Checking in on Braves prospects for May: Nos. 10-1

Braves Drew Waters

I’ve made it to the finish line, the third and final part of my three-part series checking in on the Braves top 30 prospects. If you would like to catch up on the first two installments, here they are…

In one of the previous installments of this series, I mentioned that perhaps the back-10 of Atlanta’s top 30 was performing, as a whole, pretty poorly so far in 2021, and that it was a bit concerning considering many of those 10 prospects (all things being equal) will one day become the top-tier talent of the org. 

Well there’s no concern from me when it comes to this top 10…

 

10. Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP ⇔

AAA – Gwinnett

I’ve always been a bit higher on De La Cruz than most. Many believe the 23-year-old righty is headed to a big league bullpen, and that may very well be correct down the road… but I’m not ready to give up on this kid as a starter. I mean, how long have the Braves given both Kyle Wright and Bryse Wilson to become starters? Performance-wise in 2021, De La Cruz has handled his first stint in Triple-A just fine; in fact, this past Tuesday he tossed a three-hitter with a season-high six strikeouts and just one earned run. Regarding his stock as a prospect, we’ll need to see De La Cruz sustain his current sub-3.50 ERA for a longer stretch, but regardless, this is still a top 10 prospect in the org.

 

9. Michael Harris II, OF ⇑

A+ – Rome

There aren’t enough ⇑ symbols available to properly express just how high Harris is trending at the moment. It’s unreal what he’s doing as a 20-year-old in his first year of full-season ball — a level of the minors with an average age of 23. This kid came into the 2021 season with humongous expectations… and by gosh he has exceeded all of them. As he makes a no-brainer case to be promoted to Double-A Mississippi (probably as soon as sometime this month), Harris is currently sporting a .355 AVG with eight XBH, 15 RBI and seven stolen bases in 22 games so far with Rome. And to add to his incredibly hot start, the former 3rd round pick has been the definition of clutch; in 12 PA with two outs and RISP, Harris is slashing a ridiculous .545/.583/.636 (1.220 OPS) with a double and four RBI. Just… wow.

 

8. Tucker Davidson, LHP ⇑

AAA – Gwinnett

Entering last season, Davidson had tallied a whopping 19 innings at Triple-A Gwinnett before making his MLB debut for the Braves versus Boston in late September. The outing went poorly, and unfairly, the lefty’s prospect stock sort of took a hit. However, Davidson is certainly making up for that small cup of coffee from 2020. So far this season (through Tuesday), the southpaw has a 0.90 ERA in his first 20 innings with the Stripers, and to top it off, Davidson has redeemed himself at the MLB level. In two starts, he’s allowed three earned runs over 11.2 innings, including 5.2 innings of shutout ball against the Nationals yesterday. Judging by how he’s pitched thus far this season, Davidson looks as if he’s capable of following the Ian Anderson path in the majors. This kid is trending UP.

 

7. Braden Shewmake, SS ⇓

AA – Mississippi 

Look, it’s been a rough year for Shewmake, and I — along with numerous Braves prospect followers — have detailed just how bad his start has truly been. Honestly, Shewmake appeared to be on the verge of possibly being shut down, after going just 4 for 45 (.089 AVG) during his first 13 games with Mississippi. But this kid is a former 1st round pick and he went that high for a reason. Shewmake has been nothing but resilient, and his determination to turn things around this season seems to be working. Entering Wednesday, the former Texas A&M star has hit safely in each of his last three games. But Shewmake still has a ways to go. 

 

6. Shea Langeliers, C ⇑

AA – Mississippi 

Breaking the organizational mold a couple of years ago of picking pitchers first in the Draft has paid off for the Braves as Langeliers has really made strides in 2021. After appearing, at times, overmatched a bit in Single-A Rome back in 2019, the 23-year-old catcher owns an .865 OPS with Double-A Mississippi coming into Wednesday. And even better, that healthy OPS sported by Langeliers this season has been built from both a healthy dose of slugging (.484 SLG) and getting on base (.382 OBP) as he already has seven XBH in 20 games, and he’s walking at nearly a 16% clip. Oh yeah… Langliers has also thrown out half (10 of 20) of would-be base stealers in 2021. 

 

5. William Contreras, C ⇑

MLB – Braves

I was very slow to jump on the Contreras train, for I was almost certain he wouldn’t hit MLB pitching… or even upper-minors pitching for that matter. And though recently he’s cooled a bit at the plate (hitless in his last 12 AB entering Wednesday), the 23-year-old catcher has held his own while being thrown into the fire with Atlanta. Sure, the 30% K rate and the .225 AVG isn’t ideal, but Contreras is gaining some incredible experience in the big leagues this season. And for a kid with only 60 games above the High-A level (and zero in Triple-A), I’d say his stock as a prospect is doing just fine.

 

4. Kyle Muller, LHP ⇓

AAA – Gwinnett

Muller finally picked up his first win of the 2021 season in an outing last week with Gwinnett in which the lefty went five innings and struck out eight while allowing one run from three hits. Being his fifth start of the year, it was the first time Muller completed five frames and also just the second outing he hadn’t surrendered multiple runs. Unfortunately, the 23-year-old has allowed a home run in all of his starts this season. And though his latest performance is a step in the right direction, we’ll need to see him put together a few of those before feeling comfortable. Through 20 ⅓ innings this season, Muller is at a 6.20 ERA and his struggles with walks has resulted in a rate of 6.6 BB/9. 

 

3. Drew Waters, OF ⇑

AAA – Gwinnett 

Don’t look now, but entering Wednesday, Waters is sporting a 117 wRC+ this season with the Stripers, and in his last five games, he is hitting .300 with three walks. Obviously, it’s still too early to know whether it’ll stick or not, but this is the second time already in 2021 that the 22-year-old prospect has cobbled together a strong stretch of play (during a four-game stint from May 15-19, he went 9 for 14 with five XBH and three walks). I believe as Waters continues to adjust to Triple-A pitching, these four and five-game hot streaks will progressively evolve into longer stretches, which is exactly what you want to see from a kid who desperately needed to improve his approach at the plate. 

 

2. Cristian Pache, OF ⇓

MLB – Braves (10-day IL)

Pache just started his rehab assignment with Gwinnett on Tuesday after going on the IL with a hamstring injury last month. And overall, it’s been a rough start to his big league career… at least with the bat. The stat sheet is rather grim right now for Pache, and for a good reason, given he owns a -3 wRC+ with the Braves. But I also believe that we perhaps aimed our sights a tad too high regarding his actual (current) ability at the plate. Remember, Pache was given a 45 grade for his Hit tool, with the potential to develop into a 50; that’s a below-average rating right now… and the possibility of an average one in the future. Yes, a sub-.200 AVG is still unacceptable, of course, but let’s not pretend it’s realistic to expect Pache to hit .275. TLDR version: Pache’s rough start (and his susceptibility to injury) has me only mildly concerned.

 

1. Ian Anderson, RHP ⇑

MLB – Braves

Anderson isn’t striking out nearly 11.5 batters per nine and sporting a sub-2.00 ERA like he did in 2020, but he has still been one of the most consistently good Braves starters this season… at 23-years-old with just a total of 32 ⅓ innings of MLB experience entering 2021, I’ll definitely take it. Anderson struggled a bit last time out versus the Mets. In fact, it tied for the worst outing of the season for him, per Game Score. However, in the grand scheme of things, this is a former 3rd overall pick that’s still only in his fifth year as a pro. A 2.78 career ERA in the majors to go with a 2.91 ERA in parts of four seasons down on the farm? Yeah, drafting Anderson has already been an incredibly profitable investment for Atlanta.

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