Spencer Schwellenbach to make MLB debut for Braves on Wednesday

Nebraska pitcher/shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach

Credit: Courtesy of Nebraska Athletics

Credit: Courtesy of Nebraska Athletics

Nebraska pitcher/shortstop Spencer Schwellenbach

Welcome to the majors, Spencer Schwellenbach. The Braves are summoning one of their top pitching prospects to start Wednesday against the Nationals. Schwellenbach was in the Braves’ clubhouse Tuesday.

It’s a drastic leap for Schwellenbach, who’d been pitching in High-A Rome and Double-A Mississippi. He owned a 1.80 ERA in eight starts across the two levels, posting 51 strikeouts with 10 walks in 45 innings. Opponents have hit .191 against Schwellenbach, who’s done an excellent job pounding the strike zone and inducing grounders.

“It feels awesome,” Schwellenbach said. “I think when I wake up tomorrow, it’s really going to set in. I’m just excited to get out there.”

The Braves drafted Schwellenbach, now 23, in the second round (No. 59 overall) of the 2021 draft. He’s steadily climbed the system’s rankings since, currently ranking as the organization’s No. 5 prospect per Baseball America. The promotion surprised him, he said.

Schwellenbach underwent Tommy John surgery after the Braves selected him, keeping him out of the ensuing season, and he missed time last year with right-shoulder inflammation, so he has pitched only 110 career minor-league innings, making this an extremely swift rise to the majors.

“I was just trying to take it day by day,” he said. “I’d only pitched 100 innings in the minors. I was just trying to get my reps in, get my pitches in.”

Manager Brian Snitker: “You look at his numbers, they’re really, really good. He’s a strike thrower. ... He’s a college guy who’s gotten results. It’s attractive when you get guys out. That’s the way you get noticed.”

Of course, another Spencer – Strider – had pitched only 94 minor-league innings in one season before becoming a Braves staple, so the franchise has comfort in quicker promotions. And while Strider pitched fewer collegiate innings because of injury, Schwellenbach didn’t have a heavier workload because he was a two-way player at Nebraska.

Former Braves vice president of scouting Dana Brown, who selected players such as Strider and outfielder Michael Harris II before becoming the Astros’ general manager, said of Schwellenbach at the time: “This is probably one of my favorite picks, I could say, of my career. I was so excited to get this guy. … We told him, ‘Hey, we’re drafting you as a pitcher. We like you at shortstop, but we like you better on the mound, and we think you’re going to do great things for this organization.’”

Baseball America’s scouting report on Schwellenbach:

“The powerfully built, athletic righthander has a four-pitch mix led by a 94-96 mph fastball and was up to 98 post-surgery. While the pitch has always had big-time velocity, it can play down at times thanks to below-average riding life, though Schwellenbach does an excellent job throwing the pitch for strikes to get ahead in the count. He throws two breaking ball variants: the first a firm slider/cutter in the mid-to-upper 80s and the second a more slurve-like curve that has more depth and was a solid swing-and-miss offering at the lower levels.

“Schwellenbach showed good feel to throw both breaking balls for strikes at a high clip, and both feature high spin rates in the 2,400-2,500 rpm range. Against lefthanders, Schwellenbach will mix in an average mid-80s change-up, though his feel for the pitch is further behind his other three. Schwellenbach is a natural strike-thrower dating back to his college days and has a chance for plus control and plus pitchability.”

Schwellenbach said his emphasis this season has been attacking the strike zone and getting ahead early in counts. He felt he struggled striking hitters out last year, so he’s focused on finishing opponents with two strikes. He’s felt more comfortable on the mound being further distanced from his surgery, too, he said.

The Braves have promoted multiple players in recent years from Double-A Mississippi – skipping Triple-A – and that includes Harris, infielder Vaughn Grissom and even lefty Max Fried (2017) under the previous regime. Schwellenbach becomes the third 2021 draftee to reach the majors with the Braves, following Dylan Dodd (No. 96) and AJ Smith-Shawver (No. 217).

Smith-Shawver recently was promoted again, but will miss significant time with an oblique injury, removing one more rotation option for a group that’s down Strider for the season. The Braves have Chris Sale, Fried, Charlie Morton and Reynaldo Lopez in the rotation. Their pitching largely has carried them as the offense has flailed. But with Bryce Elder failing to cement himself as a reliable starter, the team is combing through its starting-pitching depth.

Now, that leads the team to Schwellenbach, who will experience one of the biggest days of his life Wednesday.