Even in down cycles, the Atlanta Braves' farm system usually still produces quite the crop most years. Whenever the big-league club is bad, the minor league system gets replenished in a hurry. Should the MLB franchise be firing on all cylinders like it has been for the better part of a decade now, the farm system's rankings do take a hit in the eyes of the beholder. Usually, Atlanta comes out if this alright.
However, there does seem to be some incongruence with how Braves Country feels about its minor league crop, as opposed to prognosticators over at Baseball Prospectus and ESPN. Braves Today's Lindsay Crosby pointed out that not only AJ Smith-Shawver fell out of the top 100 prospects in the game today, he ranks third in Braves' prospects in Baseball Prospectus, and fourth regarding ESPN.
Right now, the Braves' top prospect is right-hander Hurston Waldrep, but he is the only Atlanta farmhand that is top-100 in the game right now. Infielder Ignacio Alvarez comes in slotted at No. 2 in the Braves' system, with catcher Drake Baldwin even ahead of Smith-Shawver in ESPN's latest rankings. This tells us something, but I think you have to do a deeper dive into finding out what that is.
Smith-Shawver has been hyped up as a future piece in the Atlanta rotation, but maybe it is a stretch?
Atlanta Braves' former top prospect AJ Smith-Shawver was downgraded
I remember watching Smith-Shawver get his first run in the Atlanta rotation right before the team caught fire in June. He offered a ton of promise coming out, but I tended to believe that he needed a bit more refinement at Triple-A Gwinnett. Given the grind of the season, I fully expect for him to be a part of this year's big-league rotation at some point down the line. We are counting on him for 2025.
And I think right there is the issue. Atlanta has gone for broke trying to give the 2024 team the best starting rotation possible. The quintet of Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton, Chris Sale and Bryce Elder could be special. Of course, Fried will be hitting free agency next winter and Morton is a year-to-year player at this point. Atlanta has to hit on another starter like it did with Strider in 2022.
In time, maybe Waldrep is that? Conversely, it could be Smith-Shawver for all we know. Elder answered the call last season en route to being named an NL All-Star. His pitching took a turn for the worse in the second half of the season, but it wasn't like he was a blue-chip prospect getting called up to the big leagues anyway. Atlanta always has arms. We just never know which ones will win big.
Perhaps Smith-Shawver can use his downgraded rating as a source of motivation for this season?