Just a couple of years ago, the Braves featured the two best rookies in baseball. Michael Harris and Spencer Strider weren’t only the two best first-year players, but they were also two of the best players at their respective positions.
In any other year, Strider would’ve run away with the Rookie of the Year Award, but his teammate edged him out ever so slightly. Entering the season, Harris was an afterthought to take home the award, but injuries forced Alex Anthopoulos to bring the Stockbridge native up from Double-A Mississippi, and the rest is history.
Entering 2024, there are a couple of names that will surely be heavy favorites like the Pirates’ 1st overall pick Paul Skenes, or his former LSU teammate Dylan Crews of the Nationals. However, like we saw in 2022 with Money Mike, sometimes the eventual Rookie of the Year isn’t on anyone’s radar.
For the Braves, MLB Network’s top candidate is A.J. Smith-Shawver.
The future ⭐️ pic.twitter.com/ShYxz6a76q
— MLB Network (@MLBNetwork) November 28, 2023
AJSS had a similar climb through the minors as Harris, going from High-A to The Show in just one season. His fastball kisses triple-digits and pairs with a wipeout slider, a curveball, and a lesser-used changeup.
He just turned 21-years-old and pitched across four levels last season. In 15 minor-league starts, totaling 62 innings, he went 4-2 with a 2.76 ERA and 79 strikeouts (11.5 K/9). In six major league appearances in the regular season, including five starts, Smith-Shawver went 1-0 with a 4.26 ERA, striking out 20 batters in 25.1 innings.
With a full offseason to focus on developing his other offerings, there’s no telling how high Smith-Shawver’s ceiling could be. The talent is undeniable, and he’ll certainly have a crack at the major league rotation, even if the Braves add a frontline starter. Being around the likes of Max Fried, Charlie Morton, and even Spencer Strider will only benefit the inexperienced seventh-round draft pick.
AJ Smith-Shawver should be considered a long shot right now to take home the 2024 Rookie of the Year Award, but this is a kid who just started pitching. If he continues to take massive strides, he could become the latest Braves player honored.
Zac BonDurant/Icon Sportswire