Which prospects could help Braves this season?

030421 Bradenton: Atlanta Braves catcher Shea Langeliers holds on to the ball making the tag on Pittsburgh Pirates Ji-hwan Bae at homeplate for the out during the sixth inning of a MLB spring training baseball game at LECOM Park on Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Bradenton.   “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

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030421 Bradenton: Atlanta Braves catcher Shea Langeliers holds on to the ball making the tag on Pittsburgh Pirates Ji-hwan Bae at homeplate for the out during the sixth inning of a MLB spring training baseball game at LECOM Park on Thursday, March 4, 2021, in Bradenton. “Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@ajc.com”

Credit: Curtis Compton / Curtis.Compton@

While the 2022 Braves will rely heavily on young players, rookies aren’t expected to play major roles. That doesn’t mean some prospects won’t work their way into the team’s plans later in the year.

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Baseball America’s preseason top 100 included three Braves: outfielder Michael Harris (46), catcher Shea Langeliers (54) and outfielder Cristian Pache (84). Harris’ ranking is the lowest the Braves’ top prospect has been slotted in Baseball America’s preseason list since Jose Peraza was No. 54 in 2015.

This marks the fourth time since 2009 that the Braves lack a top-22 prospect to begin the season. That isn’t indicative of Harris’ talent, however. He should continue ascending these lists and rank among the sport’s best prospects by the time he debuts. He’s only 20 years old, but that day isn’t far away.

The Braves’ system was the envy of most major-league teams for years. That’s changed for reasons that are welcomed: The top-tier talent graduated and has helped the Braves become a powerhouse, winning four consecutive division titles and the World Series title last season.

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Now that they’re back in the international market, the Braves can replenish their system without limitations. They likely will draft late in each round for the foreseeable future, given their contending state, but that won’t preclude them from finding and developing talent. The Dodgers, the National League’s other premier franchise, have maintained a strong farm system under similar circumstances (Los Angeles placed five prospects in Baseball America’s top 100).

For those reasons, the lower levels of the Braves’ system will be intriguing over the next two years. But today, let’s focus on players who are on the cusp, those who could even impact the Braves’ repeat bid.

Nobody would comfortably bet against Harris making a meteoric rise and debuting later this year, but it isn’t the likely scenario. We don’t know what will happen in the Braves’ outfield as well, which obviously also impacts Pache and switch-hitter Drew Waters, whose stock has steeply declined. Bottom line: Harris shouldn’t be needed in the coming season.

Pache’s offense wasn’t major-league ready during his stint a season ago. A defensive wizard who drew comparisons with Andruw Jones, the concerns around Pache always centered on his performance at the plate. His prospect status has dipped, and this will be a crucial year if he’s going to cement himself in the Braves’ long-term plans.

Waters’ path is even murkier. His struggles to make consistent contact continued at Triple-A Gwinnett, where he largely underwhelmed a season ago. He probably will be mentioned in trade rumors, but his value isn’t what it once was. Perhaps his performance improves and circumstances open the door for his debut this season, be it with the Braves or elsewhere.

Langeliers, 24, feels likely to make the majors this season, though he won’t be rushed. Travis d’Arnaud is back on a two-year deal, and the Braves signed veteran Manny Pina for further depth. Langliers is the future – and he’s special behind the plate – but the Braves can afford patience. Still, he should see some major-league time in 2022 if he progresses accordingly.

The easiest avenue for rookies to affect the 2022 Braves is pitching. Spencer Strider, a former Clemson product, was promoted the final weekend of the regular season after pitching in four minor-league levels during the season. A strikeout artist, he could at the least become a weapon in the bullpen.

Kyle Muller had exciting moments during his 2021 workload – remember his pitching duel with Jacob deGrom in his first start? Expect to see more Muller in 2022. The towering, hard-throwing lefty has shown promise. He could help as a starter or reliever, though he’s being developed as the former (he made his MLB debut in relief before logging eight starts).

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Similar things can be said about southpaw Tucker Davidson, who’s still a rookie with six total appearances under his belt. He had a 3.60 ERA in four starts and was earning a rotation spot before a forearm injury shut him down. He made it back and was put on the World Series roster, making one appearance in Game 5.

Lefty Dylan Lee has more postseason appearances (three) than regular-season outings (two). Like Strider, he joined the mix at season’s end. He wound up pitching three cumulative postseason innings. He allowed two runs, but showed enough to warrant an extended look.

Freddy Tarnok, Brooks Wilson and William Woods are additional rookie pitchers on the 40-man roster. Each of them should get an opportunity this season given the realities of baseball.

Tarnok impressed at Double-A to close the season, earning a 2.60 ERA over nine starts. He had a 61:15 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Wilson had a fantastic campaign, posting a 2.45 ERA across 33 appearances in Double-A and earning a promotion to Triple-A, where he fanned 11 in six innings.

Woods has been stalled by injuries and has thrown 61-2/3 innings over the past three seasons, but he’s a hard-thrower with a three-pitch mix that leads one to believe he could become an effective reliever. He appeared in only five games last season, four of which came with High-A Rome, so he’s much further behind Tarnok and Wilson.

There are other prospects, such as infielder Braden Shewmake and pitchers Bryce Elder and Alan Rangel, who could find their way to the majors in the nearer future. Perhaps there will be some surprises. But with the Braves’ championship aspirations and the upper farm system’s situation, there isn’t a clear path for rookie impact – until, of course, there is.