Breaking: braves top prospect could be the 5th starter coming….

What are realistic expectations for AJ Smith-Shawver in 2024.

Braves: Setting realistic expectations for AJ Smith-Shawver's first start

Atlanta Braves fans have been clamoring for the team to acquire a starting pitcher via free agency, one that can take the ball in the postseason.

But what if that pitcher’s already on the roster?

The team’s top prospect, righty AJ Smith-Shawver, could be the 5th starter coming out of spring training. The 21 year-old debuted in MLB last season after a meteoric rise through the minor leagues, starting in High-A Rome in April and pitching in a major league game in June.

If Atlanta’s unable to come away from this offseason with another starter, either via free agency or trade, then Smith-Shawver projects to be that 5th starter as the team breaks spring training. What’s a realistic expectation for his 2024 season?

As I expected, president of baseball operations Alex Anthopoulos declined to give specific statistical numbers when I asked him this at the MLB Winter Meetings earlier this month, but he still gave us some insights into the young pitcher and his potential.

With that youth comes some inexperience – Smith-Shawver hasn’t had very many opportunities to build innings in his professional career, with only two full seasons in the minor leagues. He pitched 68.2 innings (all for Single-A Augusta) in his first year, followed by 87.1 regular season and 2.2 postseason innings in 2023.

Jumping from 70 to 90 innings from year to year, an increase of 28.57%, isn’t that unusual and isn’t anything that should hold him back next season.

But what is a realistic amount of innings for Smith-Shawver in 2024?

If we add another 30% (for ease of rounding), that gets you to 117 innings. Again, let’s round it to 120 innings for ease of discussion. If you assume he’s a “five and dive” candidate, that’s 24 starts.

But does Atlanta need AJ Smith-Shawver to make 24-28 starts?

I don’t think they do.

There’s two kinds of starting pitchers for Atlanta, in my mind – guys who would start a playoff game and those who wouldn’t. Spencer Strider, Max Fried, Charlie Morton? Obviously in that first group.

The second group, as of now, is pretty easy to identify as well: Dylan Dodd, Darius Vines, Allan Winans, et al.

You need that second group of pitchers to get through a Major League season – there’s 162 starts to be made, and even if you assume those are all just five inning starts, it’s still 810 innings to be covered.

But you don’t want that second group starting postseason games, if you can help it. That’s why Atlanta (reportedly) went after Aaron Nola in free agency.

Sure, Smith-Shawver’s postseason debut didn’t go according to plan – 2.2 innings in relief, with three hits and three runs allowed (all on solo homers), walking one and striking out three against Philadelphia.



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