The Atlanta Braves already had a deep pool of pitching prospects prior to the draft.
Atlanta Braves Draft: The Braves selected LHP-Jared Shuster out of Wake Forest with the 25th pick in the 2020 MLB Draft. In this article, I provide you with my updated top 10 pitching prospects in the Braves' system to see where Shuster fits in.
If you enjoy studying up on the Braves' pipeline, please do yourself a favor and read fellow-Tomahawk-Taker Clint Manry's detailed and spectacular write-up on his Top 30 prospects here.
Note: I'm going to give you a brief breakdown of each player with MLB.com's scouting grades for each prospect. 20-80 scale with 50 being considered major-league average.
While you are reading, don't forget this one thing: An average pitch in Major League Baseball is one of the best pitches in the world.
No. 10 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Victor Vodnik, RHP
Vodnik has a three-pitch repertoire and a deceptive delivery. At just 19-years-old he posted a 2.94 ERA in Rome over 67.1 innings last season. Vodnik struck out 69 batters while walking just 24 and allowing only one homer. He also earned three saves.
His fastball sits in the early 90s but he has the ability to reach back and gas it up to the mid-90s. The Braves mostly utilized Vodnik as a reliever to ease him into the transition from high school to professional baseball. He has an explosive delivery with a quick release.
It's very promising to see such a young pitcher show good command of the strike zone. His off-speed pitches need some work but the youngster has already turned some heads after being selected in the 14th round of the 2018 draft out of high school. Scouts believe his slider could develop into an above-average offering while he just began working with a changeup last season.
No. 9 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Freddy Tarnok, RHP
Tarnok was not a full-time pitcher in high school, but that didn't stop the Braves from handing out $1.445 million to change his thoughts on heading to college. They selected him with the 80th pick in 2017 out of Riverview High School in Florida.
He won't be 22 until November of this year and has a fastball that can reach 96 mph. It normally goes between 93-94 mph and is complemented by a power curve. Tarnok is 6-3, 185 pounds so he has room to fill out.
He has a quality curveball but needs to be able to command it better to get the above-average rating. The Braves are hoping he can continue to develop the changeup and the curve, as he has a good feel for both right now.
In 19 starts with the High-A Florida Fire Frogs, he pitched in 98.0 innings with a 4.87 ERA while walking 3.3 batters per nine innings.
Tarnok has a high ceiling and made a huge step in the right direction last season. Not only was it the most innings he had ever pitched in his career, but he lowered his walks per nine to under two in the second part of the season.
He lowered his walks per nine by a full 1.5 batters between Class-A Rome in 2018 and High-A Florida in 2019.
There's no doubt when the minor leagues resume, Tarnok should find himself with an opportunity to continue working his way through the system. If he shows improvement with his secondary pitches, he could turn into an impressive weapon.
No. 8 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
Daysbell Hernandez has "bullpen" written all over him. He's got a fastball that can reach 99 mph with movement Jerry! He also has a slider that sits in the high-80s. He may only command two pitches, but that is all he needs.
He's a 5-10, 220-pound bulldog, signed out of Cuba, and entering his age-23 season after lighting up Florida State League with 12 strikeouts per nine innings. He led the Fire Frogs in Ks per nine among pitchers with more than 13.2 innings pitched.
In the video below, you can see the blazing, tailing fastball at work.
In just his second season in the Braves organization, Hernandez assumed a late-inning role in High-A Florida. He pitched in 52.2 innings for the Fire Frogs and walked a reasonable 23 batters while striking out 70. He finished with a 1.71 ERA and earned seven saves.
As is usually the case with minor leaguers, they need to develop a pitch or two and work on control. His slider needs some work and his command is coming along. In 2018, he walked over five batters per nine innings. In 2019, he lowered that to 3.93 while raising his K/9 to an elite 11.96.
Relievers who strike out 12 batters per nine can afford 3.93 walks per nine. Hernandez is an arm to keep an eye on as he faces stiffer competition in Double-A and Triple-A. He could be a back-end set-up guy in the majors someday.
No. 7 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Jaseel De La Cruz, RHP
De La Cruz signed with the Braves for just $55,000 in 2015 as an international signee. He didn't make much noise coming in and didn't make much noise at all until last year.
Something clicked for De La Cruz in 2019 as he ascended through three levels of the Braves' farm system and earned a spot on the 40-man roster prior to the 2020 season.
His fastball can consistently burn the zone at 98-99 mph. He has some work to do on his breaking ball and his changeup, but they are progressing.
Like Freddy Tarnok, 2019 was the first time De La Cruz exceeded 100 innings pitched in a season. The Braves are likely to keep him in a starting role so he can get the reps he needs to develop the offspeed pitches, but it wouldn't be surprising if he ultimately ends up as an electric arm out of the bullpen.
Across three levels last season, De La Cruz posted a 3.25 ERA in 24 starts and 133.0 innings pitched. Opposing hitters batted just .212 off of him. He finished with a 1.14 WHIP, 121 Ks, and 49 walks.
In 292 career innings, he has avoided the long-ball with a minuscule 0.5 HR/9 rate. He lowered his walks per nine from 4.4 in 2018 to 3.3 in 2019. The signs are pointing in the right direction for Jaleel De La Cruz.
No 6 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Tucker Davidson, LHP
It's hard to believe Tucker Davidson was a 19th-round selection in the 2016 draft. Davidson worked his way up through Double-A last season and ended with a short run in AAA-Gwinnett.
His heater hits 96-97 mph on the regular and he generates a very high amount of groundballs. In 2017, he pitched in 103.2 innings and had a 53.8% groundball rate. in 2018, he pitched in 118.1 innings and generated a 46.9% groundball rate. Last season in Double-A he pitched 110.2 innings and put 49.1% of balls in play on the ground.
If you watched him pitch this spring, you could see the potential in his curveball. Davidson actually has the ability to change speeds with it. He has worked his changeup into a usable pitch to keep hitters off-balance.
After struggling a little in his transition from reliever to starter in 2018, Davidson rewarded the Braves for their faith last season.
In Double-A last season he posted a tiny 2.03 ERA (best in the Southern League) while striking out nearly 10 batters per nine innings. His 9.92 K/9 was a drastic increase over his 7.53 K/9 from 2018.
Davidson did not experience such luck in his brief stay in Gwinnett, striking out just 12 batters in 19.0 innings while walking nine.
His 2019 numbers were wonderful but he does have some control issues he still needs to work out. He made progress last season but he'll still want to improve upon the 3.75 BB/9 he posted in 2019 in order to succeed against major-league hitting.
On the bright side, his impressive groundball rate, strikeout ability, and manageable walk-rates show some similarities to Max Fried.
No. 6 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Kyle Muller, LHP
Kyle Muller was presented the 2016 Gatorade National Baseball Player of the Year Award by none other than current Braves pitcher Cole Hamels. Not only was he a dominant pitcher striking out about two batters per inning in high school, but he was also a tremendous hitter.
Muller led Dallas Jesuit High in Dallas to the Texas 6A State Championship, finishing with a 9-0 record, 0.42 ERA, 142 Ks, and just 19 walks in 83 innings pitched. He set a national record by striking out 33 consecutive hitters, beating the previous record by 11.
He was such a force with the bat that some speculated that he may go in the draft as either a hitter or a pitcher. He finished his senior year with a .397 avg, 15 HR, 52 RBI, and 20 SB.
Muller was selected in the second round of the 2016 draft and towers over opposing hitters at 6-7, 250 pounds. He has a mid 90s fastball that I call "easy heat." I love watching his delivery, it looks nearly effortless.
As a result of his effortless delivery, he can maintain his velocity late into games. He also brings a smooth curveball that is currently rated as above-average.
While he took a step back in command last season with 5.5 walks per nine, he finished 2018 with just 2.96. Despite the increase in walks last season, opposing hitters batted just .208 off of the big lefty in Double-A last season. He finished with a 3.14 ERA and struck out 120 batters in 111.2 innings.
If he can rein his walk numbers back down around his career norms, his big curveball and a great presentation give this big lefty big-time potential.
No. 4 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Jared Shuster, LHP
The upside is tremendous with Jared Shuster. Not only does he have an above-average fastball, good control, and what scouts consider to be a league-average breaking ball, but he has the best changeup in the Braves' farm system.
He has the makings of an elite changeup with good command. I'm very excited to see how he acclimates to professional baseball. I'm very hopeful that he shows he can maintain the command he possessed between the Cape Cod Summer League last season and the shortened 2020 college season with Wake Forest.
While his first two seasons with Wake Forest didn't look good on paper, he kept working and grinding to become a better pitcher. The fruits of his labor began to show this past summer.
His fastball velocity increased from 88-92 up to 92-94 and even hit 97 earlier this spring. He can throw his elite changeup at 80 mph, which makes for an ankle-breaking drop in speed.
Things turned around for Shuster when he was able to start throwing his breaking ball as an effective third pitch this past summer. He was almost unhittable after that.
Do yourself a favor and watch how off-balanced and uncomfortable these batters are in the video below. At one point he had a 15 mph difference between his fastball and changeup. These hitters looked like the mound was 35 feet away. Oh, and that one breaking ball was such a shock to the system that I fell out of my chair just watching it!
Watch the video while I clean up the coffee I spilled and I'll meet you on the other side.
In his first two seasons with Wake Forest, he walked 5.2 batters per nine innings. After adding the breaking ball between the summer league and his four starts at Wake Forest this past season, here's what his numbers looked like:
58.1 IP // 78 SO // 9 BB // 2.48 ERA // 0.86 WHIP
Scouts believed in the change as he rocketed up draft boards. Many people believe that despite going in the first round in 2020, a full season would have seen him go even higher than the 25th pick.
I'm anxious to see how his stuff fares against professional hitters. I believe Shuster could end up as a frontline starter based on his skill set and potential. It's a small sample, but I absolutely love what I've seen so far. We'll adjust accordingly after we see how professional hitters handle his stuff.
No matter where you have him ranked on your personal list, as a Braves fan, you have to be excited about the pick.
No. 3 Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Bryse Wilson, RHP
What a crop of pitcher the Braves had in the 2016 draft. Ian Anderson, Kyle Muller, Tucker Davidson, and Bryse Wilson were all taken in that draft and they make up four of the Braves' top ten pitching prospects at the moment.
Bryse made his major-league debut in 2018 and is still just 22-years-old. His fastball sits around 95 and he likes the stinky cheese. In other words, he's not afraid to go up in the zone and challenge hitters with it.
He's still refining his slider, it's a good pitch but it can get away from him sometimes. One of the reasons Wilson is a top prospect is because he attacks the zone. He has a fantastic 2.3 walks per nine over 410.1 career minor league innings.
I know I referred to Hernandez as a bulldog earlier, but the official YouTube channel of the Atlanta Braves referred to Bryse Wilson as a bulldog on the mound in the video below.
The video shows his first big-league strikeout, and on par with the scouting report, it came on the stinky cheese to Corey Dickerson. That high fastball with two strikes is awfully tempting.
I would like to note, I was short-changing Wilson on his walk rate earlier. His 2.3 walks per nine over his career detracts from the progress he made last season. Forget what he did in his 20.0 innings in the Major Leagues. In 121.0 innings in Triple-A last season, Wilson posted a sick 1.93 walks per nine.
In addition to not allowing free passes, he struck out 118 batters and allowed just 0.89 homers per nine.
I really believe his stuff and his control will translate to the majors. He's ready for an extended look.
No 2. Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Kyle Wright, RHP
Wright was the fifth overall pick in the 2017 draft out of Vanderbilt. He made his debut just over a year later. Wright has, perhaps, the most well-rounded arsenal of all of the pitchers on this list. Each one of his four offerings is rated above-average. He commands a four-seamer that can reach 98 and a two-seamer that can plow through the zone at 95 mph.
If you count the two fastballs as two pitches, he can effectively pound the zone with five different pitches. There's a reason why many people thought this kid could win the fifth rotation spot out of spring training.
If you watch the video above, you can see how effective his repertoire can be against major-league hitters. The first major-league hitter he ever faced was Jackie Bradley. He showed Bradley why scouts think so highly of his slider. The slider started over the outside part of the plate and darted like a UFO to the inside corner.
Wright delivers from the same arm angles and you could tell Bradley's eyes were telling him "fastball outside corner," then about halfway through the ball changed directions like Bradley had started his swing in a different dimension than where he was finishing it. His senses went into overload and he chucked his bat down the rightfield line in a state of confusion.
Like Wilson, Wright has very good command but he has it over every pitch in his arsenal. Like Wilson's 2019, you'll just have to forget about his small sample in the big leagues last year. We'll reserve judgment until he gets an extended look against the absolute best in the world.
In 112.1 Triple-A innings last season, Wright walked 2.8 per nine and struck out 9.29 per nine. Wright also generated a very respectable 47.2% groundball rate, which was his lowest at any stop in the minors. In 2018, over 109.1 innings he posted a 54.5% groundball rate.
Between his four above-average pitches, his command, and his ability to get the ball on the ground. Wright could easily be the top pitching prospect for several organizations, but the Braves have this one guy ahead of him...
No 1. Atlanta Braves Pitching Prospect - Ian Anderson, RHP
Ian Anderson was the crown jewel of the 2016 draft for the Braves. They took him with the third overall pick out of high school. In what could have been his junior year in college, Anderson found himself pitching in the 2019 Futures Game amid the Major League Baseball All-Star festivities.
The past two seasons, opposing hitters have batted .199 and .210 off of Anderson. He struck out 142 batters in 119.1 innings in 2018 (mostly in High-A Florida) and 172 Ks in 135.2 innings (mostly in AA-Mississippi).
Anderson has three above-average offerings, including a very nice changeup which improved and helped produce his breakout season. He is a strikeout machine, punching out 172 batters in just 135.2 innings last season. It's a good thing he struck out so many guys because he walked 65 batters.
Anderson has walked exactly four batters per nine in his minor league career to this point. Last season he got a 24.2 inning taste of Triple-A and he walked 18 batters.
The good news is that he continues to show improvement with each promotion. He struggled with command when he was first promoted to Mississippi but he made the necessary corrections.
You'd like to see fewer walks, but his stuff and strikeout ability can make 3.5-4.0 walks per nine tolerable.
Last season in AA-Mississippi he finished with 3.8 walks per nine and a whopping 11.9 strikeouts per nine. There's plenty of room for growth for Anderson's control, and he profiles as a very effective strikeout artist.
The problem that can get in the way for guys like this is they have trouble going deep into games because they rack up such high pitch counts getting either strikeouts or walks.
Think Robbie Ray of the Arizona Diamondbacks. Over the past two seasons, he has averaged 12.1 strikeouts per nine innings. At the same time, he has averaged 4.7 walks per nine innings. In that time, he has a 4.17 ERA. In his six full seasons, Ray has never pitched more than 174.1 innings in a season.
Anderson has averaged just 4.7 innings per outing over his 80 minor-league starts. Remember, he's still got plenty of room for development and hasn't had a full shot at Triple-A yet. If he makes any more progress he's a front of the rotation type of pitcher with crazy strikeout potential.
Ian Anderson is currently MLB.com's 37th overall prospect.
Atlanta Braves Top 10 Pitching Prospects
- Ian Anderson, RHP
- Kyle Wright, RHP
- Bryse Wilson, RHP
- Jared Shuster, LHP*
- Kyle Muller, LHP
- Tucker Davidson, LHP
- Jaseel De La Cruz, RHP
- Daysbel Hernandez, RHP
- Freddy Tarnok, RHP
- Victor Vodnik, RHP
Oh, it's a great time to be a Braves fan. They've got a World Series contender in Atlanta and even more help on the way! Now, tell me how you would lay out your list...GO!