The Atlanta Braves have announced the 26-man roster for the 2020 Instructional League per Baseball America. There are certainly some exciting names to watch, including all four 2020 MLB draft choices.
Let’s take a look at some of the names on the roster. Keep in mind, a lot of the information used here is from prior to the 2020 season since many of us have not seen the majority of these players in action in quite sometime.
In no particular order:
Jared Shuster, LHP - 6’3, 210, 22 years old
Why we like him: Shuster was the Braves 2020 first round pick, selected 25th overall. He is an experienced college arm that made a name for himself in a very tough ACC. He has seen an uptick in velocity in his fastball and has a plus-changeup that give him a solid one-two punch. Heading into 2020, there seemed like there was still some potential to be unwrapped, which could be why the Braves jumped on him at a discount. Read what our Matt Powers said on draft day.
Bryce Elder, RHP - 6’2, 220, 21 years old
What we like: Elder was the ace for one of the premier college baseball programs in the country at Texas and could wind up a steal as a “last round” draft pick this year. He has a plus-slider, a curveball and a fastball that he pitches to contact to generate ground balls. While Elder isn’t ace material, the Braves should be excited to have gotten him where they did. Check out Matt Powers report from draft day.
Matt - He projects as more of a backend starter for me.
Spencer Strider, RHP - 6’, 205, 21 years old
Why we like him: The Clemson righty was taken in the fourth round of the 2020 MLB draft to the surprise of many. Strider has exciting stuff, but he is coming off Tommy John surgery with very little time to show what he looked like before play was stopped. He has a mid-90s fastball that can hit 97, a slider and a changeup. It’s tough to say what his command will be like, struggling as a freshman and now coming of TJS. Our Matt Powers did a detailed breakdown here.
Matt - He probably profiles as a reliever, but he has some time to change minds.
Jesse Franklin, OF - 6’1, 215, 21 years old
Why we like him: I was personally excited to see what Franklin could do last year after watching him in person in Omaha in 2019. A freak skiing accident however ended his 2020 season before it began, but the Braves still made him their third round pick this summer. He has exciting tools with raw power blended with nice speed, but will need to prove he is consistent at making contact at the next level.
Matt-Franklin has the upside to be a solid regular starting outfielder, but would need more work than most college outfielders considering his misses year and still fairly raw tool set.
Michael Harris, OF - 6’, 195, 19 years old
Why we like him: There isn’t much not to like to be honest. Harris made it to the alternate site after just 53 games split between Rookie and Low-A ball. And he was impressive in an exhibition against the Miami Marlins as well. Harris looked bigger and stronger, which is exciting for the already-athletic prospect he was. He has a little swing and miss in him, but has shown he can make contact, and loud contact at that. Our own Gaurav Vedak sat down and spoke with him about his experiences earlier this summer.
Matt - Harris has quickly put himself in the mix with Drew Waters for the best non-Pache outfield prospect in the system.
Daysbel Hernandez, RHP - 5’10, 220, 24 years old
Why we like him: The Cuban standout was signed in 2017 and was impressive in his 2018 pro debut. His 2019 in the Florida State League was lights out as he pitched to a 1.71 ERA and 1.08 WHIP while striking out 70 batters in 52.2 innings out of the bullpen. He has a big fastball with an inconsistent slider that must improve as he climbs the ladder. His command has been an issue, especially in his small sample size in the Arizona Fall League.
Matt - Find a way to add the Doc favorite Daysbel.
Victor Vodnik, RHP - 6’, 200, 21 years old
Why we like him: The 2018 14th-rounder was a raw pitching prospect with some exciting stuff. He looked like he was poised to explode in 2019 in Rome after an incredible first half, but his second half was injury-marred and rocky. Still, Vodnik entered 2020 at No. 15 on the Talking Chop preseason top-20 after a solid overall 2019. He has been known to hit triple digits, but his fastball more regularly sits in the mid-90s. He’s an extreme ground ball pitcher which helps him get out of jams as well. Click to read our full report.
Matt - Vodnik presents plenty of upside, but may still be a year or two away and next year will be one to watch him close to see where he got to during this “lost season”.
Vaughn Grissom, SS - 6’3, 180, 19 years old
Why we like him: Grissom went in the 11th round of the 2019 MLB draft and was impressive in his professional debut. He slashed .288/.361/.400 with three home runs in the GCL. That was enough to have him ranked No. 16 in the Talking Chop preseason top 30. He is athletic with an ability to put the bat on the ball consistently. He could be a utility infielder type player as he climbs the ladder, but he’s definitely one to watch. Read our report.
Matt - Grissom has starter ability instead of the listed utility agility. He’s a well-rounded player with a feel for the barrel of the bat and knows his strengths and weaknesses very well for such a young player.
Tyler Owens, RHP - 5’10, 185, 19 years old
Why we like him: Owens, although undersized, seemed like he had some breakout potential in 2020. The 2019 13th-rounder came in at No. 20 on the Talking Chop preseason prospect rankings. When he reaches back, he nears triple-digits with his fastball despite usually sitting in the low 9s. He has a slider and a changeup that are works in progress, as are his mechanics. Click to read our report.
Matt - Owens has high upside because of his stuff, but the lack of a third pitch and his being under-sized mean he will need to work hard to reach that ceiling. Even if he can’t develop the third pitch, he has high upside as a bullpen piece.
Mahki Backstrom, 1B - 6’5, 200, 19 years old
Why we like him: Backstrom, a member of the athletic 2019 MLB draft class, came in at No. 22 on the Talking Chop preseason prospect list. The 18th-rounder put up solid numbers in his professional debut, hitting .300 with two home runs in just 23 GCL games. He is big and athletic and his quick bat helps him hit balls extremely hard. Check out our full report here.
Matt - It’s worth noting that he just turned 19. His youth for his class really helps with the lost year.
Joey Estes, RHP - 6’1, 190, 19 years old
Why we like him: Estes was an honorable mention on our preseason top 30 prospects. He was just 17 when he was drafted, so it’s pretty safe to ignore his numbers in the GCL as any indication of his talent. He has four pitches, highlighted by a mid-90s fastball and a slider that can become a whip out pitch. Click here for our full report.
Matt - Same as Backstrom with youth.
Jared Johnson, RHP - 6’1, 225, 19 years old
Why we like him: Johnson was another honorable mention on the Talking Chop preseason prospect list. He has a fastball that was clocked in the upper 90s. The 2019 14th-rounder is raw, but also has a sharp slider and needs some work on his changeup. For our full preseason report, click here.
Matt - Johnson may be the highest end arm talent here, but his lack of a long resume as an amateur and not playing elite competition often means he will need to prove it in the Braves system.
Stephen Paolini, OF - 6’2, 195, 19 years old
Why we like him: Another member of the exciting 2019 MLB draft class and another preseason Talking Chop honorable mention. Paolini was the Braves fifth-rounder and they went over slot to sign him, so someone really liked what they saw. He is a power bat in the making with some speed for the outfield. Click here to read our report.
Ricky DeVito, RHP - 6’3, 195, 22 years old
Why we like him: DeVito is an experienced college arm. He was the 2018 Big East pitcher of the year as well as a breakout performer that same summer in the Cape Cod Baseball League. The Braves grabbed him in the eighth round of the 2019 MLB draft and he pitched well across three levels, ending the season in Rome. He has a three pitch arsenal, highlighted by a 94 mile per hour fastball with some sink. Click to read the full report.
Beau Philip, SS - 6’0, 190, 21 years old
What we know: Philip has been a man of mystery for the Braves thus far. It was somewhat a surprise when the Oregon State infielder went in the second round, and he certainly didn’t live up to the billing with a .193/.297/.280 slash line in 55 Appy League games. He’s still raw for a college player, so it will be interesting to see how he performs.
Cam Shepherd, SS - 6’1, 181, 23 years old
What we know: Shepherd was the starting shortstop for a very good Georgia team, so we know he’s faced solid pitching in the SEC for the past few years. The post-draft signee has an intriguing tools set with modest pop and was a Gold Glove winner in Division I.
Matt - Shepherd is a guy who can profile well into a utility role going forward with just a little more development.
Antonio Barranca, C - 6’3, 215, 19 years old
What we know: Not much is known as the high school catcher’s 2020 season never got underway. He seems to be an intriguing power bat and certainly has a solid frame.
Matt - Barranca was definitely an under-the-radar player in the 2020 MLB Draft and not even a guy I had seen much of, but there are some tools that make him worth watching.
William Woods, RHP - 6’3, 190, 21 years old
What we know: There is plenty to be excited about with Woods. he caught fire in the second half of his 2019 in Rome posting a 2.53 ERA and striking out 49 in 42.2 innings of work. This tweet from September shows he’s up to 99 on the radar gun.
Matt - Woods is a guy that went from being just another guy in this deep pitching system to suddenly being a guy you need to know. What he is going to be is yet to be determined, but we should know soon after the minor league season gets going in 2021.
Ricardo Rodriguez, C - 5’11, 185, 22 years old
What we know: Signed out of Venezuela before the 2015 season. Rodriguez finally reached Rome in 2019. He began the season in a platoon with Logan Brown before sharing duties with Shea Langeliers. He doesn’t possess much power or contact ability, but plays solid defense with a big arm, throwing out 50 percent of attempted base stealers last year.
Gabby Rodriguez, LHP - 6’1, 193, 21 years old
What we know: Not a whole bunch. He was impressive in his 2018 pro debut after being taken in the 31st round. He pitched to a 1.64 ERA in 11 innings pitched with 22 strikeouts. The problem was he also has 22 walks. He missed all of last season with injury, so this will be starting to get him back on track.
Matt - Rodriguez is a very high-upside prospect, but came in very raw. The former hitter will need a lot of work to refine his pitching skills, but there is something to work with.
Andy Samuelson, LHP - 6’4, 185, 21 years old
What we know: Samuelson was taken in the 12th round of the 2019 draft out of JUCO in Illinois after spending a year at Valpo. He is a reliever who did not find much success in his pro debut in the GCL getting hit hard and often, although his big stuff did strike out 21 in 12.2 innings.
Rusber Estrada, C - 6’, 215, 25 years old
What we know: Taken in the 24th round of the 2018 MLB draft out of Faulkner, Estrada is a defense-first catcher that has posted a career .181 average and .517 OPS since being drafted. He struggled though injury in 2019 so perhaps this gets him back on track.
Cody Milligan, 2B - 5’10, 185, 21 years old
What we know: Taken in the ninth round of the 2019 draft, Milligan is both versatile and athletic. He played both catcher and outfield in college, where he had a monster final season in JUCO hitting .453 with five home runs and 30 steals. He reached Danville in his pro debut and showed off that speed with 12 stolen bases in 59 games.
Jose Palma, OF, 6’, 170, 21 years old
What we know: Palma was signed out of Venezuela prior to the 2017 season. He spent his first two seasons in the Dominican Summer League before reaching Danville in 2019.
Carlos Paraguate, SS, 5’10, 170, 19 years old
What we know: Paraguate was signed out of Venezuela before the 2018 season and reached Rome as a mere 18-year old in 2019. He struggled mightily with the bat as one of the youngest players in the league, hitting .166 with a .423 OPS. He also struggled finding his footing defensively, but he is also still very young and raw.
Matt - Paraguate was forced into a role he didn’t belong in 2019, likely due to the international sanctions wrecking the Braves lower minors. The stats certainly show that. However he did show some signs that he could flash tools. This missed year could benefit a guy in need of rebuilding his confidence after a brutal season in 2019.
Brandon Parker, OF, 6’1, 205, 21 years old
What we know: Taken in the 10th round of the 2019 draft, Parker showed some power in his pro debut. The Day 2 JUCO star will need to prove he is more than just a power bat hitting four home runs in his Appy debut with a .210 batting average.
Matt - Parker brings an interesting bat for sure, but will need to improve on what he did in his limited pro action after signing to keep moving up the system.