Major League Baseball’s offseason is in full swing, and that means everyone is thinking about the future. In most cities, that means next season; in some, though, it means the bigger picture, the next three to five years. You’re either selling wins or you’re selling hope, the old saying goes. We here at CBS Sports like to provide as much hope as we can around this time of the winter by evaluating each team’s farm system.
Of course, that doesn’t mean every team has an equally good farm system — some, as you’ll find out throughout this process, are lacking in that respect. It does mean, nevertheless, that CBS Sports will be spending the next few weeks examining the top three prospects in each organization. We define “prospects” as retaining their rookie eligibility for the 2023 season, so if a young player is missing that’s likely why.
These lists and evaluations are formed following conversations with scouts, analysts, and player development types. There’s also firsthand evaluation and bias thrown into the mix. Keep in mind that player evaluation is a hard task, and it’s fine if you disagree with the rankings. These are opinions, and they have no real bearing on the future. You can check out our winter top 20 list by clicking here.
With that in mind, let’s get to it by dissecting the Atlanta Braves.
1. Owen Murphy, RHP (2023 seasonal age: 19)
Murphy, the 20th pick in last summer’s draft, was a two-way player in high school who officially shelved his bat once he turned professional. He has a simple delivery and a flat release point that benefits his mid-90s fastball when it’s elevated. Murphy has above-average athleticism and receives high marks for his competitiveness, with some scouts pointing out the similarities he shares with Jack Leiter and Jack Flaherty. (No word yet on Jack Morris, Jack McDowell, or Jack Billingham.) Both of those attributes will come in handy over the years as he attempts to refine his secondary pitches.
2. JR Ritchie, RHP (2023 seasonal age: 20)
The Braves took three consecutive prep right-handers to begin last year’s draft: Murphy was the first, Ritchie was the second. (The third, who will not appear on this particular list, was Cole Phillips.) Ritchie has a carrying fastball that touches the mid-90s and a promising pair of secondary pitches. Evaluators have praised his interest and understanding of pitch design and his physical and mental gifts should give him a chance to stick as a starter.
3. AJ Smith-Shawver, RHP (2023 seasonal age: 20)
The Braves have made a habit out of finding contributors outside of the first round. They picked Michael Harris in the third; Spencer Strider in the fourth; and Vaughn Grissom in the 11th. Smith-Shawver, a seventh rounder in 2021, could someday add his name to the list. He’s a physical right-hander with a loud fastball-breaking ball combination who has made some mechanical refinements since draft day. He still walked more than five batters per nine innings last season in A-ball, but his upside is worth waiting on.