Here we are at the second to last installment of the Talking Chop 2021 Top 30 Braves prospects midseason update and it has been a fun one. Friendly reminder of what I said in the last update: the difference between #8 and #15 on our rankings this year was just nine points, so a couple guys just adjusting a given player up or down a couple of ranks would make a big difference in where they were finally ranked...so don’t read too much into this guy over that guy and view most of today’s update as a tier that we view very close to each other. Here are the previous updates if you need to catch up.
We really do appreciate all the support that the rankings have received so far...it continues to blow us away how many of you have followed along for many years now as we have done these. With that said, below you will find prospects 7-12 with writeups on each. Enjoy!
12.) Vaughn Grissom - SS
How he got to the Braves: 11th-round pick in the 2019 MLB draft
Grissom was one of the high-school bats taken in the 2019 draft that we here at Talking Chop were very excited to watch grow into a player. After watching Grissom for another week after our rankings were finalized... No. 12 may still be too low.
The right-handed hitting and throwing shortstop produced great numbers in his pro debut, slashing .288/.361/.400 with 11 extra base hits in 160 at bats. You can point to the fact that he had a .323 BABIP, but that is a bit misleading. Grissom struck out just 14.7 percent of the time, so he was putting a lot of balls in play. This wasn’t the case of a .220 hitter getting lucky, but perhaps the ability to hit ‘em where they ain’t, as the saying goes.
Those numbers are proving to be no fluke and possibly just the tip of the iceberg. Despite missing some time in July on the IL, Grissom is on absolute fire. He hit .429 with a 1.285 OPS in 12 July games, raising his season slash line to .306/.407/.859 to go with 10 doubles and five home runs. He once again is showing a plate approach well beyond his years, walking nearly 12 percent of the time while striking out a mere 15.7 percent of the time in his first 223 at bats of full-season ball.
Grissom is very athletic and has shown the ability to play both short and third, the latter being where he ultimately winds up in the future. He has shown defensive lapses at points in the season, but these could very well be chalked up to a 20-year-old’s learning curve. Right now, his hit tool is gap-to-gap, but it seems like there is plenty of raw power for more home runs in his future.
It is certainly fair to pump the brakes a bit, having not even seen 100 pro games from Grissom, added to the loss of his age-19 season. Let’s remember, though: the Braves did have him in the player pool for the COVID season, and the reviews were a raving success. We are looking at a player who has continued to progress and develop as he should. Grissom may have some of the best upside in the system right now, and all eyes should be on him for the rest of ‘21.
11.) Freddy Tarnok - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 3rd Round pick in the 2017 MLB Draft
Taken in the third round of the 2017 draft, not much was known about Freddy outside of him possessing a dynamic arm as he had recently switched from shortstop to pitcher. That spring, Tarnok was sitting mid-90s, touching 98, with a surprisingly good curveball. This alone was all the Braves needed to nab him with the 80th pick of the draft as a pitcher, despite his desire to play a position.
The Braves played it super safe with Freddy, having him pitch just 77 innings in 2018, where he made 11 starts, and registered a 3.96 ERA, and 1.44 WHIP for Rome. The talent flashed, but it could easily be seen that he needed lots more time to develop into the arm that the Braves saw. After an up and down season in 2019, that saw him start off playing complex ball down in the GCL, he jumped up to High-A where he appeared in 19 games and made 19 starts - showing the Braves desire to make that turn and have him develop as a starter.
There might not have been a player more impacted by the lost season in 2020, but fast forward to 2021 and Tarnok announced himself as a starting pitcher prospect, showing an extremely lively fastball with great movement, a curveball with tremendous amounts of break, and a much improved changeup.
These elements resulted in a short stay in High-A for Freddy where he made 7 appearances (5 starts), and had a 4.76 ERA before he was promoted to Double-A Mississippi. While the ERA might not look great, he looked looked better than his numbers - occasionally giving up the long ball (1.9 HR/9). Following his promotion, Tarnok has dazzled. Though he’s made just two starts at the time of this writing, Tarnok has a 2.61 ERA, and 0.871 WHIP thanks to almost halving his walk rate to 2.6 per 9. It appears as though the Braves gamble is becoming very fruitful because at just 22 years of age, Tarnok appears to be turning the corner as a prospect.
10.) Jesse Franklin - OF
How he got to the Braves: 3rd Round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft
Jesse Franklin came into last spring with a chance to be a first round pick, but a broken collarbone from a skiing accident followed by a shortened season due to Covid ended up costing him his entire 2020 season and dropping him into the later part of the third round of the 2020 MLB Draft. The Braves saw value and were quick to grab him.
Its no surprise that Franklin struggled out of the gate this year considering he hadn’t played a game in almost two calendar years and was making a large jump in competition. He ended up in High-A Rome with a .200/.228/.253 slash line during the 19 games he played in the month of May. While Franklin was always viewed as a college prospect who would be in need of a little more development than most other guys from a top tier program, there was some concern as he was looking lost at times at the plate and in the field.
Fast forward to June 1st, and since that day he has slashed .266/.351/.663 with 19 homers in 53 games to bring his total on the year to .247/.317/.544 with 19 homers and 15-16 in stolen bases, having him knocking on the door of a 20/20 season through just 72 games.
As mentioned earlier Franklin is a guy who will need a little more development than most guys coming from a school like Michigan, but he presents an interesting power and speed threat capable of being a very solid every day outfielder for a good team. Franklin will likely spend the bulk of next year in Double-A as he needs to cut down on the strikeouts while drawing a few more walks and also has to keep improving his outfield defense to avoid being a left field only type of defender since the bat is more very solid than it is an impact bat.
9.) Jared Shuster - LHP
How he got to the Braves: 1st Round pick in the 2020 MLB Draft
Jared Shuster has had an interesting start to his professional career to say the least. He had dominated in the Cape Cod League in 2019 with a 1.41 ERA and that performance really vaulted him into draft consideration. He started out 2020 on a tremendous run with 43 strikeouts to 4 walks in 26 ⅓ innings before the pandemic. These two things along with his workouts with the Braves convinced them to take the Wake Forest starter in the first round. Of course he did not play in 2020, and his start to 2021 has left us always wanting a bit more. Shuster has been dominant when he has been on the mound in Rome and has been by far the most consistent performer in the minor leagues. He has a 3.28 ERA with 45 strikeouts to 10 walks in 35 ⅔ innings, all solid numbers if a bit lackluster for a first round college arm in High-A. Still, he comes in every game and gives Rome 3 or 4 innings, walks a batter or two, and keeps his strikeouts between 4 and 6. Consistent, somewhat boring, but still solid production. Unfortunately, he’s had multiple occasions when he has been out more than 10 days at a time and clearly is being treated with extreme care which likely indicates some sort of injury recovery that makes it really hard to judge his season.
Shuster has not quite had the velocity he had in the Cape Cod League, being consistently in the low 90’s. Still he has dialed up to 96/97 on occasions this season which shows he is probably holding back velocity at the moment. The slider has been decent for him and a consistent pitch, with nothing really to update on. It’s a solid average offering and if he’s able to tick the velocity up along with his fastball there could be an above average slider in there. His arsenal is built around his low 80’s changeup which is currently the best changeup in the system. He has wonderful deception on the pitch and it is just not a pitch Low-A hitters are capable of handling. He locates it well, throws it in any count, and will throw it to any better. Overall Shuster’s profile isn’t the most exciting, but he has a deep well of pitches he can all throw for strikes and has a high starter probability. His ceiling is limited to being a mid-rotation guy, but there’s plenty of reason to believe once they take the restraints off he will really explode in this system.
8.) Spencer Schwellenbach - RHP
How he got to the Braves: 2nd Round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft
(Editor’s Note: These rankings were obviously generated before the news that Spencer was going to have to undergo Tommy John surgery. While a complete re-ranking wasn’t going to happen with half the list rolled out already, a quick survey of the staff combined with how close this tier of players was suggests that Spencer could have ended up several spots lower with the news and obviously that would have changed the list a decent bit. Make of that information what you will.)
Coming in at number eight on our list is 2021 draftee Spencer Schwellenbach who, in a mild upset, is the highest ranked member of the Braves’ most recent draft class. Primarily a shortstop in college at Nebraska, Schwellenbach was a pretty highly regarded pitcher in high school as well and going into this year after fully recovering from a non-Tommy John UCL repair, it was decided that Spencer would come out of the bullpen in addition to playing shortstop nearly every game for the Huskers. While he certainly has those that liked him a lot in the dirt, Schwellenbach’s upside on the mound is what captivated the Braves enough to snatch him up with their second round pick in the 2021 MLB Draft.
The Braves fully intend on transitioning Schwellenbach into being a start which, while he did have some longer relief stints in college in high profile situations, that transition obviously becomes a tad more complicated now that he is hurt. As for his repertoire on the mound, he features a fastball that sits in the mid-90’s and has touched as high as 99 mph in games, a biting slider that gets a bunch of swings and misses particularly against righties, and a seldom used changeup that flashes above average to plus that can be a real weapon against lefties. The confidence level in the changeup isn’t currently there, but with more usage and improvement in feel for the pitch, Spencer has a real chance to have three above average to plus offerings.
There is no two ways about it...Schwellenbach is a high risk, high reward guy and that was never more evident than when he and the team decided to have him undergo Tommy John surgery after he experienced some soreness after a bullpen late last week. The goal at the moment is to have him throwing again in as little as 10 months assuming everything goes well which, since he wasn’t going to throw much this year at all, isn’t the end of the world. However, this is a college guy that is already going to have to be transitioning from being a shortstop and reliever with a touch over 30 innings pitched in college under his belt to being a starter. That is really, really hard to do under the best of circumstances. However, count most of us as intrigued by the notion that the Braves saw enough potential in his arm to see some spooky medicals and a lack of track record and still be willing to use a second round pick on him. This is a high ceiling arm that now doesn’t have the specter of an elbow injury hanging over him anymore (albeit for a less than great reason) and can hopefully get back on the field fairly quickly and show everyone why nearly everyone in the Braves organization is so excited to have him.
7.) Tucker Davidson - LHP
How he got to the Braves: 19th Round pick in the 2016 MLB Draft
It is easy to forget that Tucker Davidson, our number seven ranked prospect, entered the Braves organization as a 19th round pick out of a small college and was strictly seen as a reliever to begin his career as a pro. However, once he got to Rome in 2017, he impressed the Braves enough to give him a crack at starting and he rewarded that faith by posting a 2.60 ERA in 103.2 innings in low-A. He has been strictly a starter ever since. 2018 saw him struggle with his command at high-A Florida, but 2019 was a real breakout for him as an uptick in his velocity combined with greater command of his stuff saw him blast his way all the way to Triple-A. After making a rather inauspicious debut in the big leagues in 2020 and spending the vast majority of the season at the alternate site, 2021 saw Tucker dominate his time at Gwinnett before getting a more prolonged chance at the big league rotation as it was decimated by injuries. The four starts he made before arm troubles landed him on the 60-day IL were largely good as he posted a 3.60 ERA with 18 strikeouts against 8 walks in 20 innings of work.
The 6’2, 215 pound lefty features a fastball that generally sits in the mid-90’s and can go a touch higher if he reaches back. The pitch doesn’t get a ton of movement, but he has learned to spot the pitch well at the top of the zone where his velo plays better. He also throws a hard slider and softer curve ball and he gets good action on both pitches. He needs the curve to be a weapon against righties because his changeup still needs work to be a consistently average pitch.
For Tucker, it all comes down to the development of his changeup, his command, and his health. His health is a bit of a question mark at the moment, but it has been at least encouraging that he hasn’t gone under the knife and it seems like some down time will do the trick for his arm. He looked awesome before getting hurt and we fully expect him to get another shot at sticking in the rotation, but even if that doesn’t happen (whether it be due to injury or just getting surpassed by other arms in the organization), he does have the fallback option of being a reliever where he can let that fastball fly at max effort and letting his breaking stuff eat.