Atlanta has shown in recent years that it the most aggressive club in the league when it comes to promoting prospects to the majors and this continues that trend. Smith-Shawver is only 20 years old and was just drafted in 2021, getting selected in the seventh round. He made his professional debut with four Complex League appearances that year and then jumped onto Baseball America’s list of the top 30 prospect in the organization, getting the #18 spot going into 2022.
He would get a lengthier exposure in 2022, making 17 starts in Single-A, posting a 5.11 ERA in 68 2/3 innings. While that earned run figure wasn’t especially impressive, there was some bad luck in there. His .338 batting average on balls in play and 59.5% strand rate were both on the unlucky side of normal, leading to a 3.53 FIP that was much kinder. He jumped to #1 on BA’s list of top prospects in the system, as they highlighted his four-seam fastball, which averaged 95 mph and had good movement. They also praised his slider and mentioned a work-in-progress changeup.
This year, he began the year in High-A but the club has shown little hesitation about bumping him up the ladder. He made just three starts at that level before getting bumped to Double-A for two and then Triple-A for two more. In those seven starts, he has a combined 1.09 ERA over 33 innings, striking out 35.2% of batters while walking 9.4%. He’s getting good luck this time around, with his BABIP down to .257 on the year and his strand rate up to 91.2%. However, his 2.43 FIP still points to excellent work even when taking that into account.
That performance this year has pushed up his prospect stock. Though he wasn’t really considered a top 100 guy coming into the year, he’s now up to #98 at Baseball America and JJ Cooper of BA tweets that he will likely be moving up even higher in their next update. He didn’t open the year in the top 100 at FanGraphs either but it now up to #86 there. Now he’ll get to make his big league debut at a very young age and with a very quick blast through the minors.
As mentioned, this is becoming something of a playbook for the organization. Last year, they promoted prospects like Michael Harris II and Vaughn Grissom, both of whom were in their age-21 seasons. Going further back, players like Ronald Acuña Jr., Ozzie Albies and Michael Soroka all got to the show in the respective age-20 campaigns. Austin Riley and Spencer Strider each got to debut in their age-22 seasons. Now Smith-Shawver will be the latest to be rocketed up to the top level.
Although he is a starter, Smith-Shawver will be used out of the bullpen initially, reports David O’Brien of The Athletic. Though the club has one of the better records in the league at 32-22, the bullpen is an area on the roster that looks a little shaky. The club’s relievers have a collective 4.13 ERA on the year, which places them 17th out of the 30 clubs in the league. Smith-Shawver will try to give them a boost back there as he gets acquainted with the majors.
It’s possible he could join the rotation down the road, as there’s some uncertainty there as well. With Max Fried and Kyle Wright both on the injured list and not expected to return anytime soon, that leaves Atlanta with Strider, Soroka, Charlie Morton, Bryce Elder, and Jared Shuster. Soroka has hardly pitched in the past three years due to various injuries, including twice tearing his Achilles, and it’s unknown how much of a workload he can be expected to take on this year. Shuster, meanwhile, is a rookie with a 5.33 ERA so far this year. There may come a time when Smith-Shawver appears to be a viable option, but he may not have too much leash himself after throwing just 68 2/3 innings last year.
As for Luetge, he spent the past couple of seasons as an effective lefty reliever for the Yankees. He came over to Atlanta in an offseason deal but has struggled mightily so far this year. He has a 10.24 ERA on the season, only making nine appearances around a trip to the injured list due to biceps inflammation. His .406 BABIP and 57.3% strand rate have pushed that up but his 6.08 FIP and 4.53 SIERA still aren’t ideal.
The club will now have one week to trade Luetge or pass him through waivers. Despite his rough stretch here in 2023, he’ll likely garner interest based on his previous work. He tossed 129 2/3 innings with the Yanks over 2021 and 2022 with a combined 2.71 ERA, striking out 25% of opponents while walking only 5.8%. He’s making a salary of $1.55MM this year and could be retained for another year via arbitration. If he clears waivers, he could reject an outright assignment by virtue of having a previous career outright. But doing so and electing free agency would mean forfeiting his remaining salary, since he is shy of the five-year service mark.