Atlanta is finishing a painful but impressive season, bottoming out at one point after losing Mike Soroka and Ronald Acuña Jr. for the year on top of missing Ian Anderson–not to mention the Marcel Ozuna saga. 

They could’ve done the cool kid thing and stopped trying. Instead, they traded for a whole new outfield of misfit toys–Jorge Soler, Joc Pederson, Eddie Rosario, and Adam Duval–that selling teams no longer wanted on the payroll, sacrificing next to nothing from their farm in the process and putting together another potentially division-winning club, their fourth in a row if they can hold off the Phillies, who are just one game back as I type this on Saturday night. 

If Atlanta can power through, they’ll have benefited from being in baseball’s wonkiest division, but a win is a win, and who knows, perhaps this team that figures to win about 85 games will outperform much better regular season squads in the postseason, and even if they fall short, their minor league system looks better to me than it has since Acuña graduated. 

 

Format: Position Player | Age on 4/1/2022 | Highest level played | ETA

1. SS Vaughn Grissom | 21 | A+ | 2023

Here’s what I wrote about Grissom the other day in Prospect News: Palace Intrigue in Cincinnati:

“Atlanta SS Vaughn Grissom is leveling up in more than one sense. He was promoted to High-A a couple weeks ago, and the 20-year-old has been unstoppable there, slashing .378/.519/.595 across 12 games, walking (21.2%) more than twice as often as he’s striking out (9.6%). He carried strong rates in 75 games at A ball as well: 10.4 BB%, 14.9 K%. Grissom is 6’3” with plus speed and present power who could grow into a top 50 prospect very soon.”

That’s me quoting me being very excited about Vaughn Grissom, who was still available in my 15-team dynasty at the time. We’ve hooked up since. Feels like a ready-to-launch moment for Grissom, who slashed .311/.402/.446 across 75 games at A ball prior to his High-A heater, which was a continuation of a long steamy stretch that started in Low A. 

 

2. OF Michael Harris II | 21 | A+ | 2023   

Speed and contact skills are the calling cards for Harris, but his plate discipline took a pretty nice leap in the second half this year as well. He’s posted a 12.9/17.9 K/BB percentage since August 1, slashing .288/.400/.432 with 2 HR and 9 SB over the 35 game stretch. He’ll open next year at AA and could push for some big league looks later in the season.

 

3. OF Cristian Pache | 23 | MLB | 2020

If you can separate hype and history from the game on the field, Pache had a good year as a 22-year-old at AAA, slashing .268/.336/.418 with 10 HR and 9 SB across 83 games, good for a 104 wRC+. He’s on track to be an everyday centerfielder thanks to double-plus defense. There’s fantasy value in the playing time and speed with a decent stick. Manny Margot stuff would be a pretty good outcome. Pache retains topside beyond that, but Cedric Mullins he’s not. That was fun to write. Sure, he might not pay back the investors who’ve been all in on him for three years, but he’s a good prospect.

 

4. C Shea Langeliers | 24 | AA | 2022

William Contreras was not great as a rookie (.210/.294/.382), but catchers rarely are. He’s still ahead of Langeliers on timeline, but I think the latter will establish himself as the club’s long-term catcher sometime soon. Langeliers showed he could get very hot on the home run front at times in 2021, making him an intriguing option in the final rounds of draft and hold leagues heading into 2022, when he’ll open the season at AAA after posting 22 bombs and a 128 wRC+ across 92 games at AA this season.

 

5. RHP Spencer Strider | 23 | AA | 2022

The six-foot Strider popped this season after being a 4th round of pick out in the 2020 draft then spending much of that year in the pitching lab working on his mechanics and repertoire, specifically on the axis and spin of his 4-seam fastball, which he locates well atop the zone even as it comes in around 100 mph. He can hold that velocity throughout his starts, which alone gives him a shot to remain on the rotation path. His curveball pairs well with the heater, and his changeup has good shape and potential if he can command it. One fun stat about Strider, he had five starts (among 21 total) with ten or more strikeouts this year. We will be very happy fantasy players if he brings us something like eight outings with double digit strikeouts.

 

6. LHP Kyle Muller | 24 | MLB | 2021

A giant at 6’6” 235 lbs, Muller enjoyed a command boost this year that carried him to the big leagues, where he was effective despite walking 4.91 batters per nine innings (12.9%). His success came with a low hit rate (.255 BABIP), but Muller has always suppressed home runs and allowed only two in his 36.2 major league innings. If that holds and Muller can find the zone enough, his nasty fastball and four-pitch mix should find a home in the rotation sometime next season.

 

7. LHP Tucker Davidson | 26 | MLB | 2021

Tough guy to rank as he reportedly avoided Tommy John surgery but didn’t pitch after leaving his June 15 start with forearm tightness. I’ve long pined for the full Tucker Davidson experience but been mostly puzzled by his place in the Atlanta pecking order. He got his fastball up in the 100 range at Driveline in 2020 but pitched in the 92-94 range before getting shut down, meaning there’s a non-zero chance he settles in above that when fully healthy and firing on all cylinders at the highest level. Like many pitchability lefties with diverse repertoires and lots of experience, Davidson’s outcomes have always outpaced his scouting reports. He might wind up needing a Cole Irvin like change of scenery to hit his top-end potential.

 

8. RHP Freddy Tarnok | 23 | AA | 2022

Tarnok the hunter slipped under my radar for much of the season. Typical stealth of the trade. The lithe young beanpole is no longer looking like Sticks McKenzie but still figures to add muscle, and perhaps velocity, with more time in the pros–not that he’ll need any extra velo. The 6’3” righty struck out 40.7 percent of the hitters he saw in A+ then K’d 33.7 percent at AA, where he was even better overall, finishing the season with a 1.11 WHIP and 2.60 ERA at the level. He took nine turns at AA and made it through six innings twice with just one bad night allowing four runs in four innings. It’s a little bit of a Touki Toussaint look with dynamic off-speed and middling but improving fastball, and Tarnok found better command this year than Touki has typically enjoyed, giving reason to hope the once-relievery prospect can make it as a rotation piece.

 

9. RHP Ryan Cusick | 22 | A | 2023

Atlanta cast Cusick for the role of 24th overall pick of the 2021 draft, their second straight first-round pitcher from Wake Forest after selecting LHP Jared Shuster in 2020. Cusick brings slightly similar traits in that he had a velocity boost in his draft season, but while Shuster’s velocity backed off the following year, I think Cusick’s will hold. The 6’6” 235 pounder throws his four-seamer between 97 and 100 mph, sprinkling in a plus curve and developing changeup. He found little resistance in A ball, striking out 50.7 percent of his opponents in six outings spanning 16.1 innings. Feels a bit like the Strider approach: short outings early to let his fastball eat and build up his confidence in the pitch. Would’ve been nice to see a bit more of him, but six dominant turns in his draft year is nothing to scoff at. Might look pretty low on this list by June of 2022. If it doesn’t work out for him as a starter, Cusick is a good bet to become a lights out back end reliever.

 

10. OF Drew Waters | 23 | AAA | 2022

I got so close to putting Shuster or OF Jesse Franklin V here thanks to his 24 HR, 19 SB debut across 101 games. That all happened at High-A though, and Waters is in AAA at the same age, so even as he’s in a long dry spell, it would scare me a little to leave him off the list entirely because he was so good in AA as a 21 year old (.319/.366/.481 across 108 games), and he seems to be running a lot more (28 SB in 36 attempts this year) to compensate for struggles at the plate. He’ll need to stop striking out so much but cut about five percent off his K rate this year compared to his 26 AAA games in 2019.

Thanks for reading!

I’m @theprospectitch on Twitter.

  1. Harley Earl says:
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    Great stuff Itch. Very informative. Love that you’re starting this series now. You’re always a guy I look to and read. Wish Contreras were as good as his brother. Doesn’t look like he’s going to be even close to that.

    Grissom sounds very intriguing. You didn’t give his production numbers. Is he a power/speed guy? Contact guy? Just wondering what kind of tools he has. I assume since he’s number one on your rankings he’s got five-category potential.

    Looking forward to the next one of these you roll out!

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Thanks!

      Yeah I think five-category upside is the hope here and main reason he’s at the top. He’s been hot for a king time and I’m wondering if they’ll send him to the fall league to stir up some hype around him.

  2. scoboticus says:
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    Great stuff Itch. I noticed that the pitchers are 5 or more in rankings. What do you look for in pitchers to move them up the rankings?

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Thanks!

      High K rates and tidy WHIPs w demonstrated HR suppression skills if possible.

      I especially like smooth, balanced mechanics where a guy stays within himself all the way through his delivery before exploding very late, if at all.

  3. Grey

    Grey says:
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    Can’t believe you still have hope in Pache…You, sir, are more optimistic than I

    • The Itch

      The Itch says:
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      Feels weird after being kinda out on him for years, but now looks like the time to like him if you can like him for free, you know?

      • Grey

        Grey says:
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        Like I said, more confidence than I…

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