Friday, I started this three-part series checking on each of the Braves top 30 prospects (based off the site’s own 2021 Top 30), and with those first 10 players — nos. 30-21 — it was a bit surprising to see just how many of Atlanta’s most talented players either hadn’t really taken a step forward… or were even in the midst of a decline this season. The back-10 of the organization’s prospect rankings do, of course, include the Braves’ last tier of talent, hence them being the last 10 on the list; however, it is a little concerning to see that the back-end of the current class — or, oftentimes, the younger, more down-the-road talent — hasn’t performed as expected. Hopefully, that group of 10 can turn things around soon, because, assuming at least half of those guys develop in a positive way over the next few years — several of those prospects from the 30-21 range will one day make up some of the top-10 talent in the Braves system.
Today we’ll continue the series with the second installment — the nos. 20-11 prospects…
*All stats are from before last Saturday’s contests
20. CJ Alexander, 3B ↑
AA – Mississippi
This one was difficult to grade because, based on surface-level numbers, you could easily argue that Alexander has not yet put together a very good approach at the plate for his long-term sustainability. The Mississippi third baseman is hitting just .186 as of Friday morning, and his K-rate is currently the highest it’s ever been at 33.8%. However, after only playing 43 games in 2019 due to injury, Alexander is healthy for the first time in three years. And compared to his 24-game stint in Double-A two years ago, when he posted a 19 wRC+, the 24-year-old is now at an 83 wRC+ in 2021. Look, power and homers are this kid’s MO — he was given a 60 raw power grade — so we’re probably never going to see a high AVG with Alexander. Still, given he was the 592nd player taken off the board by the Braves back in 2018, I believe there’s still plenty there for him to one day become an above-average slugger.
UPDATE: Alexander took another step in turning things around after I had already written the blurb above. On Friday night, the prospect third baseman finished 2 for 4 with a run, raising his season AVG to .206.
19. Patrick Weigel, RHP ↓
AAA – Nashville (MIL)
A guy that missed a ton of crucial development time while in the Braves system due to a lengthy rehab back from a Tommy John surgery in June of 2017, there were times that Weigel looked like a solid potential big league starter, but an opportunity to really prove such a fact at the MLB level just never materialized, and in early April of this season, Atlanta traded the 26-year-old righty to the Brewers (along with pitcher Chad Sobotka) in exchange for the current hot-hitting Gwinnett shortstop Orlando Arcia. Weigel’s time in Milwaukee featured his first real chance at pitching in the majors. Still, a 4.50 ERA in his first three relief appearances for the Brewers this season resulted in him being sent down to the club’s Triple-A team in Nashville, where he currently has an 8.44 ERA in 5.1 innings.
18. Victor Vodnik, RHP ↑
AA – Mississippi
Until suffering an undisclosed injury in his start on Thursday, righty Victor Vodnik was picking up where he left off from two seasons ago. He currently sports a 2.51 ERA in his first 14.1 innings of Double-A ball, including 11.9 strikeouts per nine. This is just a 21-year-old kid, and not only was he taken all the way back in the 14th round of the 2018 draft, but Vodnik is also an undersized arm with an upper-90s MPH fastball. I’ve been a big Vodnik supporter ever since his debut season in 2018, and that hasn’t changed in 2021. As of Friday, there haven’t been any updates regarding details of his injury, but whatever is ailing Vodnik, he hopefully makes a speedy recovery.
17. Freddy Tarnok, RHP ↔
Surprisingly, the 22-year-old Tarnok wasn’t assigned to a full-season affiliate this spring, despite pitching as high as High-A Florida in 2019, where he struggled a bit to the tune of a 4.87 ERA in 98 innings. Unless there’s some injury, one could argue he should probably be at least repeating the High-A level in 2021, considering Tarnok has 77.1 innings of work at Single-A from the 2018 campaign — his pro debut season. Regardless, I’ll hold any judgment on the former 3rd round pick until he actually logs some innings this season.
16. Jeremy Walker, RHP ↓
Not active or with org any longer
In a move that shocked Braves Country at the time, Walker was released by the team in February for what appeared to be a realization by the Braves that the pitcher had a serious shoulder issue (he dealt with a shoulder impingent during the 2020 season, causing him to miss the entire year). Walker’s departure was disappointing as he was expected to be a contributor out of Atlanta’s bullpen in 2021, coming off a 2019 campaign in which he posted a 2.88 ERA in 81.1 minor league innings (between Mississippi and Gwinnett) and a 1.93 ERA in 9.1 big league frames. The 25-year-old righty did sign a contract with the Giants shortly after being released by the Braves a few months ago, but Walker has not pitched in any games so far this year.
15. Daysbel Hernandez, RHP ↓
AA – Mississippi
After allowing five runs in his first 4.2 innings with Triple-A Gwinnett to start the 2021 season, the 24-year-old Hernandez was demoted to Mississippi earlier this month. Since then, he has pitched 3.1 scoreless frames. The only reason I’m giving him the ‘down’ symbol here is simply because Hernandez will turn 25 in September and is clearly not ready to face hitters at the top level of the minors. Regardless, though, this is a guy that absolutely dominated two seasons ago in High-A Florida, striking out 12 batters per nine in 52.2 innings, to go with a stingy 1.71 ERA.
14. Bryce Elder, RHP ↑
A+ – Rome
Elder recently picked up his first win as a pro pitcher when he struck out seven and allowed just one run from five hits against a dangerous Bowling Green offense last week. Even more recently, the 22-year-old tossed six innings of four-hit ball versus Greenville this past Friday night, allowing just one run and striking out five. The only real complaint towards Elder so far is his free passes — he already has 14 walks in 25.2 innings this season, a rate of 4.9 walks per nine. Although, even as a collegiate player at the University of Texas, Elder struggled with walks at times, some of this is probably expected by the Braves. Still, he has done well in his first taste of pro ball.
13. Jared Shuster, LHP ↑
A+ – Rome
He’s only made two starts so far in 2021, combining for just six innings overall, but Shuster sports a solid K/BB ratio of 7-2, and his 3.00 ERA is plenty good enough for a guy still getting his footing as a pro pitcher. Shuster was the Braves’ top pick last year at 25th overall, and it’s clear the org wants to be smart about stretching him out this season. At 22-years-old, this is a kid with plenty of strikeout stuff from the left side. It’s difficult to evaluate too much from just six frames, but there’s nothing to critique so far.
12. Bryce Ball, 1B ↔
A+ – Rome
I don’t love the low AVG (.193 through Friday) so far, but the 122 wRC+ and 20.5% walk-rate illustrate just how well Ball has been getting on base in 2021. The 22-year-old slugger has again displayed some solid power this season, with six XBH in 18 games, which is roughly the pace he had in Single-A in 2019 when he tallied 10 XBH in 21 games. Considering what Ball was capable of doing during his pro debut campaign (hit for both a high AVG AND power), I wouldn’t necessarily say he’s trending up right now. With that being said, though, Ball topped out at Single-A two seasons ago and only played in 21 games there, so the fact that he’s holding his own at a level higher this year is pretty impressive and good enough for me… for now.
11. Trey Harris, OF ↔
AA – Mississippi
One of the top-performing players in the Braves system back in 2019, Harris has never spent much time at any one minor league level. He has just been too good to stay put. However, starting the 2021 season in Double-A Mississippi, Harris is no longer posting video game-like numbers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean his stock is declining. In 21 games — through Friday — the former 32nd round pick is hitting .246, and his approach at the plate appears to indicate he’s holding his own, shown by the fact that he only has two more strikeouts than he has walks (11 K / 9 BB). Harris also only has two XBH (both doubles), so his .275 SLG is far from ideal, but entering this season, he only had 41 games at the Double-A level, so I need to see more before I start docking him for not being the guy he was two years ago.