AJ Smith-Shawver's worst nightmare becomes reality in first Braves spring start

It's only spring training, but Atlanta Braves fans can't be encouraged with AJ Smith-Shawver's outing against the Philadelphia Phillies.

Atlanta Braves Workouts
Atlanta Braves Workouts / Matthew Grimes Jr./Atlanta Braves/GettyImages
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Atlanta Braves prospect AJ Smith-Shawver, who was ranked in the top-100 for MLB Pipeline as recently as last season, hopes to make an impact on the big-league team fresh out of spring training.

He'll need some impressive exhibition outings to make the leap by Opening Day, and it's safe to say he didn't get off to the best start against a familiar foe on Wednesday.

Smith-Shawver gave up two home runs -- one to Alec Bohm and another to JT Realmuto -- in his two innings of work. Perhaps more time in Triple-A could do the young right-hander some good, but this won't be his only chance to prove himself this spring.

Braves prospect AJ Smith-Shawver just can't beat the Phillies

Hurston Waldrep surpassed Smith-Shawver in the Braves prospect rankings entering this season. It's important to remember that Smith-Shawver is just 21 years old and already has big-league experience. While he was used primarily out of the bullpen in 2023 (minus some spot starts), the Braves view him as a multi-dimensional pitching talent who can either serve as a long reliever or a back-end rotation option. Think Reynaldo Lopez, who the Braves acquired this offseason via free agency.

Smith-Shawver's 2023 season ended on a sour note against these same Phillies. He lasted just under three innings of work and gave up three runs on just as many hits. All three of those hits were home runs.

While the Braves have emerged victorious as regular season division champions the last few years in the NL East, they haven't reached the NLCS since winning the World Series in 2021. The last two years, Atlanta has lost in the NLDS to these same Phillies, and there hasn't been a lot of roster turnover.

Smith-Shawver is a part of the next generation of Braves pitchers. As Max Fried and Charlie Morton potentially move on next winter, the likes of Smith-Shawver and Waldrep will be asked to step in and take their place, barring any major free-agent or trade acquisitions. Wednesday may only serve as a minor bump in the road on Smith-Shawver's radar, but it's clear that his journey is far from complete.

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