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2022 Braves Offseason Prospect List: Top 10 trade chips among Braves prospects

Sunday, December 19, 2021

­-Clint Manry

Last offseason was unlike any other due to a raging global pandemic. Now, the current offseason is set to once again become unique given the sport’s lockout. But make no mistake, once MLB and its players finally come to a compromise on the next CBA (hopefully sooner than later), trades and signings will be prevalent, which means there’s a good chance the Braves will move a few of its prospects.

Over the last week or so I’ve banged out a steady diet of prospect posts, releasing my 2022 Offseason Braves Prospect List and the player excerpts that come with it. And I plan to do more series regarding the organization’s prospects this winter, but first I should probably examine the system’s most likely trade chips. The following list is Braves prospects from my latest rankings that are the most likely to be moved this offseason, ordered from likeliest to least likely. Obviously, the team isn’t planning to trade away ten of its most talented minor league players in one given offseason, but I chose ten so I’d have an opportunity to touch on several different possible scenarios. Now, you should probably understand a few parameters first: this isn’t just a ranking of most likely prospects to be moved. The player has to actually have value as well, so look at this as more of a combination of prospects that are the likeliest to be traded because of organizational needs AND current value/prospect stock, if that makes any sense.

Following the list, I’ve written a few paragraphs on each prospect.

2022’s Top 10 Braves Trade Chips

1Freddy Tarnok9thAA-MississippiSP
2Drew Waters4thAAA-GwinnettOF
3Jesse Franklin V13thA+ RomeOF
4Vaughn Grissom15thA+ RomeSS/3B
5Jared Shuster16thAA-MississippiSP
6Bryce Elder7thAAA-GwinnettSP
7Luke Waddell21stAA-MississippiINF
8Indigo Diaz14thAA-MississippiRP
9Braden Shewmake11thAA-MississippiSS
10Cristian Pache2ndMLBOF
  1. Freddy Tarnok, RHP

Back in late July, several prominent writers at MLB.com put out a series regarding each team’s most intriguing prospect trade chip, and for the Braves, they chose the right-handed Tarnok. That piece didn’t get a whole lot of attention among Braves Country, but even then I believed it was an accurate choice.

Tarnok, entering his age-23 campaign in 2022, could be the most valuable and necessary trade chip in Atlanta’s system currently. He’s a top 10 prospect, ranked ninth on my 2022 list, and he’s still young enough that there’s some projection left in him. And even better, Tarnok is coming off a really strong showing from the 2021 season, featuring a 2.60 ERA in nine starts with Double-A Mississippi – his first appearance at such a high level.

The truth is, the Braves are absolutely loaded with arms, and right now Tarnok is probably fifth on the prospect depth chart when it comes to starters in the system (behind guys like lefties Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson and righties Bryce Elder and Spencer Strider). His stock is at its highest, he’s young and has plenty of strikeout stuff. There’s probably no better time to trade him, and there’s no doubt Tarnok could help fetch some strong major league talent. I believe Atlanta should move him this offseason.

Drew Waters, OF

Now while I feel strongly that the Braves should move Tarnok, my thoughts on Waters are a little different. I don’t necessarily want the prospect outfielder to be traded, BUT I do think it’s a viable option if Atlanta were to try and an obtain a star big leaguer this winter.

Heading into 2022, the Braves have several young talented prospect outfielders, which makes all of them potential trade chips, although right now it’s perhaps Waters that wields the most stock, following his 2021 campaign in which he hit .240 with 11 homers and 28 stolen bases in 103 games with Triple-A Gwinnett – his first opportunity at the highest minor league level. And the fact that Cristian Pache dealt with an injury and a poor performance in the majors, you could argue that Waters is a more sought-after prospect, making this the best time to move him.

I honestly doubt the Braves trade Waters, but if there’s an All-Star or MVP-caliber big leaguer out there that GM Alex Anthopoulos is heavily interested in, it’s Waters that’s going to help move the needle.

Jesse Franklin V, OF

This is the spot where I struggled, no. 3. I know Franklin seems like an odd choice, but to me, after Pache, Waters and Michael Harris II, he’s the top outfielder in the system and ranked 13th in my 2022 rankings. The fact that Franklin was able to mash against both righties and lefties this past season really improved his prospect stock this winter, and his power display with High-A Rome (24 HR) is just a bonus. At 23-years-old, this is a very valuable player, and one the Braves could move and still be fine in terms of outfield depth.

Although I must say, I really don’t want Franklin to be traded. This kid is not only an above-average hitter, but he’s also super athletic (19 stolen bases in ’21) and appears to have a solid glove at the corner-outfield spot. I believe, as long as his bat continues to flourish, Franklin could be a top 100 prospect and a player that has a lot to offer in the majors one day. However, unfortunately that makes him a really intriguing trade chip as well.

Vaughn Grissom, SS

With Braden Shewmake perhaps a few years away from the majors, the Braves could cash in on Grissom while his stock is at its highest. The latter, as a 20-year-old this past season, managed to slash .319/.418/.464 with 28 XBH (seven HR) in 87 games combined between Single-A Augusta and High-A Rome – good for a well-above-average 165 wRC+ and a no. 15 ranking on my 2022 list.

Ideally, it would be better to hold onto Grissom, but I could totally see a scenario in which he’s traded, especially with guys like Cal Conley and Luke Waddell coming up through the system. Star shortstops are hard to come by, and with Grissom, Atlanta could put together quite the trade package for major league help this winter.

Jared Shuster, LHP

Given how righty-dominant the Braves system currently is, you could argue that trading a lefty prospect is a bad idea in general. However, with both Kyle Muller and Tucker Davidson (both southpaws) competing for a spot in Atlanta’s starting rotation this coming spring, the organization isn’t necessarily hurting when it comes to that particular flavor of pitching.

Shuster, the Braves top pick in 2020, is a 23-year-old with the projection of a mid-rotation starter, and as a lefty, he’s probably the seventh or eighth best arm in the system right now overall. The kid performed really well in Rome this past season, averaging 11.2 strikeouts per nine to go with a 3.70 ERA in 14 starts, but struggled in his first taste of Double-A (7.36 ERA / 3 starts). I never like the idea of moving a top pick from just two drafts ago, but at this point Shuster is looking up at quite a few guys in front of him. The Braves could most definitely survive the blow, so if a viable opportunity presented itself I believe a trade involving the lefty could be an option this offseason.

Bryce Elder, RHP

While Shuster is currently outside of the system’s top handful of arms, the same can’t be said about Elder as the latter absolutely dominated three minor league levels in 2021, making it all the way to Triple-A Gwinnett during his first pro season. Altogether, the 22-year-old posted a 2.75 ERA in 25 starts last season between Double-A and Triple-A, while averaging 10.1 strikeouts per nine, earning a no. 7 ranking on my 2022 list, which puts him directly behind Muller and Davidson within the organizational depth chart of prospect pitchers.

Including Elder in a trade package should get the Braves whoever they want as far as major league talent, and while it would certainly hurt to see such a promising pitcher go, it’s not as if it’s a position of need for a system currently loaded with potential star pitchers. Like most of these guys, I don’t want to see Elder moved, but in terms of trade value, he may be one of the top names on this list considering he’s a true starting pitcher that’s on the cusp of debuting in the majors.

Luke Waddell, INF

Waddell is more of a utility-type player and not really the headlining prospect you’d use in a blockbuster trade like some of these other names. However, as a kid who can play all over the infield and consistently make contact, the former fifth-round pick could be a valuable trade chip for the Braves.

Waddell, 23-years-old, is probably about two years away from the majors as he raked in High-A Rome before struggling with Double-A Mississippi in 2021. There are questions regarding just how good his bat really is, given he slugged eight homers in 56 games during his final season with Georgia Tech and then belted six long balls in just 21 games with the R-Braves. But if he can settle in as a near-.300 hitter with decent power, there’s no doubt he’ll become a solid major leaguer, and every team is in need of that.

I’m not sure Waddell’s trade value is very high. I’m probably higher on him than most, ranking him just outside the top 20 on my latest list. But he’d be a damn good no. 2 guy in a big trade, maybe even better given his versatility.

Indigo Diaz, RHP

As the system’s out-of-nowhere superstar from 2021, the Braves could strike while the iron’s hot and move Diaz, who completely overpowered opposing batters this past season, averaging 16.6 (!) strikeouts per nine in a combined 45 innings with both Rome and Mississippi. He’s strictly a reliever, but he’s also one of the best in the minors right now, so there should be plenty of interest.

Diaz is a 6-foot-5 beast on the mound and could very likely make his MLB debut some time in 2022. He’s that good. And at just 23-years-old, this is the type of arm an organization could groom into its next homegrown star closer. I’d rather see the Braves do that, but I won’t lie, Diaz’s trade value is probably sky high right now.

Braden Shewmake, SS

Above I made the case that perhaps Shewmake is the future and Grissom is the guy the Braves move, so here I’m flip flopping, making Grissom the future big league shortstop and Shewmake the trade chip. And honestly, the more I think about it… I kind of like the latter scenario.

As much as I love Shewmake as a player, his timeline just doesn’t mesh as good as Grissom, given he was a former college bat that played three seasons at Texas A&M (before being drafted in 2019). At 24-years-old and coming off a full season with Double-A Mississippi, he’s nearly at the end of his development. However, assuming he lights up Triple-A in 2022, what’s Shewmake’s path to the majors? I mean, Dansby Swanson isn’t going anywhere, and the only other position Shewmake has any meaningful experience at is second base, so again he’s blocked there for about the next decade.

The 2022 season will be Swanson’s final year of team control, but I believe it’s essentially a no-brainer that Atlanta gives him a multi-year extension in the near future, which means Shewmake is better served as a trade chip. Grissom, on the other hand, is at least three years away from the big leagues, so he makes more sense as the guy to possibly replace Swanson. Neither Shewmake or Grissom has to be traded, but if I had to choose between the two, I’d probably move the former.

Cristian Pache, OF

Ok, so notice I have Pache listed last on this list, which means of the ten total players I’m discussing today, I believe he’s the unlikeliest to be moved AND of course his trade value is at its lowest given his major league struggles in 2021.

Pache is still very much in contention for starting the 2022 season with Atlanta, although it may be ideal for him to get some more at-bats in Gwinnett. Either way, I do not believe the Braves are solely counting on him to be the team’s starting center fielder this coming season, therefore, at some point this winter, Atlanta will need to either sign someone or make a trade. That much I’m pretty certain about.

But then there’s also the scenario, given the decent surplus in prospect outfielders, in which the Braves decide to trade Pache, which would be quite a questionable decision… but not completely out of this world.

Teams don’t usually trade top-tier prospects coming off their worst season, but with Waters, Harris and even Franklin all at or headed for the upper-minors, a Pache-less system shouldn’t be as bad as it maybe would’ve been a year or two ago, especially if moving him helps net a big league star. Personally, I’m against trading Pache, at least for right now. I think, given how much of a generational talent he is, you have to give him another chance to figure things out. I mean, the kid is only 23-years-old for crying out loud. BUT, I’ll at least admit that moving Pache isn’t as crazy as it once was.

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