Author: Mark Atkins
Follow us on Twitter at @thedailybraves
This is Mark’s first article published on The Daily Braves. He’s a prospect evaluator & you can expect articles from Mark moving forward as a staff writer.
Hello Daily Braves family. I am a lifelong Braves fan that loves prospects and the whole process of evaluating young talent. I am coming in, having to turn my focus from a fantasy baseball point of view and into that of an MLB team. When evaluating prospects I want to focus on the max potential and then the risk associated with that potential. I will usually rate someone with high potential higher than someone that may have a great chance to be a league average player. My thought process is that you can’t teach elite skills/abilities but can teach those with them to harness them better. So if you see a name lower/higher than you expect it is probably from this mindset. So let’s begin.
Number One – Cristian Pache
The hope is that Pache will be the next superstar Braves outfielder. There is no doubt that he is going to be an MLB player because of his defense. If you look at pictures of Mr. Pache you may have to do a double take to make sure that you are not looking at Andruw Jones. The Braves have no doubt that Pache will be able to be the next “Jones-ish” defender for them. Oddly enough, even the Braves competition agrees; with baseball executives voting Pache the best defensive prospect in all of baseball for the last two years. His elite speed that brings him so much success on the field hasn’t always translated into stolen base success. With 8 SB and 11 CS in 2019, the Braves coaching will have some work to do to turn him into an elite base thief.
Pache isn’t exactly known for drawing walks. 2019 was his high-water mark for walk rate at 7.9%. That with a 24% strikeout rate doesn’t leave much room for regression on either stat, so those numbers have to hold steady as he advances for his numbers not to take a hit. Pache is absolutely a 20hr-20sb threat if it all breaks right, in 2019 he had 12 home-runs and 36 doubles. With him being only 21 years old the braves hope that he can continue to develop physically and turn some of those doubles into homeruns.
Pache is the number one prospect for a reason, he is just oozing with potential and as a Braves fan I am excited to see his arrival as an everyday player in 2021.
Number Two – Drew Waters
As a Braves fan I can find a lot of things that I like about Waters. To start he is 20 years old in AAA and just like Pache, Waters has elite speed and he can utilize it both on offense and defense. In 2019 he hit for .309 and had 40 doubles, 9 HR, and 16 SB to go with it.
Those numbers are some we can all get excited about. However, as an objective evaluator I can see cause for concern. In 573 plate appearances he had 164 strike outs and only 39 walks. That is a 29% strikeout rate and a 7% walk rate. Those numbers alone, although not great could be serviceable if they held. The main cause for concern is actually deep in Waters’ advanced stats. His BABIP (Batting Average on Balls In Play) of .435 is going to regress. The MLB average BABIP is .300, however elite hitters can sustain a BABIP of .350 (Mike Trout is a career .346 BABIP). Waters’ elite speed will lead to him having a higher BABIP than average so the big question is how much regression will take place. Waters’ .309 average in 2019 will regress as his BABIP normalizes, so to sustain anything close to his 2019 numbers he will need to lower his strikeout rate. With fewer strikeouts and a walk rate closer to 10%, Waters could be the player that we saw in 2019. Now that we addressed the concerns we can jump back to his outstanding potential. And just like Pache, Waters is young so adding strength will be a must if he is to get to double digit homeruns and possibly beyond. If Waters and Pache can meet their max potential the braves could have one of the best overall outfields in all of baseball. Even if they don’t they could still have the best defensive outfield in baseball.
Number Three – Ian Anderson
After a dominant two starts against the Yankees and Red Sox to start off his MLB career, Anderson is making it hard to keep him at three. We as Braves fans are seeing his upside so far in 2020. Anderson has quieted all concerns in 2020 that as an evaluator I would have had after last year. Drafted 3rd overall in 2016, and as this list continues, “pitching prospect” and “2016 draft” will continue to show up. Anderson has made his debut in just over 4 years since being drafted which is ideal for development of prospects. The 22 year old will need to continue to refine his control if he is to meet his ace/two overall potential. He has had a walk rate near 50% for the last two years and MLB competition will not let that pass unpunished if that continues in the long run. Anderson does have an elite K rate with 172 strikeouts in 135 innings in 2019. He has 2 above average pitches with his fastball and curveball. With a fastball that can get up to 96 and a wipeout curve, together they are the two pitches behind his amazing strikeout rate. If Anderson can get his change-up to above average then he will have a better path to sustained success. With the Braves seeming to miss twice as often as they are hitting on pitching prospects in recent years Anderson is trying to join Soroka and Fried as an anchor in the rotation despite those failures.
Number Four – Kyle Muller
Muller looks the part of a professional athlete. Listed at 6’7’’ 250 pounds he looks to be cut from a superman mold. The lefty will turn 23 on October 7th and should be with the big league club in 2021 if not before. Muller was also drafted in 2016, and since the Braves took him 44th overall he has seen an uptick in his velocity and is now consistently at 95, and hitting 96-97 at times. With that increase in velocity Muller seemingly changed his approach to that of one that is more strikeout heavy. With the increase in strikeouts the walks increased as well. In 2018 Muller pitched 139 innings struck out 129, he walked 46, and gave up 126 hits. He had 3.03 Era to go with a 1.23 whip. In 2019 Muller pitched 111 innings and had 120 Ks, while giving up 81 hits and 68 walks. That comes to a 1.33 whip and he had a 3.14 era to go with that. So Muller has had success for two straight years but you might think the stats came from two different pitchers.
The hope as a Braves fan is that Muller can keep the high strikeout approach from 2019. That approach led to a decrease in hits as well, but will he be able to harness his control to lower that walk rate? As an evaluator the 2018 Muller would lead me to think that he would make it to the MLB and would be able to hang around although with limited upside as a third or fourth starter. The 2019 Muller gets me excited as the ceiling of his potential could be that of an ace. However, the 2019 Muller’s floor is a pitcher that ends up in the bullpen because of the walks. The braves will hope to continue to help Muller with his development and consistency with his mechanics so that he can maximize his outstanding potential.
Number Five – Braden Shewmake
A do it all kind of player, Shewmake does not have any tools that pop off the page. He is a contact first hitter that has great hand eye coordination. He was drafted 21st overall in 2019 as the 2nd selection by the Braves behind Shea Langeliers. At 6’4” 190 pounds the 22 year old has room to add some bulk and develop more power. Shewmake has a, in this day and time, above average strikeout rate to go along with a solid walk rate. Defensively he has a solid arm and enough athleticism to stay at shortstop. The Braves loved his leadership qualities and makeup and pushed him hard in his first year in the organization. He played 51 games at Rome, the Braves Low A affiliate, and then skipped High A and went directly to the Braves AA playing 14 games for Mississippi.