The Braves made a surprising decision this week, optioning both Bryce Elder and Ian Anderson to Triple-A Gwinnett. That takes the duo out of consideration for the fifth spot in the rotation. Atlanta’s top four of Max Fried, Spencer Strider, Kyle Wright and Charlie Morton is settled, but the final slot now looks as if it’ll go to someone previously expected to open the year in the minors.
With injuries to Michael Soroka and Kolby Allard keeping them out of the season-opening mix, Elder and Anderson had seemed the favorites for the last rotation spot. Instead, it now seems the Braves will turn to a pitcher with no MLB experience out of the gate. Prospects Jared Shuster and Dylan Dodd look as if they’re battling for the final spot.
The 24-year-old Shuster was Atlanta’s first-round pick out of Wake Forest in 2020. He split the 2022 campaign between Double-A Mississippi and Gwinnett, working to a 3.29 ERA in 139 1/3 innings. He punched out 26.2% of batters faced compared to a modest 6.9% walk rate overall. Shuster’s strikeout numbers dropped precipitously after a midseason jump to Triple-A, however. He’d fanned 30% of opponents in 17 appearances with Mississippi but that mark fell to 19.4% over 10 outings for the Stripers.
Baseball America considers Shuster the #3 prospect in the Atlanta farm system. The outlet credits him with a plus changeup and above-average control. He’s not a particularly hard thrower and scouts peg his slider as a fringe-average pitch. Shuster has thrown 10 2/3 innings this spring, allowing only one run with 16 strikeouts and two walks.
Dodd, also 24, was Atlanta’s third-round pick in 2021. An underslot senior signee coming out of Southeast Missouri State, Dodd moved across three minor league levels in his first full professional season. He started 16 games with High-A Rome and nine for Mississippi before closing out the ’22 campaign with one appearance in Gwinnett. The left-hander soaked up 142 innings over the three levels, posting a 3.36 ERA with a 26% strikeout percentage while only walking 5.3% of opponents.
Ranked the #6 prospect in the organization by Baseball America, Dodd has a similar pitchability profile as Shuster. His fastball also sits in the low-90s and he leans heavily on a pair of advanced breaking pitches in his changeup and slider. He’s an excellent strike-thrower who’s generally regarded as a solid bet to be a back-of-the-rotation starter. Dodd has tossed 8 1/3 scoreless innings in exhibition play, punching out 11 without handing out any free passes.
The book on Shuster and Dodd is fairly similar. They’re both advanced left-handers with strong secondary stuff and control to drive the profile despite middling velocity. They’re each recent college draftees without a ton of professional experience but already in their mid-20s. Both pitchers are having excellent showings in Grapefruit League play, apparently vaulting themselves past Elder and Anderson on the immediate depth chart. Neither is yet on the 40-man roster but Atlanta has a vacancy after losing Dennis Santana on waivers last month and could clear more room by placing Tyler Matzek and Huascar Ynoa on the 60-day injured list.
It stands to reason both Shuster and Dodd will make their MLB debuts at some point this year. One of the duo now figures to break camp with the big league club and assume a key role from the season’s outset. Who will get the nod?
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