Other than the few lucky enough to be given an opportunity to contribute with a big-league team last year, most prospects across the sport were deprived of a 2020 season. Just one year may not seem like much, which may indeed be true for the ones already near the end of their development process. But especially for prospects currently battling in the lower levels of a minor league system, an entire season of no live baseball is huge.
The Braves aren’t exempt from this reality. There will undoubtedly be a few prospects that regress and take a step back this season, for that’s just the nature of the game. Whether it’s because the industry was too high on a guy, or an injury occurs, or simply because he was promoted to another level too quickly, there will be at least a handful of Braves prospects that fail to deliver in 2021.
Obviously, it’s still way too early to form any consensus on any of these players, both the ones overperforming and underperforming; however, these ten Braves prospects listed below are currently amid a slow start.
I’ve ordered this list from most concerning to least concerning
*All stats are from before last night’s games
1. Braden Shewmake, SS Mississippi (AA)
6 G, .091 AVG, 8 K, 2 BB
Last Saturday, versus Pensacola, Shewmake finished 2 for 4 at the plate and scored two runs, snapping a hitless streak that spanned his first three games of the 2021 season — his second stint playing at the Double-A level. However, the M-Braves shortstop hasn’t recorded a hit since, nor has he reached base, going 0 for 9 with five strikeouts in his last two games. This is a bit surprising considering how well Shewmake hit with Single-A Rome back in 2019. Although, I suppose there were warning signs — after Shewmake posted a .318 AVG in 51 games with Rome that year, he wound up with just a .217 AVG in 14 games with Mississippi.
2. Jefrey Ramos, OF
6 G, .100 AVG, 6 K, 0 BB
Like Shewmake, Ramos’ struggles this season have stood out, and even though the latter hasn’t been as contact-oriented as the former during his time in the Braves system, he at least has provided some power to make up for his career .250-ish AVG in the minors. But as you can see with the zero walks so far, it’s evident that Ramos is having either a problem with his approach at the plate or his plate discipline just simply isn’t advanced enough for Double-A ball.
3. Stephen Paolini, OF
7 G, .100 AVG, 2B, 29 wRC+
I probably have Paolini a bit too high on the concerning meter here, especially given he’s barely even considered a prospect and the fact he struggled in Rookie ball in 2019. But I have him here because many claim Paolini has serious upside as a hitter, and don’t forget, the Braves drafted him in the 5th round two years ago. The problem here is strikeouts, as Paolini’s ten punchouts give him a K-rate of 41.6% so far this season.
OK, now that we’ve covered the first three, I must inform you that, starting with Elder at no. 4, the next four or so players on this list should have a concern level of like 2 or 3 on a scale of 1-10. So there’s absolutely no reason to freak out.
4. Bryce Elder, RHP
2 starts, 9 ⅔ IP, 5.59 ERA, 6 BB
Elder is still getting his bearings in professional baseball, though so far, he’s been a bit wild with six walks in 9 ⅔ innings. The bright side, though, is that the former 2020 draft pick already has 13 strikeouts, so there’s obviously plenty of swing-and-miss stuff with Elder.
5. Drew Waters, OF
5 G, .217 AVG, 2B, BB, 8 K
Waters finally recorded his first walk during Gwinnett’s win on Wednesday, his fifth game of the 2021 campaign. For all the talk about him needing to improve his approach at the plate and become more patient, it hasn’t been a very comforting trend so far. But other than that, I applaud the 22-year-old outfielder — playing at an age nearly five years younger than the average player — for his work so far. The kid is in AAA for just the second time and barely has over 30 games under his belt. Not every outfield prospect is Ronald Acuna.
6. Kyle Muller, LHP
2 starts, 7 IP, 11.57 ERA, 10 K, 8 BB
This is Muller’s first opportunity in Triple-A after dominating essentially every other level of the minors so far in his time as a Brave. The whiffs are certainly there, shown by the 12.9 K/9, but as is often the case with a still-developing starting pitcher, the command and control are a bit behind. Muller has made just two starts, though, so don’t expect his ERA and walk-rate to remain where it’s at.
7. CJ Alexander, 3B
6 G, .143 AVG, HR, 8 K, BB
We should just be happy Alexander is healthy and playing ball this year… and I am certainly am. And this home run he hit the other day against Pensacola was a great sight to see, considering he played in just 43 games back in 2019…
CJ Alexander with a homer today. Currently hitting .188 this season.
M-Braves leading Pensacola 3-1 in the 4th https://t.co/mAU06rNEuT
— Clint Manry (@clint_manry) May 9, 2021
However, the absence of walks is somewhat concerning and hopefully not an indication that he should’ve repeated the High-A level.
Alright… now the concern level should be at a one. The players below either haven’t played (or pitched) enough or are just simply getting things going.
8. Jesse Franklin V, OF
6 G, .208 AVG, 2 RBI, 2B, 3 SB
The low AVG maybe leads folks to believe Franklin has struggled so far during his pro debut, and though going 5 for 24 overall isn’t too great, the former Michigan star has done plenty of other things. I’m not worried about Franklin.
9. Jared Shuster, LHP
1 start, 3 ⅓ IP, 5.40 ERA
FanGraphs had Shuster listed as the no. 10 prospect in the Braves system right now, and there are others within the industry that share those same high expectations for the lefty pitcher. He’s only pitched 3 ⅓ innings, so the 5.40 ERA is basically just noise at this point.
10. Jasseel De La Cruz, RHP
2 G, 1 ⅔ IP, 5.40 ERA, 8.82 FIP, HR
Like Shuster, De La Cruz is working with some ultra-small sample sizes here. I’m less concerned about his ability or performance and more worried about the particular role he has worked under so far in 2021. Both of De La Cruz’s games this season have come out of Gwinnett’s bullpen, not as a starter. To me, this is a potential no. 3 or 4 in a big-league rotation if he can match his secondaries with an already elite fastball. I really hope the Braves haven’t given up on De La Cruz the starting pitcher, so my concern regarding that decision is pretty damn high.
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