Prior to Tuesday’s loss to Oakland, the Braves designated Lucas Luetge for assignment and called up 20-year-old, AJ Smith-Shawver.
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AJ has had a standout season as he rocketed through High-A, Double-A, and Triple-A before getting the call to the MLB. What an incredible and rapid ascension in one season.
He hopes to contribute to the Braves popping the champagne corks at the season, but he won’t be legally allowed to drink any until November! If he appears in the game tonight, he will be the youngest pitcher (20 years and 192 days) to play for the Braves since Julio Teheran (20 years and 100 days) in 2011.
When Was AJ Smith-Shawver Drafted?
Smith-Shawver was drafted in the seventh round of the 2021 MLB Draft out of high school. He made waves in Colleyville, Texas as the star quarterback of the football and as a pitcher for the baseball team. He threw a lot of balls well in high school.
He was a recognized recruit and candidate to play at Division 1 in both sports. He had an opportunity to play both football and baseball at Texas Tech, forcing the Braves to pay above slot value when they drafted him in 2021.
Despite being a seventh-round draft pick, the Braves paid him a $1,000,000 signing bonus, which looks more like a second or third-round prospect.
When Did AJ Smith-Shawver Start Pitching?
AJ Smith-Shawver didn’t start pitching for his high school team until his junior year in the summer of 2020. Think about that for a minute. All these guys playing year-round travel ball their entire childhoods, parents paying thousands of dollars for the advanced lessons and camps, and this kid just picks up a baseball in the summer of 2020 and gets drafted in June of 2021! Even crazier, he’s a Major League Baseball player as of yesterday.
How Good Was AJ Smith-Shawver in the Minor Leagues?
AJ Smith-Shawver came to rookie ball with far less experience than the other pitchers, most of whom had been pitching most of their lives. As expected, his control was suspect, but his stuff was great. Think Ricky “Wild Thing” Vaughn from Major League.
AJ pitched just 8.1 innings and walked 10 batters. He gave up two home runs, but damned if he didn’t strike out 16 hitters in those 8.1 innings. See what I mean? Wild Thing, I think I love you.
In 2022, he made 17 starts in Low-A and finished with an unsightly 5.11 ERA, pushed upward by his 5.1 walks per nine innings pitched. Again, the electricity in his stuff was evidenced by his strikeout numbers. Smith-Shawver struck out 103 hitters in just 68.2 innings pitched.
This year has been his year. 2023 has seen a meteoric rise for the 20-year-old right-hander. He was promoted through three levels of the minor leagues and now finds himself on the Atlanta Braves Major League roster. It is only May and the kid is on his fourth team and third promotion. Talk about upward mobility!
Across all three levels this season, Smith-Shawver has appeared to gain command of his 95-98 mph fastball and the rest of his stuff. His walks per nine plummeted to 3.3. He is still striking dudes out with 12.3 K/9. His WHIP is a sparkling 0.939. His ERA is a spectacular 1.09.
Will AJ Smith-Shawver Start for the Braves?
Brian Snitker acknowledged that he thinks Smith-Shawver’s future is as a starting pitcher in the Major Leagues but to begin with, they plan to deploy him from the pen to begin with. He compared the situation to how the Braves used Spencer Strider last year when they first called him up to the Show.
AJ Smith-Shawver Scouting Report
MLB.com has AJ ranked as the Braves’ fourth-best prospect. The scouting report celebrates his electric stuff and calls his slider an out pitch to complement his mid-90s fastball that touches 98 mph on the radar gun. The slider is said to have the potential to be “special.” It sits between 88-92 mph right now, which is really hard.
Despite his lack of seasoning, his stuff has led many to believe that he may have the highest ceiling of the current crop of pitching prospects within the Braves’ organization.
Keep your eyes peeled tonight at Oakland for the debut of what could be an electric career.