The Braves farm system has been a factory of elite talent, churning out star player after star player, and they haven’t had a top ranked system in quite some time.
It’s a testament to their developmental staff at each level as well as the keen eye of Alex Anthopoulos and his team of scouts. Going off farm system rankings, it may seem unlikely that one or multiple key contributors could be on their way to the show in 2024, but that’s never the case with this organization, and Braves manager Brian Snitker is excited for what’s to come.
“I don’t know exactly where everybody is going to fit until we get to Spring Training and we throw them out there and watch them play for a month,” Brian Snitker said in an interview with 680 The Fan. “We have some really good players. Braden Shewmake is still making progress. Our #1 draft pick last year, the kid from Florida, Hurston Waldrep, is a guy that’s really really interesting. And as we know in the industry now, I told him when I met him, we don’t percolate you guys very long in the minor leagues anymore.”
Waldrep was taken 24th in this year’s MLB Draft out of Florida. In his first taste of professional baseball, he was electric. So much so, that he ended the season by tossing 4.1 innings of scoreless ball with five strikeouts for the Gwinnett Stripers.
Waldrep features a filthy pitch mix, with a fastball that can run up into the high-90s and a split-changeup that was arguably the nastiest offering in all of college baseball this past season. With the way the Braves have a tendency to call up their guys quickly, Waldrep isn’t only likely to make his MLB debut next season, but he could become a featured piece of the rotation.
“That arm (Hurston Waldrep’s), as is AJ (Smith-Shawver),” Snitker continued. “I think AJ’s got tremendous upside. All he needs is experience and strength, and I think everything that he experienced last year is going to lend to help him.”
The 2023 Braves featured numerous pleasant surprises, but Smith-Shawver’s rise to the majors might have been the most significant of them all. A 7th round pick out of Colleyville Heritage High School in Texas, Smith-Shawver didn’t even start pitching full time until a few years ago and began the season in High-A Rome. But by June 4th, the 20-year-old found himself in the majors and even had quite a bit of success, which led to him making the postseason roster.
Smith-Shawver is a ball of clay that has the potential to be a frontline starter. His developmental offerings still need some work, but as they improve and he gets stronger, he could be something special.
But the next great Braves star might not even toe the rubber. Vaughn Grissom has been a highly touted young player for a while now. He floundered when asked to play shortstop, but Alex Anthopoulos has already said Grissom could be an option in left field, where there is currently a vacancy following the departure of Eddie Rosario, which Brian Snitker alluded to in his interview.
“Vaughn is a kid that, he’s going to hit,” Snitker said. “This guy’s hitting tools are real, and he’s in Puerto Rico right now playing some outfield, and we’ll definitely, if nothing else comes around, give him a look in left field.”
For his age at 22-years-old, Vaughn Grissom hit as well as anyone at the AAA level, recording a .330 batting average with a .921 OPS. The offense is going to translate to the major-league level. It’s all about finding him a place on the diamond. If he shows he can handle left field defensively, he’ll be an upgrade over Eddie Rosario, and the Braves will also save a lot of money that they can use to address their other needs.
Photo: Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire