Braden Shewmake hoped he’d be a first-time big leaguer when spring training concluded. Instead, he’ll have to wait a bit longer. But his day doesn’t feel too far away.
Shewmake, 25, was competing for the Braves’ shortstop job this spring, an opening created by Dansby Swanson’s departure to the Cubs in free agency. The Braves ultimately opted for veteran Orlando Arcia instead of Shewmake or Vaughn Grissom, who had his first taste of the majors last season.
Still, Shewmake had an impressive spring. He hit .323 (10-for-31) with a double, triple and five RBIs. He drew routine praise from manager Brian Snitker and teammates. It could be argued he’s the best defender of the three shortstop candidates, showing great range and instincts. His offense, considered his biggest question, has improved over the past two seasons.
“I feel like I had a really good camp,” Shewmake said. “I like to keep my head down and try to do as much as I can, try to stay out of the way of a bunch of people. I’m just getting my work done. That was my focus for the whole camp and I feel like I did that. I’m very happy with it. I definitely knew leaving camp that I didn’t have anything else that I needed to prove, I guess.”
The former first-round pick began the 2023 season with Triple-A Gwinnett. He got off to quite a start Friday: After striking out four times, he hit a walk-off three run homer in the season opener, giving the Stripers an 8-5 victory over Jacksonville.
Grissom had a triple and two walks and scored three runs.
Shewmake is going to primarily play second base for the Stripers, which allows Grissom to log reps at shortstop (the team already knows Shewmake is an excellent defender, whereas Grissom needs more work there). That’s exactly how the Stripers managed the duo Friday for the season opener. Shewmake said he’s fully comfortable at second base, which he played during his freshman season at Texas A&M.
His relationship with Grissom is also strong to the point it should help both players. When the Braves summoned Grissom for his MLB debut last summer, Shewmake called him. Grissom told Shewmake the promotion would’ve been him if he wasn’t hurt (Shewmake tore the PCL in his left knee on a collision days before Grissom’s call-up). Shewmake rejected that idea, telling Grissom he earned it and will make the most of it.
“We obviously know what he did, he went up there and played pretty well,” Shewmake said. “That’s just the kind of person he is. It’s a testament to the organization for bringing him in and his family as well.”
Grissom said of Shewmake: “He’s great, man. Especially, he’s from college and he’s older than me (Grissom is 22). Just experience, bounce some questions off him. He’s obviously level-headed. He has a family now. It’s good to bounce my perspective off his and find a happy medium. Just a cool person to have around. He’s really helpful.”
The aforementioned collision prematurely ended Shewmake’s season. He’d hit .259 with a .715 OPS, showing legitimate growth offensively that carried into this spring. He had two doubles and triple during the exhibition season (“There were big strides made in spring training,” he said). His speed proved an asset.
Shewmake added he worked with his dad over the offseason to adjust offensively, admitting he’d received conflicting advice in the past and has decided to return to what made him successful.
“The big thing was to keep hitting,” Shewmake said when asked what the Braves told him when they sent him to Gwinnett. “Just continuing to hit. My last year got cut short. They told me that I can play really good defense, they just want me to keep hitting. Come down here and play hard. Keep working on the defense, obviously, but to continue to hit.”
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Credit: Jason Getz / Jason.Getz@ajc.com
Asked about his understanding of the shortstop situation, Shewmake lauded Arcia and Grissom.
“Vaughn had a great camp,” Shewmake said. “I feel like I had a great camp as well. So did Orlando. He has the experience, so I think that’s what we’re going with right now, the experience. And we know how fast things can change. As of right now, that’s what they decided to go with and we respect their decision. Orlando is a great player. Grissom is too. I think he’s going to do a fine job.
Shewmake added, citing advice from his wife Emily: “There are things you can control and things you can’t control. There are things that are completely out of your control. There’s nothing you can do about them. Whether you think you had the best camp ever or a terrible camp, you have to move forward and play the cards you’re dealt. That’s where we are.”
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Credit: Jason Getz/AJC