Previous Prospect Outlooks:
With COVID ravaging the world in 2020 as it is today, Major League Baseball’s 2020 draft only had five rounds, but the Braves appear to have more than made the most of it. Their first round selection Jared Shuster just wrapped up a nice year in high-A ball. Atlanta’s next pick didn’t come until the third round, but Jesse Franklin out of Michigan has already flashed a ton of pop in his bat to go along with his athleticism. However, as good as those two guys have been, it’s the Braves’ fourth and fifth-round selections from the 2020 draft that have really rocketed through the system.
The hard-throwing Spencer Strider out of Clemson even made his major-league debut at the end of last season in his first year as a professional, and it looked like he had a real chance of making the Braves postseason roster. That never came to fruition, but there’s reason to believe he could be a substantial contributor in Atlanta as early as next season.
The Braves started Strider out slow, as he began 2021 in A-ball with the Augusta Green Jackets, but it didn’t take long for him to earn a promotion. After just 15.1 innings of one run ball in which he struck out a remarkable 32 batters, he was promoted to Rome, where he spent just 14.2 innings before being promoted to AA.
Mississippi is where Strider stuck for most of the season. He experienced a few hiccups for the first time in his professional career, posting a 4.71 ERA over 63 innings. However, his strikeout numbers were still eye-popping, as he punched out 13.4 batters per nine innings, which eventually led to a late-season call up to Gwinnett, where he appeared just one time before the Braves decided to give him a shot in Atlanta as a reliever, completing a remarkable run in his first professional season.
Not to be outdone, Bryce Elder put up even better run-prevention numbers than his draft classmate. The former Texas Longhorn began 2021 in Rome, recording a 2.60 ERA over nine starts before being promoted to Mississippi, where he went 7-1 with a 3.21 ERA in his next nine starts. This led to another promotion to Gwinnett for his final seven starts of the season, and Elder didn’t miss a beat, recording a 2.21 ERA over 36.2 innings.
The most remarkable aspect of Elder’s game in year one was his consistency. Every time he took the mound, the manager could expect a high quality start where he completed at least six innings. That’s rare from young arms, especially in their first professional season. There are questions regarding Elder’s upside because none of his offerings are exactly eye-popping, but it’s already apparent that this young man just knows how to pitch, and oftentimes, that’s much more important than being able to toss it 100 miles per hour.
So which one of these 2020 draftees will start to make a substantial impact in Atlanta first?
That’s a tough question to answer, but I think it comes down to how the organization views Spencer Strider. If they want him to develop into a starter, he’s going to need at least a year down on the farm before being called up permanently and possibly much longer. However, if they plan is use him as a high-powered bullpen piece, which he profiles best as right now, he could be ready as early as Opening Day.
Elder, on the other hand, is on the fast track to becoming a rotation piece, but he will have to wait in line. There are a lot of young arms in front of him on the totem pole — like Tucker Davidson, Kyle Wright, Kyle Muller, and others — that will get several opportunities before him. With that being said, I wouldn’t be surprised if Elder forced the Braves hand, and if he impresses in his major league debut, there’s a chance he never looks back.
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