Nothing has gone right for the Atlanta Braves in 2021. From three of five penciled starters missing chunks of the season to Ronald Acuna Jr.‘s recently torn ACL, the Braves have been consistently digging a hole for themselves. As of the All-Star Break, the Braves have yet to spend a day above .500. The team has been at exactly .500 heading into seven different games. They are 0-7 in those games.
The Braves are at a crossroads for 2021 and beyond. After coming up short in the 2020 NLCS, many picked the Braves to win their fourth-straight NL East crown. Atlanta has time to make up the ground; they are only four games behind the New York Mets. However, they could also choose to blow up the season and prepare for 2022.
This article series will look at the more aggressive outlook as Atlanta could flip some prospects for established pieces around the league. For part one of the series, let’s look at some prospects that could headline a major move for the Braves.
Each team is different, and each would look to add a different piece (or pieces) from Atlanta. Six prospects to keep an eye on are Cristian Pache (CF-AAA), Drew Waters (CF-AAA), Michael Harris (CF-A), Kyle Muller (LHP-AAA), Shea Langeliers (C-AA), and Braden Shewmake (SS-AA). Pache and Muller played with the Major League club in 2021 to mixed results. Pache has a -5 OPS+ (105% below league average) in 72 career plate appearances. Muller fared better, posting a 2.45 ERA in his three starts (although he was tagged for a pair of runs in his lone relief appearance).
Pache was initially called up at the end of the 2020 season. He had four regular-season plate appearances, notching one hit and striking out twice. Pache had 25 plate appearances in the 2020 NLCS, totaling four hits and three walks. He had a pair of extra-base hits including a home run. His .182/.280/.364 slash line was far from ideal.
The strength of Pache’s game is his defense. He is one of the best defensive players in MiLB, and he would be the everyday center fielder for Atlanta if he was not a catastrophe against Big League pitching. Even with the woes that have plagued Atlanta’s outfield, Pache is still in AAA. He holds value if a team can teach him how to hit, but for now, he is a prospect with eroding value.
Waters may be listed as a center fielder, but he has played at least 10 games in each outfield slot for the Gwinnett Braves in 2021. He projects as a good, but not quite Pache-level, defender, and he has the tools to hit for contact and power as well steal a handful of bases. In 2021, Waters has a .257/.351/.413 slash line. Despite a ghastly 31.2% strikeout rate, Waters is holding his head above water (pardon the pun) with a 108 wRC+. He has also added 15 steals in 46 games.
Harris is one of the hottest names in the Braves organization. While he is just in High-A ball, he has posted a strong batting average of .310. While the power (.152 ISO) and plate discipline (4.3% walk rate) have not been ideal, a .310/.338/.462 hitter with 116 OPS+ works. Harris is yet another center fielder who projects as a good defensive player and a plus-level base runner. Harris has 14 steals in 50 games with Rome.
While Pache and Waters have missed time with injury in 2021 and are slipping down prospect boards, Harris is ascending.
As mentioned earlier, Muller is the lone prospect of the six who has played well in the Majors in 2021. He did not pitch particularly well in Gwinnett, posting a 4.34 ERA and 4.24 FIP. Atlanta called him up halfway through June, and he has been a pleasant surprise in the Majors. Muller has a 3.45 ERA in four appearances, accompanied by a FIP of 2.97. He is striking out 11.5 per nine innings, and he has a WHIP of 1.085. His xERA of 2.27 indicates he appears to be pitching better than the on-field stats show, but Muller only has 15.2 innings with Atlanta, and he has yet to go six innings in a start.
Langeliers has spent all of 2021 in AA with Mississippi. He is having a solid season at the plate with a .243/.335/.514 slash line. He has a 132 wRC+ across 197 plate appearances. While the batting average is on the low side, Langeliers has a walk rate above 10%, and he has a .272 ISO. One-third of his 42 hits have left the yard. Langeliers is even better defensively as he has gunned down more than half of would-be base-stealers in 2021. He blocks well, and he could be a useful pitch-framer to steal strikes.
After laying waste to A-ball with a .318/.389/.473 slash line (151 wRC+ in 226 plate appearances) in 2019, Shewmake has struggled across the 2019 and 2021 seasons in AA-ball. Across 52 plate appearances in Mississippi in 2019, Shewmake had a 53 wRC+. 2021 has been better with a 74 wRC+ across 202 plate appearances, but a declining walk rate and stagnant strikeout rate are far from ideal. Shewmake’s prospect shine is beginning to wane.
If there is any silver lining, Shewmake projects to be a solid defensive shortstop. While he does not have the foot speed to be an all-encompassing rover, he has a strong arm and a good sense of the position.
In a perfect world, the Braves would be able to hang on to all six prospects and continue to let them develop, but the reality is different. Shewmake and Langeliers are blocked by Dansby Swanson and Travis d’Arnaud at the MLB level while only two of the centerfield trio could theoretically play at one time. Decisions will have to be made regarding the future of these prospects and the Braves in general, so it may be in Atlanta’s best interest to ship off an asset or two to push for a playoff run in 2021 or 2022 before the prospects reach the Majors in 2022, 2023, and beyond.
Follow me on Twitter at @MrSplashMan19 for more 2021 Atlanta Braves content! Don’t forget to join our OT Heroics MLB Facebook group, and feel free to join our new Instagram – @overtimeheroics_MLB, and listen to our baseball podcast, Cheap Seat Chatter! We’ll see ya there!
Come join the discussion made by the fans at the Overtime Heroics forums! A place for all sports!
Main image credit Embed from Getty Images