85 wRC+, 16 HR, 8 SB, 0.1 WAR

 

Among Atlanta’s prospects, that’s the highest projection in terms of AVG and wRC+ for the upcoming season, and his projected .407 SLG% also paces the field. 

Even with his breakout ’19 campaign, many still believe Harris will wind up as more of a fourth-outfielder type in the majors — a player with average tools but nothing that stands out compared to the likes of Pache or Waters. However, according to Steamer above, Harris could realistically evolve into something a little more flashy. Either way, there’s no doubt that all eyes will be on this kid in 2021. 

 

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